Forbidden Vancouver

Our Trips

Vancouver’s Davie Street is home to one of North America’s most vibrant gay villages. The city’s annual PRIDE parade draws crowds in the tens of thousands. Our city has openly gay politicians and monuments to gay activists. But it wasn’t always this way…

Before decriminalization queer people lived in fear of being “outed” and risked losing their jobs, families, and even freedom. Canada routinely imprisoned people for homosexuality. Many of the leaders in the struggle for queer liberation in Canada were from here in Vancouver. People like ted northe, who had the bravery to campaign for queer rights back in the 1950s.

Vancouver has played a larger-than-life role internationally in the struggle for equality. We had the world’s first openly gay church minister, St Paul’s hospital opened one of the first dedicated care units during the AIDS crisis, and we had Canada’s first chapter of the Imperial Court System. We also had bookstore bombings, some of the country’s first PRIDE marches, and a transgender campaigner who blew the whistle on the biggest crime in the city’s history.

The experience was researched, designed, and is guided by Forbidden Vancouver storyteller Glenn Tkach. It’s perfect for any secondary or post-secondary social justice, gender studies and civics courses, student groups, GSA groups and more.

  • Duration – 2 hours
  • Start Point – Trees Organic Coffee at 930 Burrard Street
  • End Point – Davie & Bute streets at Jim Deva Plaza, by the rainbow crosswalk 

Pretty much everyone in Metro Vancouver knows about Stanley Park. It’s world famous for its dense forest, spectacular views, seawall, beaches, and fabulous trails. The park even won the title of “World’s Greatest Park” in a TripAdvisor contest. But while the park hosts millions of people every year, very few come away from their visit with any knowledge of the park’s remarkable social history.

Stanley Park is not an untouched rainforest. It was home to local Coast Salish people for thousands of years before it became a park, and even for decades afterwards. Numerous villages dotted the shoreline, including Whoi Whoi, which hosted large potlaches and from where a delegation sailed to meet Captain George Vancouver as he explored the area in 1792.

The story of the forced eviction of indigenous people from the land that would become Stanley Park is a shocking background to the park’s creation. Some mixed race indigenous and European families were able to fight back against the City’s onslaught of lawsuits, and keep their homes in the park near Brockton Point until the 1950s. Today their memory and resilience is honoured by the statue Shore to Shore, by Salish artist Luke Marston, which we visit on the tour.

The creation of the park was also about more than creating a space for Vancouverites to enjoy afternoon strolls and picnics. The land was originally intended as a military reserve, established to protect the city should the Americans decide to invade. After it became clear that wouldn’t happen, real estate developers, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the City of Vancouver, and the Federal Government all battled for control of the land. The fact it became a park illustrates the colossal power the CPR once had in Vancouver. 

Throw into the mix the tale of Deadman’s Island, stories of true crime, smallpox pest houses, buried treasure, public art, crow shoots and poetry and you’ll find that despite its beauty, there’s a lot more to Stanley Park than meets the eye!

A unique field trip for students from Grade 5 – University:

  • Duration – 2 hours
  • Start and end point – Outside the Vancouver Aquarium entrance by the whale fountain at 845 Avison Way

On the Forbidden Vancouver Tour you’ll explore Gastown, our city’s oldest neighbourhood. In the late 1910s our Province experimented with prohibition, meaning the sale of alcohol was banned. Enterprising criminals began to make money “bootlegging,” making and selling liquor illegally to a thirsty population. Even some government officials couldn’t resist the temptation to make a quick buck trafficking liquor.

As illegal drinking dens started to pop up throughout the city, the VPD formed a “Dry Squad” to hunt down bootleggers. Eventually mob boss Joe Celona had risen to the top of the city’s underworld, with even the Chief of Police on his payroll. Fighting for prohibition were the temperance union, a patchwork social movement formed by religious leaders, suffragists who wanted the vote for women, business owners, and many in the general population worried about the huge extent of alcohol abuse in Canada in the years leading up to prohibition, and particularly in Vancouver.

Many people of colour and particularly indigenous communities were brutally targeted under prohibition law, which was used by authorities to exert control over marginalized people. While prohibition was eventually repealed, it sadly remained in place for decades in the case of indigenous people. 

Once prohibition came into force south of the border, enterprising sailors made a fortune smuggling liquor down the West Coast in a practice known as “rum-running.” Vancouver’s Reifel family ran the largest rum running operation and would end up one of the country’s richest families. The Canadian government was even in on the act, charging an “export duty” on every case of liquor that left the country.

Discover all this and more on the Forbidden Vancouver Tour! A unique field trip for students from Grade 7 – University.

  • Duration – 2 hours
  • Start point – Outside Monaco Cafe at 356 Water Street
  • End point – Maple Tree Square, Gastown

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