Red Lights on the Prairies

red lights book photo

While perusing an assortment of used books at a Victoria book sale, the one above, Red Lights on the Prairies’[1] caught my eye – proving once again that covers do sell books. Flipping to the table of contents, my long held belief about my hometown being a quiet, unexciting, and frankly somewhat boring place was shattered. There it was, in black, white – and red.

James H. Gray is the author of several best selling books on the social history of western Canada. In this book, he reveals that from about 1880 to 1940, Lethbridge, and other emerging centres across the western Canadian prairies had thriving red light districts that persisted despite pressure from the temperance and moral reform societies. Gray’s well-documented book illustrates the frequent conflicts and often-fiery rhetoric between the reformers, town councils and police, who were caught in the middle. Town councils and police believed that prostitution couldn’t be eliminated, and so the next best thing was to contain it in segregated areas where it could be policed and monitored.

Mainstream history, Gray points out, has downplayed the existence of prostitution. The dearth of written material on the subject illustrates Gray’s point. Gray goes where other historian have seldom trod. His well researched treatise chronicles the role of prostitution in the development of western Canada, demonstrating that it was an integral part of the social and economic fabric of society.

“The generosity of the whores of the West was more than just legend; it was a well documented fact. A pioneer CPR company doctor recalled that in times of disaster it was always the local prostitutes to succour the sufferers or survivors.”[2]

Gray’s work gives insightful glimpses into the gritty reality of the lives of miners, cowboys, homesteaders and entrepreneurs, and into important issues of the day, from haphazard development, lack of planning, rancorous political battles. The author supplements his research with personal interviews that breathe life into the history.

Demographics explain the large assortment of bordellos that thrived in Lethbridge. The coalmines, on which Lethbridge was founded, attracted large numbers of young, single miners from Europe and the British Isles. Lethbridge became a major cattle-shipping point, attracting a second group of young men – cowboys. Between the two groups, they provided a very comfortable living for the madams and their girls. Gray writes,

“What other community, for example, could claim that its gaggle of whorehouses doubled as cultural centres, as Lethbridge’s did, during the expiring years of Victoria’s reign.

“By 1890 there were six brothels and the coal company dormitory within the triangle which was famous throughout southern Alberta as “The Point”. It’s gaudily painted two and three story houses became the town’s most prominent landmark. They could be spotted miles away from almost any direction, day or night.” [3]

In the photo below, “The Point” is the strip of land in the foreground, with the high-level bridge in the background.

The Point lethbridge Albeerta

 

In my next post, the life and times of Dolly Arthur– the last legal madam in Ketchikan, Alaska.

[1] Red Lights on the Prairies (Gray, 1971)

[2] Ibid. p. 197

[3] Ibid. p. 181

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Thanksgiving in L.A.

We made the trek from Victoria, British Columbia on the southern tip of Vancouver island to Lethbridge, in the southern reaches of Alberta to celebrate Thanksgiving with  family. By car, it’s a ferry ride and fifteen hours of mountain driving – or, three hours flight time. We usually put our air miles to use and fly, as we did this time. We flew to Calgary, stayed overnight  at a hotel near the airport, and the next morning took the connector flight to Lethbridge, Alberta – or L.A. as it’s often referred to.

That flight is an experience. From the departure gate, we board a bus that takes us to the far end of the apron where our ride awaits. The aircraft is a Beechcraft turbo prop that holds about eighteen people, and it’s full. It’s a cosy experience.The seats look like they were borrowed from a kindergarten class, but  every seat is a window seat. The flight from Calgary takes forty-five minutes.

Lethbridge is also my home town and soon familiar landmarks appear on the horizon. Our flight path takes us over the high level bridge that spans the mile and a quarter river valley carved by the Old Man River. It’s difficult to get a decent photo from the aircraft window, but here are some ground photos of the big bridge.

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Under the bridge

The modern City of Lethbridge, with a population approaching one hundred thousand, is located near the site of the original settlement, of Fort Whoop-Up. The fort was a trading post established in 1869 by two American traders. Originally named Fort Hamilton after one of the founders, the fort earned a wild and lawless reputation.

One type of alcohol sold by the Whoop-Up bandits was known as Whoop-Up Bug Juice, a highly prized alcohol spiked with ginger, molasses, and red pepper. It was then coloured with black chewing tobacco, watered down, and boiled to make “firewater”.[5] 

The reputation of Fort Whoop-Up led to the establishment of the North West Mounted Police and their famous march west in 1874. Reminiscent of on present day ‘war on drugs’ efforts.

Fort Whoop-up has been re-created in Indian Battle Park in the Riverbottom near the big bridge.

This photo overlooks the river valley towards the site of the original fort near  the junction of the Oldman and St. Mary’s rivers. The Rocky Mountains are just visible against the horizon.

Coulees near Lethbridge

Looking towards the original site of Fort Whoop-up

We often stay at Paradise Canyon, a timeshare and golf resort in the valley. It’s a beautiful setting, and we’ve been here so often that it feels like our home away from home  – but the weather is subject to rapid change at this time of year.

This photo is from our timeshare unit two days ago.

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This was the scene when we looked out today.

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We enjoyed a wonderful thanksgiving feast with family, and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

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A Parksville Summer

Pacific Shores Nature Resort

Pacific Shores is a fifteen-acre resort on Craig Bay. We’ve had a time-share unit and have been here many times. It’s very comfortable and feels like home away from home. Our unit is roomy and well appointed, featuring a full kitchen and in-suite laundry facilities – and it has great views overlooking the bay.

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Paths meander through well-tended gardens, where plants from many parts of the world cohabit with native species. My favorites are the several varieties of apple trees which ripen just in time for our visit. A trail along the estuary, a salmon spawning stream, offers views of several duck species and other birds. The trail  connects with regional trails for longer walks.

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A knob of layered, weathered rock at the tip of the point is an eye-catching feature, inviting exploration at low tide. The bay is shallow and calm, ideal for kayaking, paddle boarding, or collecting oysters. The setting sun paints sky and water with bands of ever changing colors while stately grey herons stalk their prey in the shallows.

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Pacific Shore’s amenities include an indoor pool and hot tub and a work out room. An outdoor hot tub nestled in a rocky grotto surrounded by gardens. Another hot-tub on the point offers views over the bay. The point also features a fully equipped barbecue center with tables and chairs for casual dining and a lower deck for sunning or relaxing. It’s an ideal place to meet travelers from around the world.

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Summer at Parksville

Once again this summer we took the trek up island to enjoy our time share unit at Pacific Shores Nature Resort near Parksville. But  this year, instead of  taking the Island Highway and  joining the perpetual rush of traffic racing over the Malahat with a monster truck trying to kiss our rear bumper, we took the alternative route, the Mill Bay ferry. It’s an amazing difference. In contrast to the often harrowing  Malahat ordeal, the Mill Bay option is a relaxing and scenic forty-five minute ferry ride across the Saanich Inlet.  There’s no reservations on the MV Klitsa, our ride across the inlet, and so we arrived at the Brentwood Bay  terminal forty-five minutes early. We stopped at Brentwood Bay Thrifty’s to buy our tickets – at a substantial discount. Thrifty’s at Broadmead and at Mill Bay also sell tickets.

Mill Bay terminal - MV Klitsa arriving

Seahorse Cafe Brentwood Bay

Seahorse Cafe, Brentwood Bay

At the Brentwood ferry terminal, we got out to stretch our legs. The delicious aroma of bacon and coffee beckoned from The Seahorse restaurant. It’s right on the pier just steps away from the ferry ramp. We were soon enjoying Level Ground Trading  coffee and fresh pastries. Level Ground is a local company and their coffee is excellent.  If you have extra time, the Seahorse also rents kayaks.

 

 

The MV Klitsa is one of the smaller ferries in the BC Ferries fleet,  taking  about 30 vehicles on the forty minute ride.  There are a dozen or so walk-on passengers and a few cyclists as well. I’ve taken this route by bicycle a few years ago. It sure beats the Malahat. The ferry workers are friendly pair, chatting it up with  the passengers.  It’s a sunny day, and the crossing provides beautiful views. As we pass scenic Senanus Island,  I recall the many SCUBA dives I’ve made in the inlet. The marine life is considerably diminished from what it was years ago, development and over fishing taking their tolls. There’s a proposal for an LNG terminal in the inlet, but it’s  meeting stiff opposition. Fortunately, Senanus Island is part of the Tsartlip First Nation territory. An ancient burial ground, it’s considered sacred and will remain undeveloped.

Senanus Island. View from the MV Klitsa

Senanus Island. View from the MV Klitsa

Enjoying the view

 

We arrived at Mill Bay feeling relaxed and unharried. We joined the Island Highway rat race – but only as far as the town of Chemainus. Time for lunch and to enjoy the murals.  Chemainus bills itself as ‘the village of murals’. They’re on walls everywhere, reflecting the history of the area. We discovered the Utopia Bakery Café, a block off the main street. It offers fresh breads, cakes, and pasteries and serves breakfast and lunch.  Prices very reasonable. I had a bowl of delicious cream of mushroom soup. It was meal in itself. It’s always a good sign when locals show up, and several came for lunch while we were enjoying ours. When tourism drops off during the winter months, locals are the mainstay so the food has to be good and reasonably priced. The Utopia scores high on both counts. The Utopia has a unique three dimensional  mural that depicts a  First Nations scene before the arrival of European traders and colonists.

3 Dimensional mural at the Utopia Cafe

3 Dimensional mural at the Utopia Cafe

Goodies at the Utopia

Goodies at the Utopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch and a  leisurely stroll down Chemainus’  picturesque main street, we continued our trip to Parksville. Instead of taking  Highway 1, the ‘new’ island highway, we took  1A, the original island highway. This route hugs the coast and offers stunning ocean views. Highway 1a joins highway 1  just before Ladysmith.

Next Post: Pacific Shores nature Resort and the Parksville area.

The White Limousine is now available in e-book format at KOBO ( http://www.kobo.com ).

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