Happy new year everyone! Welcome to 2012, I apologize if I’ve been a little distracted. I’ve recently picked up a copy of Vancouver Noir by Purvey and Belshaw (Anvil Press) and I have been unreachable of late due to being enraptured by our gritty past. Being something of a rarity in Vancouver (and by that I mean someone who was born, bred, and currently living here) I love Vancouver and her history. Like the way tweens love Justin Bieber, like Crystal Precious adores fine cheeses, or goths like being photographed in trees – it’s all in a way that I can’t tell you where it stems from. I just love this city fiercely. Granted, because we are a fairly young city, we don’t have lengthy, deep roots. Tourism BC would have you believe that they are bright and shiny, if a bit dull.
Don’t buy it for a second. We are a port town, baby. With all port cities comes a rather dirty and seamy underbelly associated with it, but also a amazing creation of artists that come from the culture it spawns. I might mention Hamburg, I might mention Liverpool, for example. We got a pretty good reputation for being a place to live fast and hard. The term ‘Skid Row” even comes from where logs would be dragged up from the water onto streets. Vancouver Noir has centered around sharing what doesn’t get brought up often – the engineering of a new financial district, the destruction of the “Old Town”, segregation, riots, and the ‘Yellow Menace”. I can guarantee that if my history class brought this kind of topic up, I’d have paid more attention in school. I also said if there was a queer history class, I’d have signed up for that too. (Maybe take note, Vancouver School Board).
The Age Of Noir (between 1930 – 1960) also happens to be, in Vancouver, when we experienced a cultural Renaissance. Before every home had a television in it, downtown was the place to be, home to The Beacon on Hastings and The State Burlesque Theatre near Main and Hastings (and started life as the Pantages and was recently torn down. Civic fail). In an effort to compete on the more posh west side, there was The Orpheum, The Colonial Theatre at Dunsmuir and Granville, The Cave, The Palomar, The Commodore Ballroom and The Penthouse. Dal Richards, legendary bandleader, recalls in Vancouver Noir a litany of names for where to be seen: ‘The White Rose ballroom on West Broadway at Granville, the Palomar, the Quadra Club, the Arctic Club, the Embassy, the Alexandra, the Howden, Trianon, The Hot Jazz Club, The Mandarin Gardens, the WK Gardens, the Smiling Buddha and more.” He goes on to list a dozen coffee houses that were home to beat poets and bebop musicians.
Vancouver was a top spot on tour routing for a number of burlesque performers, back in the day. Go into The Penthouse and the family-owned club still has many of the Legends of burlesque’s promotional photos on the walls. Lilly St. Cyr, Yvette Dare, Satan’s Angel, Gypsy Rose Lee, Evelyn West, and so on. But like burlesque fell out of fashion for awhile, and like lots of these old places was cast adrift for a couple of decades. Luckily, we’ve brought the magic back to new spaces with new talent and shows which is helping to recreate another moment in time for us who are all here now. New art is being created here, people. The old magic is waking up again and the occupants of the city I feel a ready for it.
Now for the Vancouver hippie/spiritual stuff. As I say, I love this city, and whenever I’m moving through her streets, I now have a better appreciation of her. If the spirit of this city is an unwed teenaged mother, I am proud to be one of her bastard daughters. I look forward to honoring her past, both good and bad, shiny and gritty, as we move forward into this year. Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest enough to do some research on your own, pick up a few rocks and see what’s beneath, and to love where this bitch is going, but never forget where she’s been.
I love you, Vancouver. Good night.
Little Miss Risk