Summer of Yippie!

A Yippie demonstrating to "bring an end to pig power" at the 312 Main Street police station.

Vancouver was a hotbed of social unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For one thing, the city’s traditional role as the terminus for transients made it irresistible to the flood of meandering baby boomers from across the country and from south of the border, particularly draft dodgers and hippies. Of course, divergent attitudes around such things as recreational drug use, hairdos, war, authority, and sexuality fuelled the generation gap between boomers and their elders. Throw anti-hippie Mayor Tom Campbell into the mix and conflicts between “The Man” and young people were pretty much inevitable.

By the summer of 1970, Vancouver had become the protest capital of the country. Various groups were organizing protests around a number of issues, but an American import by the name of the Youth International Party, or Yippie!, stood out as ubiquitous in the activist scene. According to Lawrence Aronsen in The City of Love & Revolution, “between April 1970 and the August 1971 Gastown riot, there were twenty-five recorded incidents of youth protests in the Vancouver/Victoria area, and Yippies were either the instigators or at the centre of these events.”

Spearheaded in the US by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the Yippies pioneered a lighthearted and often absurd approach to social activism. They looked to mass media and media techniques as a means to raise awareness about the issues they took on. For Yippies, a memorable sound-bite trumped the staid rhetoric of the traditional left.

A bleeding Campbell's tomato soup can. This image appeared on the cover of Yellow Journal #6 (July 1970). Presumably it's a reference to Mayor Tom Campbell, arch-nemesis of hippies, Yippies, longhairs, dope fiends, pinkos, etc.

Yippies attempted to appeal to both the typically apolitical middle class hippies and the hard-nosed political left. Their constituency wasn’t the proletariat or other traditionally oppressed groups, but rather the youth counterculture. Their hope was to politicize hippies and make activism fun. “Revolution for the hell of it,” as Abbie Hoffman put it.

Jerry Rubin visited Vancouver in 1968 and instigated a takeover of the faculty lounge at UBC by some 3000 students, but Yippie wouldn’t take hold here for another couple years. According to the Yippie organ, the Yellow Journal:

Yippie! formed after the March 14 street action against Repression organized by several activist groups. Five hundred people took over the streets and danced to the courthouse. One hundred and fifty carried on through the Bay afterwards and threw pies at the White Lunch store front windows. Hundreds joined Yippie! in support of brother Percy Smith at the Cloverdale Magic Marijuana Festival and later the Bay Sip-in.

Vancouver Yippies initially took their cues from American activism. In response to discrimination against longhairs at the Bay department store, for example, their “sip-in” mimicked the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement to desegregate the American south. At another demonstration, this time to “bring an end to pig power,” they planned to levitate the police station at 312 Main Street, echoing a similar effort to raise the Pentagon in the US. Vancouver Yippies changed their mind however, claiming that there was already “enough pig shit polluting Vancouver’s air thanks to the greed-creap business community.”

One thing that differentiated Vancouver Yippies from their American counterparts is that there were no charismatic leaders akin to Hoffman or Rubin in the States, which likely made it easier for them to coordinate actions with other organizations.

Ad for the "Amerikan Invasion," from the Yellow Journal, 7 May 1970.

Even though it took place during a strike that shut down both Vancouver daily papers, the most successful Yippie action in terms of the notoriety they achieved was the “Invasion of the Amerika” on 9 May 1970. Five hundred Yippies, co-organizers from the Vancouver Liberation Front, and supporters of both groups stormed across the border and marched through downtown Blaine, Washington to protest the American invasion of Cambodia and the killing of four Kent State University students by the National Guard at a rally on the Michigan campus the previous week. Protesters spray painted slogans on the Peace Arch, heckled the police, and tore down an American flag at the Blaine post office.

Invading Amerika. UBC Special Collections, Georgia Straight Collection

Some of the more boisterous of the bunch smashed windows at the Bank of America branch and engaged in fisticuffs with local patriots who attacked them. The riot police then moved in to drive back the invaders, at which point bottles and rocks began to fly. As the crowd was dispersing, a Vancouver-bound train rumbled by carrying about 100 new cars and three trucks that were damaged to the tune of $50,000 by rocks thrown by demonstrators.

Yippies marching down the main street of Blaine, Washington. Vancouver Express, 12 May 1970

Acting Prime Minister Mitchell Sharp called for a report on the action and denounced the Yippies in the House of Commons. The Blaine police chief said it was probably instigated by American draft dodgers and BC’s Attorney General called for charges to be laid against those who damaged property. The Seattle Post Intelligencer said it was “the greatest insult to the United States since the Alamo,” according to the Yippie paper, the Yellow Journal. For the Yippies, the event was a success. They could claim to have led the first Canadian invasion of the US since the War of 1812.

Oakalla Prison break-in/Be-Out. Vancouver Sun, 13 July 1970

Local mofos tearing down the fence at Oakalla. Yellow Journal #6, 16 July1970

Another issue Yippies took on was prison justice. To protest the abhorrent conditions at Oakalla, which even the Sun acknowledged was hardly BC’s greatest achievement, Yippies organized a “Be-Out” just outside the prison’s ten-foot high wire fence in Burnaby on 12 July 1970. About 300 demonstrators attended and pulled down a 200-foot section of the fence. Only a few ventured onto the prison grounds, where about 80 guards were assembled. They chanted, set off fireworks, and planted a Yippie flag on the fence, while a column of about 50 unarmed RCMP officers arrived on the scene. A couple of short-haired men came down from the crowd of onlookers, tore up some Yippie banners, and yelled: “You’re all losers. Why don’t you go home and collect your welfare cheques?” Protesters responded in kind, and the two men eventually left.

Police column at the Be-Out to protest conditions at Oakalla Prison. Yellow Journal #6 16 July 1970

Burnaby RCMP watching the Yippie "Be-Out" in Burnaby. Yellow Journal #6, 16 July 1970

The Yippies then moved to a nearby park for an evening of speeches, rock music, frisbee throwing, and other games such as Find-A-Narc-In-The-Crowd. One of the speakers had spent a total of three years in prison for two convictions of marijuana possession. “I am meaner. I am tougher. I am smarter and I am a revolutionary now,” he told the crowd.

Betty "Zaria" Andrews, Yippie mayoral candidate in the 1970 municipal election.

One of the more potent galvanizing forces of dissent in 1970 Vancouver was Mayor Tom Campbell. The media called him “Tom Terrific”; Yippies referred to him as “Tom Terrible” and ran their own candidate in the 1970 civic election, a soft spoken 23 year-old single mother on welfare named Betty “Zaria” Andrews. With silly promises such as repealing the law of gravity so everyone could be high, Zaria might easily have been dismissed as a joke candidate, except that her candidacy highlighted the almost complete disconnect of Mayor Campbell from the city’s significant population of young people. In one example, after declining her challenge to a boxing match, Campbell exchanged words with Zaria’s supporters who were armed with toy machine guns and gas masks:

“Look … you ain’t cute. How old are you? What are you carrying that toy gun for?

“I’m 24, and you have liquor on your breath,” was the reply. Campbell shot back: “What are you on … marijuana?” The Yippie replied that marijuana was not an addictive narcotic like alcohol.

Zaria lost the election, but managed to garner 848 votes.

A protester being arrested at the English Bay riots, July 1970.

One victory Yippies (and hippies generally) did achieve was in winning access to English Bay and other public beaches. The beach had become a popular place for crashing, building fires, and playing music. Taking their cue from Mayor Campbell’s anti-hippie position, the Vancouver Police cracked down on English Bay hippies, triggering a couple of riots that ended with nearly 40 arrests. Eventually the police gave up, and the assistant chief announced that “The Vancouver Police Department would allow street and beach people to take care of their own policing in order to avoid a recurrence of the past week’s rioting.”

A demonstrator trying to break the aerial off a police motorcycle at a Yippie protest. Saskatchewan Star-Phoenix, 20 July 1970

After the Gastown Riot in August 1971, the Yippie light began to fade. It was already a spent force in the US and the Yippie strategy appeared limited in its effectiveness and unsustainable, and to many activists, undesirable. Tom Campbell’s retirement from civic politics and the rise of the provincial New Democrat Party in 1972 also softened the rift between the conservative “establishment” and the more progressive baby boom generation that had been generating social conflict.

Nevertheless, the Yippies from the summer of 1970 did leave a legacy for Vancouver activism. In 1976, some of them started Open Road, an anarchist newspaper with an international audience that published for a decade, and there has been a continuous anarchist presence in Vancouver ever since. The guerrilla theatre approach to politics occasionally resurfaces, including colourful candidates running in civic elections, from Mr. Peanut in the 1970s, to Zippy the Circus Chimp in 1996. In general, Vancouver protests have had a playful aspect to them since the 1970s, in contrast to the serious and militaristic demonstrations led by the Communists in the 1930s.

For more on the Yippies, go see Yippies in Love, a musical written by retired journalist and Yippie, Bob Sarti.

A Sporting Life

Mugshot of Elijah "Lige" Scurry, 1904. City of Vancouver Archives, series #202, loc. 37-C-9

Long before Vancouver became a hockey-crazed town, local sports fans went wild over Canada’s national sport, lacrosse. Although indigenous to Canada, the game was an import to the west coast from the east. The first match in BC took place in Victoria on 28 August 1886. Vancouver won that one against Victoria, and by 1890, a fierce rivalry had developed between Vancouver, Victoria, and New Westminster lacrosse clubs.

In the early days, Vancouver’s biggest lacrosse booster was Al Larwill. His cabin at the northeast corner of the Cambie Street Grounds (renamed Larwill Park in the 1940s) was a focal point for lacrosse and other sports. One of Larwill’s star lacrosse players was a young black man named Elijah “Lige” Scurry. By all accounts Scurry was extremely fast and played very aggressively in what was then a very violent sport. In one game in 1891 for example, the Victoria Daily Colonist reported that

Allen of Westminster, was badly shaken up by a body check from Scurry, of the Vancouvers. He was carried off the field on a door, and two ladies in the grand stand fainted at the sight, and also had to be removed. He will be laid up for some weeks … Swifter deliberately fouled Ryal, and was ruled off for that; the game coming on again, Caldwell checked Draper rather too sharply, and had his ear split from top to bottom. Draper had his lip split so badly that he had to be removed to a surgeon’s office to have it stitched and dressed.

A Sun reporter wrote in the 1952 about another incident in the early days of field lacrosse that involved the Vancouver coach firing his pistol into the crowd at a game in New Westminster after they pelted him with rotten eggs.

Al Larwill and lacrosse players at his shack on the Cambie Street Grounds, 1896. Photo: Bailey Bros, City of Vancouver Archives SP P2

Hockey legend and former lacrosse player Fred “Cyclone” Taylor recalled that the violence extended to the fans as well. “If you sat in a New Westminster section and cheered for Vancouver,” he said, “you were taking your life into your own hands … The ladies were extremely emotional and used to fight all the time.”

Two-time Stanley Cup winner Fred "Cyclone" Taylor was also a lacrosse player and fan.

Although Lige Scurry contributed more than his share to the sometimes vicious competition on the field, that same rivalry saw him barred from the game. With Victoria and New Westminster holding the balance of power on the BC Amateur Lacrosse Association, the organization passed a resolution to not “allow the playing of Indian or colored athletes in any match” at its October 1892 meeting. It was a decision motivated by stiff competition rather than racial hatred, and one that conveniently ended the lacrosse career of one of Vancouver’s best players.

Lacrosse teams, in Ontario at least, circumvented the colour bar by recruiting “ringers,” Mohawk players who could pass for white.

After Scurry was booted out of the game, New Westminster became the dominant lacrosse team in BC in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Vancouver’s lacrosse fortunes returned through the efforts of Con Jones, a major figure in the local sports scene who successfully undermined the amateur status of the game by luring top lacrosse players from the east with lucrative contracts. Probably the most famous was another hockey legend, Newsy Lalonde, who reportedly received $3500 to come to Vancouver. The strategy worked, and in 1911, Con Jones’s dream team won both the Minto and Mann cups.

Newsy Lalonde, Con Jones, and Leo Dandurand, 1912. Photo: Stuart Thomson, reprinted in the Vancouver Sun, 11 January 1956

Somewhere along the line, the colour bar was dropped or forgotten. By the 1930s, a new team on the BC lacrosse scene, the North Shore Indians, was routinely beating established white teams under the leadership of Andy Paull.

Lige Scurry’s contribution to lacrosse, meanwhile, had been completely forgotten by the 1950s. The Vancouver Sun reported in 1952 that the signing of 17 year-old Ivan Stewart to the New Westminster Commandos lacrosse team was a first. Old timers searched their memories, Merv Peters wrote in 1952, and “they all came to the same conclusion: Stewart will be the first of his race to play senior lacrosse in Canada.” Peters no doubt had simply never heard of Lige Scurry. Nevertheless, this omission allowed him to present the story as one of a young negro finally rising to unprecedented heights in the world of lacrosse instead of one in which whites actively kicked non-whites out of the sport.

Ivan Stewart, Vancouver Sun, 18 March 1952

So what became of Lige Scurry? He worked as a barber and tobacconist, and in 1904 opened the Railway Porters’ Club on the second and third floors of 107 East Hastings. It was intended as a social club for blacks in the city, many of whom worked as sleeping car porters. There was a bar, dining room, and rooms upstairs that could be rented out.

Unfortunately for Scurry, his club opened just at a time when the City was getting suspicious of clubs that weren’t necessarily functioning as they were supposed to. Chief Constable Sam North toured the clubs on 22 March 1904 so that he could report back to City Council on the situation. About Scurry’s club he wrote:

We next visited the quarters of the Railway Porters’ Club on Hastings street east and found that everything was torn up about the building and the club not running at present until their new quarters will be fit to occupy. It seems to be merely a home for the railway porters while at this end of the line, beds, room and board being furnished.

Police again visited the Railway Porters’ Club in September, this time declaring it a fake. It was a nice enough place, according to the Province: “Its dozen or more handsomely-fitted rooms include billiard and card parlors, and a bar sumptuously furnished. It is said to be the headquarters of a large number of the colored population of the city.”

Detectives Waddell and Jackson, however, weren’t as impressed with the clientele. They visited the club because a man they charged with being a “loose, idle person, living without employment, etc.” had been living there. Waddell told the court that the Railway Porters’ Club “is a place well known as the resort of sporting women … Some of the women who were before the court recently and fined are parties who frequent this club, as they call it.”

Detective Jackson chimed in claiming to have obtained the names of railway porters from the CPR and that he wasn’t able “to find one that goes near this club … Why, I’ve seen women, colored women, too, going up and down those stairs, dozens at a time. I know men who stay around Dupont street who hang around there and go up and down.” (At the time, Dupont Street, today’s East Pender, was the red light district; “sporting women” was a euphemism for prostitutes).

The Vancouver Province cartoonists take on the police raid of the Railway Porters Club, 9 December 1904

And so at 4 o’clock on the morning of 9 December 1904, “a large posse of police smashed in the front and back doors simultaneously and twenty-one inmates were arrested, four of them being women, all colored,” according to the Victoria Daily Colonist. “The police claim the club is a resort of tough characters.”

The “tough characters” found at the Railway Porters’ Club were all released because there was no evidence that they had committed any crimes on the premises. Lige Scurry, on the other hand, was tried for keeping a disorderly house.

Scurry’s lawyer, JA Russell, based his arguments on the seemingly obvious point that immoral people are not illegal, only immoral behaviour. Just because prostitutes frequented the club didn’t make it a house of prostitution since no prostitution actually took place there. In fact, neither the police nor anyone else were suggesting that the club operated as a bordello. Men rented rooms on the top floor, but women were not allowed up there.

Hastings looking east from Columbia, 1906. The Railway Porters Club was in the second building from the left. The same site would later be home to another operation that was deemed morally dubious, the Smilin Buddha Cabaret. Photo: Philip Timms, Vancouver Public Library #5258

Moreover, Russell explained, if it wasn’t okay to allow prostitutes in the club, the police could have just told Scurry that instead of kicking in his doors at four in the morning.

The women went to Scurry’s premises merely for the innocent purpose of getting their meals in a house that was open to colored people and to colored people only … All classes of people in Vancouver had their various resorts. For the well-to-do there were the better class clubs. For those who liked that sort of thing there were various tea rooms, and for those who were inclined that way there were the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A.

The need for a blacks-only club was because “there was a prejudice against colored people in the restaurants and hotels of the city,” Russell argued, “for which reason they were led to establish such institutions as the Railway Porters’ Club.” The judge said he wasn’t aware of any such prejudice, and in any case, “the court drew no such distinction.”

The judge refused to get bogged down on whether or not prostitution actually occurred at the club. Instead, he ruled against Scurry and sentenced him to three months hard labour and a $50 fine. Although the charge was keeping a house for the resort of prostitutes, the basis of his decision was that prostitutes rather than railway porters were the main customers at his club, and that he was selling liquor there without a license:

I am firmly of the opinion that the place complained of is a resort for prostitutes, and also that it is kept by Scurry. I do not think it is at all necessary that prostitution should be actually carried on there. It seems to me that it is a flagrant abuse of privileges. Scurry has kept that place under certificate as a club, and has allowed prostitutes to come there, and besides that has been selling liquor there without a license, and so interfering with the business of others who pay large fees for that privilege.

It’s impossible to gauge exactly how much race influenced the judge’s decision. However, other clubs were also shut down that year for not functioning according to their club licenses. The Vancouver Chess Club, for example, was allegedly a gambling den with no chess boards in sight. In that case as well, the decision to shut it down was informed at least in part by the fact that “the Club was frequented by all classes of men and by men of different races, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Negroes.”

Elijah Scurry died in Vancouver on 12 May 1924 at the age of 52. His obituary noted that he was “one of the fastest men the game of lacrosse ever saw” and “an undoubted star” when he played for Vancouver in the 1890s.