Early Vancouver Youth Gangs

East End boys, probably up to no good, ca. 1890. City of Vancouver Archives #CVA 371-1023 (cropped)

East End boys, clearly up to no good, ca. 1890. City of Vancouver Archives #371-1023 (cropped)

I’m turning this post over to a reporter from the Vancouver Daily World. It’s an exposé published on Friday, 15 July 1892, sounding the alarm about youth gangs and juvenile delinquency among boys, including some from “well-to-do” homes. The writer urges a curfew to solve the problem, but similar neighbourhood-based gangs persisted in the city for at least another hundred years, and later included girls as well as boys.




Bad Lessons Are Being Learned By Young Lads In This City.


Parents Would Be Grieved Did They Know Where and How Their Children Spend the Nights — Juvenile Cigarette Fiends

A burst of profanity that would have brought a blush to the cheek of an Arizona terror startled the ear of a World reporter as he passed along Hastings street a few evenings ago. It was coarse profanity, interspersed with obscenity, and emphasized by blasphemy, and was followed by a scuffle. Looking round behind the billboard where the noise came from the reporter saw three small boys. The two larger of the trio were fighting and swearing, the third with blue eyes extended wide stood looking on. He evidently was unused to this style of thing and his bedimpled face and curly hair seemed out of place in such a curse-burdened atmosphere. After the fight the victor picked up a bit of a cigarette which had evidently been the prize of battle and lighting it puffed it vigorously into the face of the vanquished, who showed his spleen by another outpouring of choice expletives. A look at the lads showed them to be the children of well-to-do people and very evidently not members of the waif colony. This incident led the newspaper man to conjecture if it were not possible for more youngsters to be coming up in this way. If the children of respectable parents were so doing, others might also be eluding paternal vigilance and maternal care and be indulging in practices pernicious, character-ruining and constitution-destroying.

Investigations made shocked and startled him. This is not intended as a scare article, it is merely given out as a warning. No one knows better than a reporter that to tell people their children are bad, earns no thanks but incites indignation. You never can make a mother believe that her boy is bad no matter what he does. He may be impulsive or easily led, but beyond that she will not go. Did these mothers know where some of the boys spend their nights and the practices they indulge in they would have many a heart-ache. Names in this article are purposely withheld. Parents throughout the city can take the hints given and by a little skillful questioning find out if it is their boy who is at fault. If it is, a little kindness and a determined effort to get him to take an interest in his home will be good medicine. Spare the rod and spoil the child sounds trite enough, but a boy will persist in running away whenever he can from a home with which he is not sympathetic.

Members of the Vancouver football club at George Black's. Photo by Charles S Bailey (cropped) 3 May 1890, City of Vancouver Archives #Sp P58

Some members of the Vancouver football club at George Black’s place. A few look like they may have been troublemakers. Photo by Charles S Bailey (cropped), 3 May 1890, City of Vancouver Archives #Sp P58

On Hastings street, no matter exactly where, is an empty house that has been for sometime used as the headquarters for a gang of tough boys. These lads are bound together in a ku-klux-klan brotherhood that has grips, signs, warning words and an obligation, and none of them are more than 12 years old. This would be all right were their objects good, but they are not. They first started to learn to smoke cigarettes and most of them succeeded, and now they generally manage by hook or by crook to have a supply. A short time ago several of them stole liquor from their fathers’ stock and brought it to their rendezvous, and as a result there were a number of very sick young stomachs. Then the vile dime literature got in its work and they thought that they were below caste if they could not steal a little from some place other than home. About that time a lot of pipes and tobacco and about a hundred cigars were added to the stores. Where they came from deponent saith not, but they were not paid for. One of them boasted a short time ago that he had stolen two villainous books while purchasing one.

“The old Secord house” was built in 1890 as a family-friendly establishment, but two years later was a favourite haunt of the city’s young hooligans. The building is now known as the Marr and still stands on the northeast corner of Dunlevy and Powell streets. It is currently being renovated (sans verandas) by BC Housing as supportive housing for women. City of Vancouver Archives #Hot P85

“The old Secord house” was a temperance hotel built by Angus Secord in 1890. For a time, the veranda in the back was the meeting place for the neighbourhood’s young hooligans. The building is now called the Marr and stands on the northeast corner of Dunlevy and Powell streets. It is currently being renovated (sans verandas) by BC Housing as supportive housing for women. City of Vancouver Archives #Hot P85

On Powell street is the headquarters of another crowd of kids, not so elaborately bound together as the one just mentioned. Its principal object is to tell filthy stories and smoke cigarettes. These boys used to congregate on the back verandah of the old Secord house, but have lately had to find another meeting place. There was a suspicion in the mind of the gentleman who told the reporter of this band that the older boys were indulging in still worse practices, and parents who reside in the vicinity should make an examination or call in a physician. Details are unnecessary on this point and the fearful constitutional results are fully known.

Still another party, known as the “alley gang,” make a practice of stealing from stores where they are employed, disposing of the goods, and buying food and even liquor with the money received therefor. The existence of this organization is no secret. Three or four of them have been in the police court, and are out on suspended sentence. The World knows that they still spend more money than could be afforded by persons with double or even treble their salary.

The Mount Pleasant and Westminster avenue section is not without its complement, though it has been weakened by the turning over of a new leaf by the West boys. It still retains its penchant for getting possession of fire-arms, no matter how old or antiquated, despite the fact that three of their members have been accidentally shot, two in the leg and one in the hand. These boys supply the breweries with so many bottles as to give one a very large idea of the drinking powers of the district.

Boys outside East Ender Job Printing Office, no doubt cussing and packing cigarettes, ca. 1890. City of Vancouver Archives #East End boys, probably up to no good, ca. 1890. City of Vancouver Archives #CVA 371-1023 (cropped)

Boys outside East Ender, Job Printing Office, no doubt cursing and packing cigarettes, ca. 1890. City of Vancouver Archives #371-1023 (cropped)

These are only the cases of the boys organized, but parties of two and three can be found in lanes and alleys, in boxes or shed, smoking cigarettes and rehearsing dirty yarns. On Wednesday night when the Chinese band was making such a din on Dupont Street, a World man went down with officer McLean to see what the racket was. In the crowd that was gathered were several juveniles, all puffing cigarettes, cursing, calling the Chinamen vile names, and passing lewd remarks with two or three Mother Hubbarded women of the street. Two of these boys went away somewhere with two Chinamen. Recent disclosures of foul practices among the Celestials cause one to shudder as he imagines into what paths these sons of honest and decent fathers and mothers may be led.

Dupont (now Pender) Street looking east from Carrall, ca. 1900. Photo by Philip T Timms, City of Vancouver Archives #677-26

Dupont (now Pender) Street looking east from Carrall, ca. 1900. This was Vancouver’s red light district before 1906. Photo by Philip T Timms, City of Vancouver Archives #677-26

One thing is certain that despite the law minors can get all the whiskey they want. This has been proven both in and out of the police court, and also that in the teeth of the Provincial statute to the contrary cigarettes are sold to children; and that despite that literature of the most crimson stripe is in circulation among them.

William Hood, Eddie Goddard, and an unknown boy, 1891. They might look bored, but there's a chance they're

William Hood, Eddie Goddard, and an unknown boy, 1891. Are they merely bored, or are they “rehearsing dirty yarns?” Photo by A Savard, City of Vancouver Archives #677-813

Apropos of this here is a quotation from an Ontario contemporary to hand to-day: Owen Sound has adopted a plan similar to that in force in Berlin, and now unless on an errand or accompanied by adults all children under 14 years of age will have to be off the streets at 9 o’clock at night, at which hour the curfew bell will be tolled. The police are authorized to arrest all children found on the streets after the warning has been given. Referring to the inauguration of the new state of affairs, the Owen Sound Advertiser says: “Much amusement was caused on Monday night by the public hearing the first stroke of the bell warning children to be in their proper places of abode for the night. On every hand the whisper went around, ‘That’s the fire alarm!’ but the youngsters knew all the same what it meant and scampered off for home at 2.40 speed, and in less than five minutes after the first stroke of the bell had pealed forth not a kid was to be found on the street. The police have strict orders to enforce this undertaking, and all children under 14 would do well to obey it strictly, as a nice bed at home is much more comfortable than a bed in the cell.”


I suspect the alluded danger supposedly posed by the boys’ associating with Chinese people was opium and gambling specifically, and the racist notion of Chinese depravity generally, a blatant double-standard in light of the behaviours of which these white kids were allegedly expert practitioners. Similarly, the KKK reference highlights the secret society nature of the gangs but doesn’t seem to suggest they had a racist purpose. The unspecified “still worse practices” that lead to “fearful constitutional results” requiring a physician was likely sexual activity, either gay or straight.

A couple of months later, the World claimed that its exposé resulted in better parenting in Vancouver and consequently a lessening of the youth gang problem. Some members of the Alley Gang wound up in police court for various offences. Gang leader Julian Cook and Eddie Wilson were charged with larceny and Julian’s brother, Guy, was nabbed for stealing newspapers from door steps and selling them. William Black was charged with stealing $1.70 from ten year-old Porterfield Wareham, who made “enough money to keep his mother supplied with wood” selling newspapers. All of this, the World pointed out, happened in Vancouver, “not in Whitechapel, London, nor in the slums of New York.”

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