Forbidden Vancouver – I’ll drink to that

Well crafted prose supported by great images can open up the imagination. Walking through history can help bring a story to life. adding another dimension.

I’m no walking tour junkie however when the chance arose to check out a Forbidden Vancouver tour I thought what better way to learn more about the history of my adopted home. My previous foray’s on foot in Seattle and Downtown Eastside Vancouver were entertaining and informative, so how would Forbidden Vancouver fare? Forbidden Vancouver has been around for less than two years and in that time Will and his team have developed the tours, building something rather special. The website is full of praise, so my expectations were set rather high.

I’m guessing that most cities will have some sort of ‘swept under the rug’ history that whilst being inextricably linked to what the city has evolved in to, would rather be forgotten due to what occurred at the time. With this in mind, Forbidden Vancouver tours seek to hit that sweet spot where people’s curiosity intersects with an interest in history, providing context and a sense of understanding to a particular period in time. However, to be successful, any such tour has to engage and immerse me in the experience.

I’d chosen the Prohibition City tour as the temperance movement that spread across North America in the first quarter of the twentieth century was something that bypassed the UK and I was unfamiliar with that part of my new home’s history. I wanted to know more.

Right from the get go, it was apparent that the evening would be different. Being met by a guy decked out in a mac and trilby set the tone. I was now part of a team of reporters, led by Will. Notepads and pencils were handed out along with instructions to listen carefully and be prepared to answer five searching questions. The bait had been cast and I was hooked.

Over the course of the next 90 minutes I was first transported to late nineteenth century Vancouver, around part of the old Ward Two, discovering how rapid growth during the gold rush led to socialist agitators being ushered out of what had become a hard drinking town. I got to know key characters that took on the establishment and won as well as those that from a questionable past became the establishment.


The story behind the freely voted for alcohol prohibition in 1917 became clear as did the growth of the ‘Blind Pigs’ and private clubs that served the forbidden liquid. Prohibition’s end in 1921 and the establishment of beer parlours was explained as was the rather surprising left over alcohol licensing laws that still shape how liquor is purchased here (I’d always wondered why I couldn’t pick up a bottle of wine or beer at the local supermarket). There was even time for a tale of Gangsters and Munsters.

Throughout the tour, Will kept his audience involved and entertained. This was not a show and tell tour, it was a participative experience. I was reminded that whilst well crafted prose supported by great images can open up the imagination, walking through history can help bring a story to life. adding another dimension.

I enjoyed my evening Prohibition City tour and the main reason for having a good time was undoubtably Will’s ability to weave together people and places from Vancouver’s prohibition past in to an entertaining experience. Good storytelling needs a theme, some form of plot, strong characters, a well chosen setting and an appropriate style for the chosen audience. My Forbidden Vancouver experience contained all of these elements and I would certainly recommend the tour to anyone wanting to know more about the ‘swept under the rug’ past of the city.

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