Yaletown: Harassment pushed sex trade eastward into the area

Museum hosts talk on 'Golden Age' of prostitution

Pimps, abusive johns and acts of violence towards sex-trade workers were few and far between prior to the city's Street Activities bylaw passed in 1982, says a sex-trade advocate.

Jamie Lee Hamilton said the bylaw was followed by an injunction by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Allan McEachern in 1984, which served as an eviction notice to prostitutes working in the West End.

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"That's when the sex trade moved east to Yaletown," said Hamilton, one of the sex-trade workers evicted at the time. "And that's when the sex trade got more dangerous."

Hamilton said police were instructed to issue "area restriction" tickets, which banned sex-trade workers from frequenting certain areas and could result in $2,000 fines. After Hamilton received an area restriction ticket, she argued her case.

"I got one and said [to the judge], but your honour, I live in the penthouse at Jervis and Comox," said Hamilton. "But he just said I'd have to move, so I had to move."

Hamilton will share more memories of that time, which she calls the "golden age of prostitution," at a Museum of Vancouver event April 26 entitled Brothels, Strolls, & Stilettos: Histories of Sex Work in Vancouver. Hamilton will be part of a panel discussion including Vancouver madam Scarlett Lake, sex-trade worker Susan Davis and former sex-trade worker Sheri Kiselbach. Moderating the discussion is Becki Ross, a professor of sociology and chair of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of B.C. Ross is well known for her historical examinations of the sex trade in Vancouver.

Hamilton said increased harassment in the West End forced sex trade workers east. She noted while the women headed just east of Granville Street, the warehouses district of Yaletown became the area of choice for young male prostitutes. Nicknamed "Boystown," the Yaletown stroll was not far from the now defunct Gandy Dancer nightclub at 1222 Hamilton St., a men's-only disco famous at the time for its smoke machine.

Hamilton said older men, known as "chicken hawks," because of their fondness for young boys, frequented the Boystown stroll. Yaletown was considered an industrial area at the time.

"But then the condo developments in Yaletown took hold and the NIMBYs started and they got pushed even further east because they had no place to go," said Hamilton. "But even today you'll still see some boys out there late at night."

Hamilton said residential development also killed the Yaletown area known as "Tranny Alley," where transsexual men would stroll for customers. "It was behind the steam bath near Moneys Mushrooms," said Hamilton. "But it was replaced by Emery Barnes Park."

Hamilton will give a guided tour April 27 of eight to 10 locations in the West End that once provided safe havens for sex workers prior to their eviction in the 1980s. Along the way she'll share intimate stories and insights from her own days working the Davie Stroll. Tickets must be purchased separately for both events and admission to the Museum of Vancouver's ongoing Sex Talk in the City exhibition is included. For more information, visit museumofvancouver.ca.

sthomas@vancourier.com

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