Contemporary Canadian Literature with a Distinctly Urban Twist

Anvil Press

Vancouver Noir: 1930-1960

Vancouver Noir: 1930-1960

  • canada orders CAD $25
  • us orders US $25
  • world (outside Canada/US) orders US $25

It was an era of gambling, smuggling rings, grifters, police corruption, bootleggers, brothels, murders, and more. It was also a time of intensified concern with order, conformity, structure, and restrictions. Vancouver Noir provides a fascinating insight into life in the Terminal City, noir-style.

These are visions of the city, both of what it was and what some of its citizens hoped it would either become or conversely cease to be. The photographs—most of which look like stills from period movies featuring detectives with chiselled features, tough women, and bullet-ridden cars—speak to the styles of the Noir era and tell us something special about the ways in which a city is made and unmade.

The authors argue that Noir-era values and perspectives are to be found in the photographic record of the city in this era, specifically in police and newspaper pictures. These photographs document changing values by emphasizing behaviours and sites that were increasingly viewed as deviant by the community’s elite. They chart an age of rising moral panics. Public violence, smuggling rings, police corruption, crime waves, the sex trade, and the glamourization of sex in burlesques along and nearby Granville Street’s neon alley belonged to an array of public concerns against which media and political campaigns were repeatedly launched.


“Vancouver Noir: City comes of age in fascinating text … City outgrew its steam-age industrial economy, but the changes didn’t come easily or overnight … This is a book about working-class Vancouver in the three decades between, say, the opening of the Marine Building in 1930 and the death, in 1959, of Errol Flynn, in the arms of his teenage girlfriend after an enthusiastic evening at the Penthouse Cabaret on Seymour Street.

It’s illustrated with about 150 maps and black-and-white photos, including shots of murder victims and other crime scenes: the sort of images that always contain a great deal of visual information.”

“Much like a ride on the Giant Dipper rollercoaster at Happyland (the 1930s precursor to Playland), Vancouver Noir is chock full of informative thrills, spills, and chills.”

“The atmosphere of the mean streets is conveyed in the book’s many photographs: black-and-white images of rain-slick pavement, crime scenes, nightclubs, mobsters and hookers… Vancouver Noir retrieves this disreputable side of the city’s history and presents it in all its black-and-white glory.”

“a fascinating glimpse of another side of the city.” – BC HISTORY

“Purvey and Belshaw’s Vancouver Noir resurrects, in eminently readable black and white, the stories, characters, landmarks, images, lexicon and lore of one of this city’s truly colourful eras.”

Vancouver Noir is a highly entertaining read. It covers thirty years of history, complete with changes in local government and shifts in the city’s geography. The style, borrowed from noir fiction, never sounds contrived. For history buffs and true crime enthusiasts alike, Vancouver Noir delivers thrills while revisiting important moments from the city’s history.”

CBC Radio, On the Coast interview.

  • Publication: November 2011
  • ISBN: 978-1-897535-83-7
  • Pages: 224 pp (b&w photos throughout)
  • Size: 7.5 x 9.5 inches

Diane Purvey is the Dean of Arts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She is the co-editor of Child and Family Welfare in British Columbia: A History (Detselig Press). She is, with John Belshaw, the co-author of both Private Grief, Public Mourning: The Rise of the Roadside Shrine in British Columbia and Vancouver Noir: 1930-1960. She is a contributor to Vancouver Confidential and is a homegrown Vancouverite.

John Belshaw is a writer, professor, consultant, and an award-winning historian. He is the author of several books, including Becoming British Columbia: A Population History, and articles in subTerrain and The Walrus. His current projects include an OpenText on Canadian history and Vancouver Confidential, a collaborative project involving more than a dozen writers, filmmakers, and artists. He is a second-generation Vancouverite.

Books by John Belshaw & Diane Purvey