Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

History of Prostitution

May 29, 2013

The latest issue (#88) of Geist magazine is on the stands with my column on a new book about Vancouver's Penthouse nightclub, Liquor, Lust and the Law, by Aaron Chapman (Arsenal Pulp Press).

I go interested in the Penthouse a few years ago when I was working on my own book, Red Light Neon, a history of prostitution in the city. The origins of the club go back to before the Second World War but by the 1970s it was one of several off-street venues where prostitutes worked fairly openly. Women met customers inside the club, left to conduct their business in nearby hotels or apartments, then returned to arrange another trick. Whatever your thoughts on prostitution, the situation had the benefit of providing a relatively safe environment for the women to work.

In 1975 the police, in their wisdom, shut down the Penthouse and prosecuted its owners for running a brothel. The full story is in my column, and in Chapman's book. Many people, myself included, have argued there is a direct link between the Penthouse affair and Robert Pickton's murder spree twenty years later.

"That is the real significance of the Penthouse Nightclub to the story of the city: that it was the place, in the mid-1970s, where the seeds were planted for the worst episode of violence against women in Canadian history."