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Slocan’s red light district

Updated: Aug 10, 2018

In the early 20th century, Slocan City’s brothels were on the west side of Block 36, at the south end of Main Street between Giffin and Fitz avenues (pictured below on the original townsite map). Today Giffin does not connect to Main; the area in question is behind the W.E. Graham school field.

This area was seldom spoken of. These are the only references I’m aware of in the Slocan Drill, published from 1900-05.

Aug. 3, 1900: “Sunday evening Officer Christie was called upon to arrest one of the red curtain brigade, a recent importation. She was suffering from the effects of drink, morphine, and cigarettes and imagined a gang of strangers was after her to kill her. This is the second fallen angel to be accommodated of late in the bastile.”
Nov. 9, 1900: “The Fallen Angel avenue is being built up and the population is rapidly increasing.”
July 5, 1901: “A number of cases of robbery have been reported lately by the demi monde.”
Aug. 8, 1902: “A sojourn in the local Bastile Tuesday night had a sobering effect on one of the demi monde, who had a skate on. She was subsequently invited to leave town on a three months’ vacation to the Nelson jail.”

George T. Moir, the station agent at Slocan, recounted an astonishing incident that occurred in February 1902 in his book Sinners and Saints (1947), p. 106-07:

One of the red light women had obtained the services of a very young girl named Mary to call for express packages. It so happened that a COD parcel came one day. These are not delivered to children as a rule and the postal advice sent out was so endorsed. The consignee claimed that I had insulted her by failing to deliver the parcel to her messenger. My own thought was that for a mere innocent child to be so employed was not right, though her father and mother were hard working people and anxious for the little money.
However, the woman in question came to the depot with a black snake whip with a heavy lead end, and while I was taking the express from the baggage car to a truck she struck me over the head with the heavy end, inflicting a gash that bled profusely. I jumped down from the truck and grabbed the woman, and was about to throw her on the rails some three feet below the platform when the still, small voice came to me: “Don’t do it.” I released her, and immediately she picked up the whip and went away. When I saw at the Arlington Hotel a large crowd standing to witness the affair I knew who were behind her.
My wife, looking out of the upstairs window, had witnessed the disgraceful act, and came running toward me. Blood was running down my face, but apart from the blow I was not hurt. The dear wife was badly disturbed over the event, which ended seriously in her case, inside of 24 hours our child was stillborn.
I immediately laid a charge against the woman and the next morning a preliminary trial was held under Magistrate Foley. On Hearing my side of the case, when I mentioned about the loss of our child the woman winced, but she quickly recovered her bold front. The magistrate committed her to stand trial at the county court in Nelson, and fixed heavy bail for her appearance. She looked around the courtroom and named three prominent business men as security. In ten days she secured trial under the Speedy Trials Act, the first case to be tried in Nelson under that Act. She pleaded guilty and was fined heavily with costs. I had no notification of the case till I saw the result in the newspaper.

Judging from the newspaper coverage, this incident happened almost exactly as Moir described it. The Drill reported on Feb. 21 that Moir’s wife gave birth the previous day to a stillborn daughter. The Nelson Tribune of Feb. 24 recounted details of the fight:

The story of a very lively scrap which occurred in Slocan a few days ago is to hand, in which a lady and a CPR official had an encounter. The report has it that a woman named May Cline attacked George T. Moir, the station agent at that place, with an umbrella and whip, striking him several heavy blows on the head. A lively bout was the result for some minutes, which finally resulted in the woman being arrested. She was made to appear before magistrate Foley and the acting mayor, who committed her to stand trial at the next assizes in Nelson. Bail was applied for and granted.

Although Moir was the victim of the assault, Robert T. Lowery of the New Denver Ledge felt Moir’s sanctimoniousness was to blame. He reported on Feb. 27:

The way of the reformer is hard, and sometimes ends in a horse-whipping. Moir, who acts as CPR agent in Slocan, is inclined to dictate to others how they shall live, and occasionally finds himself up against it, so to speak. Not long ago May Kline sent a little girl with an order for an express parcel. She also sent the money, but Moir did not give the child the package, but instead sent May a note objecting to a woman of her class, sending children for express parcels. May evidently did not take the advice kindly for she came with a whip unto Moir. Then he turned the other cheek and she made several incisions upon his cranium with an umbrella. Then he had her arrested, but forgave her in court, although May is bound over to appear at court in Nelson. Business and sentiment do not seem to mix in Slocan and Moir in his efforts to reform the earth should exercise more policy and less rudeness.

(Moir, in turn, wrote that Lowery “was a humorous writer, but with a smutty style. He had good literary talent and might have got somewhere except for his dirty, biting sarcasm against all preachers and religion in general.” Moir was so disgusted with one of Lowery’s publications that he bought every copy and burned them.)

When the case came to trial in March in Nelson before Magistrate Crease, May Cline was fined $25 plus costs (about $900 adjusted for inflation). I haven’t learned anything else about Cline. She was not listed on the 1901 or 1911 census.

In an episode of Gold Trails and Ghost Towns, seen below, Bill Barlee produced a set of brass knuckles from his collection that claimed were “worn by the girls in the Windsor Hotel in Slocan City.” Barlee said he bought them from the son of the hotel’s original owner.

The only trouble is Slocan didn’t have a Windsor Hotel. Did Barlee mix up the name of the hotel or did the artifact come from a different town? (New Denver and Trout Lake both had Windsor hotels.)

Tax assessment records held by the Slocan Valley Archives paint an interesting picture of Block 36. From 1902-12, the owners of these lots included brothel keepers, other blacks, and Japanese Canadians. The most prominent brothel keeper was Amanda Smith, aka Maud Taylor, who I have written about separately.

In 1902, the first year a tax roll was prepared following Slocan’s incorporation, George Motosawa of Sandon (who I’ve also previously written about) owned Lots 4 and 5. The former was vacant and the latter had a house. Maud Taylor had a house on Lot 7. Jackson Radcliff, a black prospector, owned the vacant Lot 8. Lena Lang, or Lange, a probable brothel keeper, had Lot 9.

The 1903 assessment was unchanged and 1904 was similar, except Maud Taylor had purchased a house on Lot 3 from Harvey Fife. The 1905 assessment was identical. In 1906, Taylor, now calling herself Amanda Smith, bought the vacant Lot 6 from townsite agent Frank Fletcher. Lena Lang was now living in Ketchikan, Alaska but still owned Lot 9.

There were no changes in 1907. In 1908, the still-vacant Lot 6 was listed in Maud Taylor’s name rather than Amanda Smith’s. Nothing changed in 1909 or 1910, except in the latter year Maud Taylor’s address was listed as “c/o Wm. Ipe, Salmo” in the case of Lot 3 and “c/o H.L. Fife, Slocan” in the case of Lots 6 and 7. Maud/Amanda died in 1909.

In 1911, H.P. Christie was listed as owner of Lot 3. He previously owned it in 1902. George Motosawa sold Lots 4 and 5 to Yodo Fujii of Nelson (who I have previously written about too). Bizarrely, Amanda Smith was still listed as owner of Lot 6. Jackson Radcliff sold Lot 8 to Frank Fletcher.

In 1912, William Ipe is shown as owner of Lots 6 and 7, having inherited them from Maud/Amanda.

A tax sale was held involving several of these properties in 1911, but it took until 1913 for the properties to revert to the City of Slocan. Lots 4 and 5 both reverted with the notation “Yodo Fujii 2/5/13” as did Lot 8 with the notation “Frank Fletcher” and Lot 9, which formerly belonged to Lena Lang. William Ipe was still shown as the owner of Lots 6 and 7 and H.P. Christie as owner of Lot 3. I didn’t look beyond that in the tax records.

I don’t know what became of Lena Lang but Jackson Radcliff moved to Nelson, where he married and was the longtime proprietor of a second-hand store on Vernon Street.

Block 36 today (seen below looking north) betrays no indication that it was once Slocan’s red light district. It’s the site of a few modern homes.

Updated on Feb. 19, 2018 to include the story of George T. Moir vs. May Cline and the two references in the Slocan Drill to the “demi monde.” Updated on Feb. 28, 2018 to add the part about the Gold Trails and Ghost Towns video.

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Hi Brendan, I grew up knowing that hill as "Black Man's Hill" as well. I heard from a long-time Slocan resident that years ago, when the village was doing maintenance on a water line along Main Street, that workers dug up human skeletal remains. The story goes that the remains were placed back in the trench and covered up when the work was completed. Given that Greg has verified that the street had a black community, perhaps there's some connection?


Brendan Lindsay
Brendan Lindsay
Jan 28, 2018

Interesting article. The hill a block further South (at the very South end of Main) was called 'Black Man's Hill' when I was a little kid. I've never asked, but always wondered where the name came from. Perhaps this article hints at the answer?

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