From back-alley glimpses into the historic brothels and opium dens of Chinatown, to an edible tour of historic Japan-town, Vancouver tour companies are getting creative and exploring the hidden side of the city.
Forbidden Walking Tours showcases the mysteries of Vancouver’s darker side, including a Prohibition City tour, and a Lost Souls of Gastown tour featuring stories of the great fire, smallpox outbreaks and unsolved murders. Even bucolic Stanley Park has secret cemeteries and the fascinating history of Deadman’s Island.
Owner Will Woods was inspired by tours he’d joined in other cities, including the Edinburgh Ghost Tours, “which use actors and gothic dark spaces to create really compelling experiences.” He decided Vancouver needed something similar.
Vancouver’s status as a port city means, as mayor L.D. Taylor so aptly put it in the 1920s, “We ain’t no Sunday School town.”
“The characters that have made Vancouver home over the years have left so many stories to tell,” said Woods.
One of the most popular Forbidden Tours is The Secrets of the Penthouse tour, held at the over 70-year-old venue.
The evening includes a guided backstage tour by club owner Danny Filippone (whose family built the club in the 40s), author Aaron Chapman, and retired VPD officer Grant McDonald.
“The stories they share of the crimes, the mobsters, the scandals associated with the Penthouse have to be heard to be believed, “said Woods.
They attract an almost equal number of tourists and locals. Woods explained that, “It opens the whole tour up and gives it a real camaraderie. We even had one couple who met on our tour and then got married.“
At Off the Eaten Path, tours focus on the lesser-known culinary gems of the city. Co-founder Bonnie Todd has a background in tourism and a passion for travel and good food.
“I tend to see more adventurous travellers and a bit younger demographic as our tours focus on non-touristy areas,” she said. “We also get a lot of locals, particularly in the winter, that are just looking for something different to do and to maybe get out of their food rut.”
Forbidden Walking Tours takes tourists and locals for trips down Vancouver’s colourful past.