Home    Recent Issues    Comments    Advertising   Library Index



Vivid Description of the Locality that is Most Frequently Referred to in Police Court Annals – Vicious Whites’ Resort.


The Rancherie.

Perhaps no name is more often mentioned in police court records, and perhaps none conveys a more indefinite meaning to the ordinary reader, and truth to tell, to the initiated, because when a police officer says “down at the rancherie,” he refers to a rather extended area.  The term properly applies to two straggling rows of huts or shacks that line the foreshore of Burrard Inlet, one on the east and one on the west side of the old Vancouver Foundry[ii].  These huts contain a few white and colored men of the lower class, several Japs, and during certain seasons, a large number of Indians.  A few of the huts are clean, but the majority are dirty, very, very, dirty.  It is not a quiet, subdued subdued dirt that is in them either.  It is an aggressive, animate, energetic reproductive dirt, that can be seen, smelt and felt.  It is a dirt that appeals to the cuticle, and through it, by the telegraph system that conveys a knowledge of external irritation to the brain, as well as being made known by the more easily approached optical and olfactory nerves.

The buildings are of the erratico-squat style of architecture and some of them look as if they had had a rough and tumble wrestle with a second –class cyclone and had got the worst of it.  Two rooms are all that the majority boast of but one or two have three.  Stoves are in few of them, as the siwashes succeed in doing whatever cooking they require in the open air.  In the matter of interior decorations there can be found crude attempts.  Tawdry curtains, horrible advertising chromos, and, to show that they are in touch with at least one feature of civilization,  the barber shops, a number of pictures from Police Gazette. 

This rancherie, or these two rows of dilapidated huts, is the scene of more crime and more bestiality than any other portion of the city, or for that matter all the rest of it put together, upper and lower Dupont street not excluded.  Here it is that the lowest of the low white men congregate and risk disease and death in the pursuit of the gratification of lust.  Here it is that the degenerate Caucasians risk long terms of imprisonment for the sake of the dirty dollar to be made out of selling bad whiskey to the siwashes.  Here it is that the most murderous and brutal fights that have blotted the police annals of Vancouver have taken place.  The siwashes are all greedy for whisky, and the klootchmen have no moral sense whatever.  For a bottle of whisky Johnny Fort Rupert will sell his wife; for a few drinks of the same liquid almost any of the women to be found there will prostitute themselves.  The few females who are exceptions to this rule are only seeking money, and are not held by any virtuous restraints.

In view of these facts it is little wonder that the police are called down there so frequently.  The whites sell the Indians a dollar’s worth of whiskey for two dollars and get them drunk and almost invariably a fight ensues.  The men are taken off to the “skookum house” and the whites sneak back afterwards to carouse with the women.  The police have lately caught on to this racket and Lawrence Mooney and one or two others are doing terms in New Westminster because of the police having deemed it advisable to make a second call.

One thing about the Indians is that after arrest they stand by each other and generally rustle up enough to pay the fines imposed.  If an Indian is left to serve out a term you may rest assured that he has offended the others.  As for instance, “Detective Johnny,” who was set over some little time ago, had made it a business to give information to the police about other Indians having whisky, and was caught, red-handed, sinning himself.  The Indians gathered in the police court in large numbers to see him tried and then grinned at him maliciously as he was marched down below.  One man for a long time lived on the avails of the prostitution of four Indian women.  The police reccently found this out, and although they could not bring the particular charge home to him, he got a heavy time on another.  The Indian Act contains a special clause with a special penalty dealing with this crime, and the magistrate read it to him and intimated that it would be unwise for him to take chances of having it applied to him.

Sergeant Heywood accompanied a WORLD reporter through part of the rancherie on Friday evening.  The buildings were found as described above.  There were many Indian men and women about, but only one papoose.  The men were carelessly attired, and the old crones equally so; but the younger women were arrayed, as is their custom, in tawdry finery.  One had a red waist, a flowered muslin skirt cut short, black silk clocked stockings and tan shoes.  She was a brazen-faced hussy, and seemed rather to glory in the fact that the sergeant knew her to be bad.  She was found at first squatted on the floor beating a drum so as to be able to make music at the approaching big Siwash potlatch up north, but afterwards she came out and stood against a stump the better to display her charms.  One old woman was found knitting a pair of pahkta pants.  They contained all the colors of the rainbow and are for her man to dance in at the potlatch.  Several canoes were loaded and ready to start and three parties were expecting to leave in the morning for the feasting, where, for a time at least, they will be away from the vicious white men who are rapidly encompassing their ruin.

Disease is rampant in these quarters.  There is hardly a single siwash free from taint.  The salmon acrofula and syphillis are in the symptoms of over half of the siwashes, and several, both men and women, are so far gone that the officers ate to have to go near them, much less touch them.  They do little or nothing for themselves and are rapidly approaching horrible deaths.  The white men who frequent these places will probably find that their sin will bring its own reward. 

In the matter of food they are not too particular, and a spoiled salmon is nearly as good as a fresh one, a fact that does not make the prevalence of disease seem strange.  They are like the Indians of the Northwest in the manner of alternating feast and famine, and can live for days on siwash grass, a sedge-like growth, the root of which they devour with avidity.  An ancient dame was squatted on the ground with a big bunch of it in her lap, eating as fast as the stiffness of her antique jaw-joints permitted.  She said it was hyas klosh siwash muck-a-muck, freely translated, means good grub.

[i] Reprinted from Vancouver Daily World, Sept 10, 1892.

[ii] Vancouver Foundry was located at the north end of Main Street (Westminster Avenue in 1892) on the shores of Burrard Inlet.