On Thursday October 26, the Vancouver Historical Society hosts a lecture by Aaron Chapman, author of The Last Gang in Town. The talk is at 7:30pm at the Museum of Vancouver. All are welcome and entrance is by donation.
In February 2011, Aaron Chapman wrote an article for the Vancouver Courier about gangs in Vancouver that were made up of East End kids from low income backgrounds that took over city parks in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The author of Liquor, Lust, and the Law, a book about the Penthouse nightclub, and Live at the Commodore, Chapman thought there was more to the story, and for his third book, he decided to write a portrait of street gangs in the ’70s, focussing on the most feared of the lot—the Clark Park gang.
“It seemed like every Vancouverite of a certain age could recall an incident of being in the wrong side of town at night and encountering the gang,” says Chapman. “But the gang remained mysterious phantoms. Did they really exist? Outside of a few police or news reports in the 1960s and 70s, information was scant.”
Chapman reached out to a number of former gang members and retired police officers. For many on both sides of the law, it was the first time they had talked about these events.
“The Vancouver Police Department blamed [the Clark Park gang] for the riot that took place at the 1972 Rolling Stones concert, and attributed hundreds of incidents of break ins, thefts, assaults, arsons, and neighbourhood vandalism to them,” says Chapman. “The book is as much about the gangs as it is about Vancouver police—how different the job was then when it came to law enforcement, the technology of the time, etc. I was also interested in the H-Squad—the secret gang task force put together by the VPD in 1972 to fight the Clark Park gang. There was never anything quite like it, before or since.”
Chapman says he also wanted to write a story that would show that the history of Vancouver is more than “railroad barons and property developers.”
“I’ve always been more interested in the stories of Vancouver after sundown. Writing on the cultural history of Vancouver has had wonderful renaissance in the last decade. We seem to be discovering, or taking a second look at the city and its people.”
The street gang era, he says, goes back to a time in Vancouver when there was a division between the city’s west side and east Vancouver.
“We don’t really think of that anymore, but Main Street used to be a big dividing line between what was considered blue collar east Vancouver and the white-collar, tony neighbourhoods of the west side. Now there are million-dollar homes off Commercial Drive and Renfrew Street just as there are in Kerrisdale and Shaughnessy,” he says. “People often lament that Vancouver was better before Expo, but The Last Gang in Town spotlights a time in the city that we might just be happy we’ve moved along from.”
Chapman says he’s hopeful that some retired members of the Vancouver Police Department as well as some former Clark Park gang members will join him October 26.
“No security will be needed!” he says. “They can joke around and reminisce about the old days now and there’s no obvious animosity between them.”
The Vancouver Historical Society invites everyone to attend our monthly talks. Admission for non-members is by donation. Talks are held at the Museum of Vancouver, 1100 Chestnut Street (Vanier Park) at 7:30pm on the fourth Thursday of every month, except June, July, August and December. Learn more.