A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.
What did the Flack Block, Astoria Hotel, and Tamura House/World Hotel share in common in 1930s Vancouver? They were all targets of Vancouver’s “Red Shadows,” labour spies hired by police and employers to collect intelligence on the activities of local union organizers and communist agitators. Although we know almost nothing about the spies themselves, many of their secret reports have been preserved in the City of Vancouver Archives and form the basis of a chapter I contributed to Vancouver Confidential, a new anthology from Anvil Press and edited by John Belshaw. (Check out Anvil’s website to order a copy and to get a taste of what’s in the other 13 chapters, including one by fellow VIA contributor, Jason Vanderhill).
You might be wondering what espionage in industrial relations has to do with wrestling. I can’t give it all away except to say that “red shadow” was a popular cultural trope from the 1930s until the end of the Cold War, so it seemed an appropriate starting point for writing about a time when Vancouver’s labour relations make the recent teacher’s strike look like an episode of the Friendly Giant. Here’s the intro and more about the wrestling “Red Shadow” to whet your appetite:
The Red Shadow was a professional wrestler on the Pacific Northwest circuit in the 1930s. He was known for his famous “backbreaker” move and the signature red mask he wore to hide his identity and which his opponents unsuccessfully tried to remove. One theory was that the Red Shadow was actually Leo Nurma Anderson, a popular wrestler who many fans imagined occasionally donned the mask to become the theatrical wrestling-ring villain. But when the Red Shadow trounced Anderson in a Vancouver bout in 1936, fans realized Anderson couldn’t have been fighting himself. The Vancouver News-Herald speculated it may have been Pat Fraley in the mask that night based on his wrestling style, which differed from other Red Shadow fights. “You pays your money and takes your choice,” quipped the Herald, and the mystery remains unsolved to this day.
Source: Vancouver Sun