Historic Alexander Street

Posted by Daniel on Jul 9, 2009 - 3 comments

When Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife, the Empress Michiko, are in Vancouver this weekend as part of their cross-Canada tour they will be visiting the Japanese Hall on Alexander Street in the section of the city formerly known as Japantown.

The historic building (pictured here) was erected in 1928 on the site of the original Vancouver Japanese Language School, a wooden structure that had opened in 1906. The school taught Japanese to the children of local immigrants, as well as a range of other subjects. Following the internment of the Japanese during World War II the school was taken over by the Canadian military. Post-war it was rented to the Army and Navy Department Store until 1953 when it was returned to the Japanese-Canadian community and restored to use as a school.

Interestingly, during the school's early years, it was located smack dab in the middle of Vancouver's red light district. In 1912 Alexander Street became home to several brothels which were attracted to this neighbourhood at the edge of downtown by its proximity to the waterfront. The street was well known as the "restricted district", tolerated by the police and local politicians who wished to confine prostitution to one area of the city. "All the lights are blazing and the front door is open to all and sundry who have the money to spend," wrote one journalist who visited the street.

One or two of the old houses are still standing, though I don't suppose that they will be included in the tour given to the Emperor and Empress.