The Shady History of Canuck Place

Posted by Daniel on Mar 5, 2009

Chuck Davis adds another story from Vancouver's "hidden" history:
The racist and anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-trade-union Ku Klux Klan, which started in the southern United States, had and has its followers in Canada. The Klan was strongest in Saskatchewan in the late 1920s, but there was a chapter in Vancouver in 1925.

The Klan—the local name for it was the Invisible Empire of the Kanadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—popped up in the news on March 20, 1925 when vigilantes dressed in their hooded apparel kidnapped a Chinese houseboy, Wong Foon Sing, who worked in the house where the Janet Smith murder occurred. (Janet Smith was a nursemaid whose 1924 murder in a Shaughnessy home has never been solved.) “For six weeks,” Ed Starkins writes, in his book Who Killed Janet Smith?, “he was shackled to the floor of an attic room in Point Grey, and subjected to frequent beatings and death threats" to try to get him to confess to the crime or to force out the name of the killer. They finally let Wong go when they realized he was innocent.

Later in the year (October 30) the Invisible Empire paraded en masse, quite visibly, up Granville Street to take up residence in their handsome new headquarters, the Shaughnessy mansion known as Glen Brae. They held an “informal reception” there that day. “They paraded on the grounds in their white robes,” one neighbor recalled, “carrying fiery crosses of red electric lights. We saw them coming in their white hoods with the black eyeholes. It left a very lasting impression.”

KKK membership in Vancouver was said to be 8,000 at its peak. A local bylaw was passed prohibiting mask-wearing and the number of Klan members dwindled to about 200. (It didn't help that the group's national organizer absconded with the treasury.) The sheeted twits were out of Glen Brae in less than a year, even though their rent was only $150 a month.

Today Glen Brae has a nobler use: It's Canuck Place, the hospice for children.