Drugs and Booze: The Rowdy History of 1761 Grant Street

The one-and-a-half storey house at 1761 Grant was built under a $2,250 building permit  issued to W.H. Creitz at the beginning of January 1910. By May it was on the market, described as having seven rooms “with every up-to-date convenience built in.”  It was “not an ordinary house; come and see it; if you see it, you will want it.”[1]

It was still on the market the following January when the owner’s ad pleaded that “it must be sold this week”, and again in March.[2]  However, by the time of the census in July 1911 the house was occupied, mainly by the Jessiman family. Alfred Jessiman was a clerk at the Bank of Vancouver, William was also a clerk, while Norman worked at a hardware store on E. Cordova. They had a housekeeper, Agnes Chino.  But the Jessimans didn’t stay long and by the following year the house was vacant again.[3]

A year or so later, 1761 Grant – along with 1749 which becomes an integral part of the story that follows – was occupied by “Chinese” and “orientals” as the Directories chose to call them.  In 1914, the “oriental” was named as Jim Lem.  According to the 1921 Census, Lem was the owner of the property and lived there with his wife, Gin Shee, three daughters and three sons. He was described as a merchant.[4]

The 1700 block of Grant was a residential street of impeccable character; after all, world-travelling historian, social reformer, and former City Councilor Prof. Edward Odlum had his Queen Anne mansion there, on the corner lot with its lawns flowing down to Commercial Drive.  With the racist tinge that was so prominent in its day, the Province described 1761 and 1749 Grant as having windows that were “nicely curtained, the front yards unusually neat”, so you wouldn’t even know a Chinese family lived there. [5]

For several years, we hear nothing about what the Lem family is up to. In court reports in 1918, Jim Lem is described as “a type of up-to-date Chinese who drives a motor car” and had a position with a bank.  Suddenly, following “information that was obtained,” the house – or more particularly, the garage – of 1761 Grant was raided by Deputy Police Chief Don Leatherdale and three detectives on the evening of 17th October 1917. [6]

Donald Leatherdale CVA AM54-S4-: Port N3 1

When the police arrived, the garage door was wide open, and crates of liquor could clearly be seen.  In the end, 12 barrels of Chinese whiskey, each containing 36 gallons, and 52 cases of Chinese wine worth $4,000 were confiscated under the new Prohibition Act.  Two horse-drawn drays were needed to move the booze to the Police Station. Jim Lem was arrested and charged with keeping liquor in an improper place.[7]

Lem protested that he had purchased the liquor for his own use “for cooking purposes,” and that the police were mis-interpreting the Act.  The police contended that a garage is not a “dwelling place” under the meaning of the Act. Magistrate Shaw agreed with the police, fined Lem $100 plus costs, and confiscated the liquor.

It would take until a hearing in the following February, but Lem was eventually to get his booze back.  He and his father sued the police for the return of their goods and proved that they had laid in the liquor “with characteristic Chinese foresight” to see them through the introduction of Prohibition. Two days before the Act came into force, Lim borrowed $500 from his wife, and $1,700 from his father. He used the money to pay for the liquor from the Western Canada Liquor Company. Lem’s father was known throughout Chinatown, apparently, as a heavy drinker.  Judgement in their favour was issued by Justice MacDonald who declared that Lem was correctly fined under the Act but that the Act did not allow for subsequent confiscation. The police were obliged to return the barrels to 1761 Grant. [8]

Just a year before the liquor bust, a new Chinese resident appears at 1749 Grant. He is J.W. Mang, and given subsequent events, one wonders if this timing is not related.

Mang appears as resident of 1749 Grant from 1916. However, he does not appear in the Names section until 1919 where he is listed as owner of J.W. Mang & Co, a grocery store at 2652 Main.  That same year, he ran an ad in the Vancouver Daily World — “Best quality, small profits. Give me a try” — where the grocer was listed at 532 Kingsway. [9]

During the winter and early spring of 1920, the two houses on Grant Street had been linked by the police to a network of cross-border drug smugglers. It was believed that a building on Columbia Avenue was being used as a storehouse for the drugs. An automobile number plate was tied by surveillance to both the Columbia Avenue and Grant Street addresses. The Grant Street premises had been watched by police for some time before, on the morning of 1st May, a raid took place, the houses were searched, and Mang was arrested.[10]

The raid was led by Vancouver Police Inspector Jackson, along with three other Vancouver officers and an Inspector from each of the Inland Revenue and Customs Departments.  One hundred and fifteen tins of No.1 opium, worth about $12,000, was seized along with seven parcels of morphine and cocaine, valued at about $50,000 retail, and several thousand cigarettes; all imported from China.  The opium, the largest quantity seized up to that time, was found in the living room of 1761 Grant after Mang, who had the key, let the police into the house.

“In premises at the rear, the detectives found implements for ‘cooking’ crude opium for smoking purposes, and several photos of white girls were also discovered.”  [11]

The name of the putative owner of 1761 Grant, Jim Lem, never came up in the first reports of the raid. Mang claimed that he was merely looking after the house and that the goods had been left there that morning.  He appeared at Police Court on May 3 and was remanded until the 7th. [12]

Before that hearing, the police struck once more. On May 5th they again raided 1761 Grant Street and tore it apart using hammers and axes in their search for more drugs. After removing flooring and paneling they found another $10,000 worth of cocaine, heroin, and opium. The police believed that the new drug haul had been secreted into the house since the raid just four days earlier, “the owners thinking that it would be hardly possible that the officers would visit the premises so soon after the last raid.” The press was alive with claims that a major continent-wide drug smuggling operation had been broken. [13]

Justice was swift in 1920. On May 10th, less than two weeks after the raid, J.W. Mang was up before Magistrate Shaw.  He presented a highly involved story. He claimed the owner of 1761 was his son-in-law who had been visiting China for the past two years. Before leaving for his visit, he had asked his father-in-law to allow a certain Chinese man to come and go in the house.  On the Saturday morning an unknown oriental delivered packages of grapefruit which he stored in 1761.  Mang claimed to be as surprised as anyone that drugs were found beneath the fruit. Shaw didn’t believe a word of it and sentenced Mang to one year in jail, along with a fine of $500 and costs.  He was fined a further $250 for possession of illegal cigarettes. [14]

Mang was allowed out on $5,000 bail while he appealed the conviction. Mang’s counsel J.A. Russell negotiated a plea on account of Mang’s age, which was 65. It was agreed he would return to China and not return to Vancouver. However, Mang returned to the city in April 1921 and “had no difficulty in passing the immigration authorities.”  He is still listed in the Directories at 1740 Grant until 1923, after which time he drops off the map. [15]

In 1924, the residents of 1749 and 1761 Grant Street are back to being “orientals”. But the reversion to gentility is completed later that decade when all the names associated with the houses are anglo once again.

1749 Grant was demolished in 1940 and replaced. But 1761 Grant is still with us. It has been altered, but is clearly the same house that Creitz was selling back in 1911.

Image: Google Street View

* * * *

These raids and their coverage reveal details of the drug trade in 1920 that are otherwise hard to find. Opium was reported to retail in tins costing $110 per; cocaine was sold at $250 per adulterated ounce; while heroin pills were two for a dollar. I would assume that these are prices to a middleman who would break down the product for sale on the street. [16]



[1] Image: Vancouver Daily World, 1911 March 31, p.30; description: Province, 1910 May 4, p.26;

[2] Vancouver Daily World, 1911 March 8, p.28; see also World March 14, p.23 where the price is listed as $3,300 with $600 down;

[3] City Directory 1911; Canada Census 1911;

[4] City Directories 1912-1925; Canada Census 1921; “merchant”: Province 1917 October 18, p.20;

[5] Province 1920 May 1, p.25;

[6] Province 1918 February 25, p.1; 1917 October 18, p.20; Vancouver Daily World 1917 October 18, p.9;

[7] Vancouver Daily World 1917 October 18, p.9; Province 1917 October 18, p.20;

[8] Province 1918 February 25, p.1;

[9] City Directory 1919; Vancouver Daily World 1919 June 20, p.17;

[10] Province 1920 May 1, p.25; Vancouver Sun 1920 May 2, p.4;

[11] The police also noted that both garages and basements were regular storehouses of liquor, piled high with goods.  Province 1920 May 1, p.25;

[12] Province 1920 May 1, p.25; Vancouver Sun 1920 May 2, p.4; May 4, p.1;

[13] Vancouver Daily World 1920 May 6, p.15; Vancouver Sun, 1920 May 6, p.1;

[14] Province 1920 May 10, p.15; Vancouver Sun 1920 May 11, p.14; Vancouver Daily World 1920 May 10, p.13; May 12, p.3;

[15] Vancouver Daily World 1920 May 12, p.3; Vancouver Sun 1921 May 21, p.5; Vancouver City Directories 1921-1923;

[16] Vancouver Sun 1920 May 6, p.1

August 21st meeting recap

There was a full house again for the GHG’s monthly meeting, held (as always) in the boardroom at Britannia at 7 pm on the third Thursday.

Cynthia Low, the executive director of Britannia, gave a Powerpoint presentation and listened to questions and comments about the ongoing planning process to replace the current Britannia Community Centre buildings. She focused on the desire to increase the visibility of the east and west facades of century-old Britannia school, which are largely hidden by the jumble of buildings, and mentioned the possibility of giving the new centre a presence on Commercial Drive, probably at Napier Street. She urged GHGers to become involved in the planning process and directed us to their website for further details on the Capital Plan and the various consultative stages that lie ahead.

Bruce Macdonald presented two of the interviews he has been filming with senior citizens – specifically those involved in the workforce in the 1940s and 1950s – who have a connection with Grandview and East Vancouver. Marjorie McKeown Agnew, aged 98, spoke of her youth growing up in the blocks around St. Francis of Assisi Church when that property was home to Australian real-estate speculator William Miller, her friendships with the children of the Odlum family of Grant Avenue, and her connection to the recently restored Hawkins-Agnew house on Victoria Drive between Napier and Parker. Several months ago, a few members of the GHG met with Marjorie’s daughters Susan and Barbara and received a lot of information and photographs of the family’s years living in Grandview.

Bruce then presented a brief excerpt of his hours of recordings of Bob Williams, the legendary planner and politician who became Premier Dave Barrett’s right-hand man in the NDP government of 1972–5. Mr. Williams told a fascinating story of his early years, from his birth in the Sally Ann unwed mothers’ home, his childhood rag- and bottle-picking on an old dump site where the Italian Cultural Centre now stands and his summers spent with his grandmother, who lived “a short walk” away in Capitol Hill in Burnaby and who had a cabin/shack on the Dollarton mudflats in North Vancouver near the sometime home of novelist and legendary alcoholic Malcolm Lowry.

Bruce intends to sort out the technology so this set of interviews (25 of which he’s done so far) can be streamed from our website.

Finally, Eric Phillips took a second look at floorcoverings in vintage houses, focusing on linoleum and its numerous imitators and adding new images of linoleum and wood carpets to what he presented last month. He brought a number of samples, including a strip of battleship linoleum and several handmade hooked rugs dating back to his own family’s homesteading and farming days.

Eric also drew everyone’s attention to the large number of upcoming lectures and events pertaining to heritage and history:

•the 5th annual Autumn Shift in Mount Pleasant, taking place on September 14th from 12–6.


•lectures on Heritage and Gentrification (September 30th), architect Samuel Maclure (October 21st) and Vaudeville (November 4th) offered by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation at Hycroft.

•walking tours and other programs offered on August 23rd, September 7th and 27th by Heritage Vancouver.

The next meeting will be held on Thursday September 18th at 7 pm!

1500-Block Grant Street

In an earlier post, I had discussed James Guinet who began work in our neighbourhood by building himself a family home at 1556 Grant Street.  Now, through the generosity of James Guinet’s grand-daughter, we have a photograph of that house taken just after it was built in 1909.

Those of you who know the neighbourhood well will know that today 1556 Grant sits high above the street with a trail of stairs leading up (image on left).  However in 1909, the house was more or less at street grade (image on right):

I would be fascinated to learn when and why the street was so significantly regraded.