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5 things you (probably) didn't know about Halloween in Vancouver

From a slippery prank to published party reviews
In 1938 Lt. Gov. E.W. Hamber hosted a Halloween party for children. Some of the costumes kids dressed in at the time are problematic; notably, several children went dressed as 'lovable hobos,' which was a popular trope a the time. Reference code: AM1036-S4-: CVA 703-4.37.2

With both Vancouver and Halloween having strong Scottish connections, mixed with Vancouver's misty, somewhat creepy autumn vibe, it's no surprise Halloween has become a big deal locally.

Halloween has evolved a lot over the decades, and while there are roots in pagan feasts it hardly resembles the events that happened even in the early days of Vancouver.

So here are five things you (probably) didn't know about Vancouver and Halloween.

1. In the early days of the city it was connected to Scottish heritage 

Locally, Halloween was often connected to Vancouver's Scottish population. In both Vancouver and Victoria Scottish society groups held events and concert celebrating the time of the year.

Over the years that's one of the things that evolved, with a more North American version of Halloween developing. In WW2 there are even old newspaper articles talking about Vancouver soldiers station in the UK bringing their own version of Halloween back to the land where it originated.

2. The first costumes in North America

While costumes are inextricably linked to Halloween now, that wasn't always the case.

And while there were different types of dress for the predecessors of Halloween, the first time people dressed in fancy disguises for the night in North America was in Vancouver in 1898.

3. Newspapers used to review Halloween parties

Imagine going to a Halloween event and watching a person noting down the decorations, food and general vibe.

In the 1920s Vancouver newspapers would publish notes on house parties held in Vancouver for Halloween on the social pages.

For example, one review reads:

"A delightful Halloween party was held at the home of Miss Dorothy Newton, Main Street south. The rooms were tastefully decorated with Halloween motifs and colours. The time was pleasantly spent in music and dancing."

Another, from the same paper reads:

"A very enjoyable Halloween party was given on Saturday evening by Miss Alice Cunell, Miss Daisy Capell and Miss Ada Cappell...The rooms were artistically decorated with autumn leaves, orange and black creps paper, pumpkin lanterns, black cats, and witches. A dainty maid attired in appropriate costume admitted the guests.

4. The city used to give grants for youth parties

In the past there were grants given by the city to organizations to host parties for the local youths. For example, in 1949, $2,000 was handed out, which is about $27,000 in 2023.

However, local politicians weren't always happy about it. In 1949, after several incidents of pranks costing the city around $10,000 (more than $120,000 now) local politicians, including the mayor, pushed for that money to towards police officer patrols on Oct. 31.

One alderman said all the parties did was bring the youths together before shutting down too early and releasing the young people into the city.

"We should have had a half dozen extra patrol wagons and locked some of those kids up for the night," Alex Fisher is quoted in the Province.

Another alderman suggested police should have had nightsticks and used them on the youths.

"That's what we used to get and it never did us any harm," he's quoted as saying. "Now if you hit a kid you're charged with assault."

The mayor, for his part, blamed a few things, including certain neighbourhoods and the church congregation where he was giving a speech. He went so far as to suggest restrictions, including banning firecrackers except at children's parties.

5. A reward to catch slippery pranksters

Vancouver has a long history of Halloween pranks. In 1902 the general manager of the B.C. Electric Railway (the precursor to TransLink and BC Hydro) offered a reward for certain information.

He was looking for "the party or parties who on the night of October 31st greased or soaped the street car track on Westminster Avenue, Mount Pleasant," causing the street cars to struggle up the hill.

The reward was $20, which would be several hundred dollars now.

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