Public Prominence: Vancouver’s 5th Annual Red Umbrella March

Many years ago at a meeting of the Sex Workers’ Alliance of Vancouver, Andrew Sorfleet mused about the whores of yore. Angela, a successful longtime sex worker and trans activist regaled us members with stories of Vancouver’s sex work history.

Stella: Unrepentant Madam by Linda J. Eversole — A wealthy West Coast madam known from San Francisco to Victoria at the turn of the 20th century, Stella Carroll was strong, beautiful and a force to be reckoned with.

Angela recounted stories of Vancouver’s frontier days when the madams would parade with their elegant ladies dressed in the Sunday finest, to old City Hall which was situated behind the Carnegie Library at Main and Hastings Streets. The men would gather for the event and cheer and holler and the business that day would more than cover the fines.

Water Street ca 1880. The settlement was still called Granville, or Gastown after Gassy Jack, whose saloon is on the far left. This is where Birdie Stewart set up the town’s first known brothel in 1873. Photo by Joseph Davis, City of Vancouver Archives #Dist P11.1. [Source:]
The march to City Hall was inspired by the requirement to pay fines as enacted by the City fathers.

Read more about Frontier City Fathers
Victoria, B.C., 1886


No Haven for Hookers, Georgia Straight, 1994:  “I can do better for myself in a week at Josie’s than a year in somebody’s bloody kitchen!”
– Julia Ann Carver, an accused prostitute, when told in 1886 by Vancouver’s police chief that she had been rescued from Josie William’s brothel to be sent to Victoria as a scullery maid (as quoted in Betty Keller’s On the Shady Side)

At the SWAV meeting, Andrew imagined a modern day Hookers’ Parade. A public event where participants arrayed in fancy dress and period costume would march for their rights; a fun way to harken back to a bygone era when sex workers were publicly prominent in the social fabric of Vancouver.

Fast forward to 2013, a year after the formation of Triple-X (we are directors). Andrew rallied local not-for-profit groups Triple-X, SWUAV, Pivot and PACE along with the BCCEC and FIRST to produce a Red Umbrella March for Sex Work Solidarity. In 2016, SWAN became a partner as well.

Fancy dress? Check! A march for rights? Check! A fun event? Check!

More proof that some dreams are worth pursuing.

In 2017, our fifth march received more support than ever before. Shout outs to our amazing volunteers Kerry and Kimi, Elaine and Anna and Howard, Brook and Sarah, Brenna, Brenda, Rob and Diane, Chilli and DJ, Will and many more!

Check out the photos.

Learn more about the march.

Could you or your organization benefit from learning about public prominence?

Would you like help planning, organizing or producing an event like this one?

If you have any questions, please get in touch at or request a free quote.

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