Friday, May 22, 2015

Union Unrest

It was early in 1962 and the Vancouver Local of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union was involved in a contract dispute with its employers. The union members set up picket lines at various locations throughout the city.

However, the Teamsters Union refused to honour those picket lines so the R.W.D.S.U. picketed the Teamsters Hall at 400 East Broadway. To add more to this contentious mix, the Seafarers International Union, led by Hal Banks in Toronto, was facing a threat from a new union, the Canadian Maritime Union. They had just opened its charter and were stealing members from the SIU.

There were monthly meetings for the SIU Port Agents in Teamsters Hall and one was scheduled for February 8, 1962. Even though the hall was behind picket lines, the meeting was going on as planned.

It was 11:15 am and Ronald Clark was on picket duty outside the front doors of the hall. Two men approached to enter and Clark told the men the building was being picketed. Without warning, the larger of the two men punched him in the face. Clark went down, striking his head on the sidewalk.

Naturally, the police were called and Clark, with a bleeding cut to the back of his head and a split lip, told the officers what happened and gave them a description of his assailants.

The police proceeded into the hall and found the two men fitting Clark's description of his attackers in the coffee shop. The suspect identified himself as 42-year-old Clayton Stratton, an American and a member of Seattle SIU.

Stratton admitted hitting Clark. "He tried to stop me going in so I dropped him." His version was confirmed by the second man, Roderick Heinekey, a SIU Port Agent in Vancouver.

The police officers went back to Clark and told him the procedure for laying charges against Stratten and Heinekey before leaving to attend to their other duties.

Later that day, picketers saw Stratten and Heinekey leave the Union Hall as passengers in a Cadillac driven by Teamster's business agent, Allen  Barnes.

That evening, Stratten was arrested by police and charged with assault causing bodily harm.

Bail was set at $500 on the following day. He was released when the bail was paid by Heinekey.

Tune in on Monday. There is a murder about to happen!

Thanks to the book Policebeat 24 Vancouver Murders by Joe Swan.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

All Good Things...

There isn't a lot of documentation on the Lincoln Club. However, what does exist is enough to give an idea of what people thought of the club.

The club existed for six years and obviously, it was popular. Why else would it receive the attention from the police it did? Reg Dotson was doing more than just 'ekeing' out a living with the club. This is evident in his big car and ability to impress out of town entertainers.

At this time in history, the jobs open for black men were sleeping car porter, janitor or another low- level position. Dotson was making more financially then he ever could in one of those jobs.

The papers had unexplained mentions of 'white' women being in the club. This was probably intended to add to the notoriety of the club. Remember the times frowned upon race mixing. Those reports tell us something else though. They tell us despite the Lincoln Club being known as a black club, it wasn't so racially segregated.

Then there was the annual Easter Sunday breakfast dance. This tells us the club was more than just for drinking and gambling. It has a community purpose.

Don't forget about the numerous performers who lived above or stayed at the club. This tells it was home to a vibrant musical culture. Most notably, jazz, right when the genre was coming into its own.

Vancouver's black population was tiny at the time. But the Lincoln Club linked it to a larger and more sophisticated black cultural network that travelled North America on railway lines and entertainment circuits. I think that Dotson and the club brought the whites and blacks together, if only for a little while, to enjoy great music. And perhaps see other races aren't so scary or different.

102 East Georgia was listed as vacant in a 1925 city directory. In 1935, Reg Dotson passed away.

Thanks to the Past Tense Vancouver blog for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Sting

When I left off Friday, I was telling you about how a man named George McLeod posed as a chief inspector for the B.C. liquor control board and visited Reg Dotson, asking for money so Dotson wouldn't have to pay a fine. Dotson wisely called the police and agreed to help Inspector Charles Tuley and his fellow officers in capturing the poser.

Dotson met with McLeod the first time in Dotson's car. Later, the two spoke on the telephone - with the police listening in - and discussed the pay off. Dotson stalled McLeod by pressing for assurances he wouldn't be fined after he paid McLeod.

McLeod arrived at Dotson's home at 102 Georgia for their final meeting. Dotson answered the door in his pyjamas, appearing as if he had just woken. McLeod came in to complete the deal and Dotson handed him $50 of marked bills supplied by the police.

Unknown to George McLeod, the police were hiding in an adjacent room listening to the conversation and watching through a peep hole. Inspectors Tuley, Sutherland and Detective Thompson burst into the room and arrested McLeod.

(Here is a newspaper article on the arrest: Vancouver Daily World)

At the police station, McLeod was told he had been a fool. According to Tuley, he replied, “I know. I wish I hadn’t. Keep this quiet and I will quit my job and leave the country,”

By the time the case went to court in the fall of 1923, McLeod had worked out his defence. He didn't argue the facts the police presented but rather explained it away. He said he wasn't really extorting money; he was trying to find out which clubs were paying off the police. Dotson testified, as did Tuley and Thompson. George McLeod was believed though and he was acquitted.

So why was McLeod believed over Dotson and the police? Many reasons may have played a factor. It may have been that the fact people believed the Vancouver Police Department was corrupt. A female juror was reprimanded by the judge for stating, before the verdict was reached, that she hoped McLeod got off because she felt it was "frame-up". An officer remarked under cross-examination the police were forced to do some things, which he didn't approve of, to secure convictions under the Liquor Act. Sometimes the informers turned out to be "rotters".

The defence council grilled Dotson about the Lincoln Club, bringing up its history of liquor law violations. Dotson stated the club had shut down in October of 1922 and was now being used as a space for black railway porters. Dotson refused to answer questions on whether 102 East Georgia was the home of an illegal gambling den. He didn't want to incriminate himself.

Thanks to the Past Tense Vancouver blog for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.