A Vancouver memorial will be unveiled on September 16 to honour sex workers expelled from the West End during the 1980s.
Jamie Lee Hamilton initiated the project eight years ago; she says the commemorative work recognizing the lives of sex workers is the first of its kind in Canada.
For Hamilton, the unveiling of the memorial on Jervis Street represents a homecoming of sorts. At one time in her life, Hamilton was part of the sex-trade community that flourished in the West End during the mid-1970s and mid-1980s.
“There had been a complete erasure of this community ever being there in the West End,” Hamilton told the Straight by phone.
The memorial is also a symbol of how far sex workers have succeeded in fighting for their rights and gaining acceptance in the wider community, she said. “I don’t think ever again can the sex trade ever just be swept under the carpet.”
Hamilton has described the presence of the tight-knit community of West End sex workers as the “golden age” of prostitution in Vancouver. However, at the time, there was pushback from residents and municipal politicians. The group Concerned Residents of the West End worked for the removal of the sex workers, and city hall passed a bylaw fining sex workers. In 1984, a B.C. Supreme Court decision banned sex workers from the West End, pushing them east and into places like the Downtown Eastside, where women went missing in subsequent years.
The memorial is part of the work by the West End Sex Work History Project, 1975-1985, which was cofounded by Hamilton and UBC sociology professor Becki Ross.
Other than saying that it will have a Victorian look, Hamilton declined to provide further details of the memorial. But she provided a hint: “It will light up.”