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This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service. Please direct all inquiries to webmaster mhs. In the spring of , the Winnipeg Board of Police Commissioners was tired of hearing complaints from social purity reformers and citizens about prostitution in the city. The time had come for action. Since it was widely held in law enforcement circles that the problem could not be solved, the board decided the prostitutes should be hidden away somewhere in the city where no person of political importance would have to deal with them.
So began one of the most notorious eras in Winnipeg history, that of the Point Douglas segregated area. Between and , in Point Douglas existed a community created by madams and prostitutes and influenced by male clients and police.
It was defined by violence, alcohol, danger, disorderly conduct, exploitation, and a lowly, stigmatized status. Around the business of prostitution grew a complex community of women who controlled and shaped their own lives, livelihoods, and neighbourhood by seizing opportunity and working with and exploiting fellow women. While ultimately limited by law enforcement trends and the whims of civic officials, these women learned to work within and manipulate and oppose the system in order to achieve their own ends.
In doing so, they created a colourful network and neighbourhood and enjoyed various degrees of power therein. By focussing on the segregated area during this period, then, we get a microcosmic view of a particular segment of the popular class, a comprehensive understanding of some of the strategies poor and displaced women employed to cope and survive, and a sense of how the experience with poverty and change in a market economy was gendered.
The Point Douglas area is depicted at the lower right. Source: Archives of Manitoba. Life in red light districts formed a crucial part of popular class culture that has remained unexplored in the Winnipeg context. Alan Artibise and James Gray have shown how the existence of the segregated area came to dominate civic politics from the time the area was created in to the re-election of pro-segregation Mayor William Sandford Evans in Concentrating on the Winnipeg experience in , it instead examines prostitution from the perspective of the women who lived and worked in the segregated area in order to understand the strategies they employed to shape and control their lives.