Nanaimo museum interpretation curator

Nanaimo museum interpretation curator

Exhibit examines city’s shady past

Red Lights and Roulette runs until May 2.

Anyone who has ever driven along Fraser Street in Nanaimo will know that the street is home to various automotive shops.

However, there was a time when the downtown street was known as Nanaimo’s Red Light District.

For the next four months, Nanaimoites will have the opportunity to learn about the prostitutes that roamed Fraser Street at the Nanaimo Museum’s Red Lights and Roulette exhibit.

Museum interpretation curator Aimee Greenaway said that between the 1890s and 1920s Fraser Street was a much different place than it is today.

“Part of what used to be Fraser Street is now Terminal Avenue,” Greenaway said. “The Red Light District is actually between where Budget Car Rentals are and Mr. Lube.”

Red Lights and Roulette profiles a number of the prostitutes who worked in the brothels along Fraser Street.

“It was estimated that at any given time between the 1910s and the 1920s there were about 30 or 40 women living there,” Greenaway said. “We were able piece together histories of several of the women, which was probably one of the more exciting parts of the exhibit.”

According to Greenaway, it was difficult to find information on the women because many of them were not Canadian and often changed their names multiple times.

“They are not normally people that come up in the historical record. You don’t pick up a history book and read them,” she said. “None of the women that we researched were from Nanaimo. Many of them came from the United States. Some came from France.”

The exhibit also features a gambling section, which examines the history of gambling in Nanaimo from the 1800s until present day.

Red Lights and Roulette runs until May 2 at the Nanaimo Museum, 100 Museum Way. For more information, please visit or call 250-753-1821.

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