Trounce Alley, aka Blood Alley, c. 1860

Blood Alley began as a simple horse lane, carved out and gravelled by W. R. Lewis (the proprietor of a line of Royal Mail stagecoaches in the 1860’s; see Fig. 1) so he could house his post horses. Initially named “Trounce Alley” by local merchant and undertaker F. W. Hart, Blood Alley was the first true alley to be established in Vancouver. In the years following its establishment, several important businesses popped up along the street, including a broom factory, horse stables, and Gassy Jack’s cabin. John “Gassy Jack” Deighton — English-born owner and proprietor of the Globe Saloon bar in the 1860’s. John was given this colourful sobriquet due to his talkative nature, and locals started calling the area around his bar “Gastown”.

Fig. 1. Advertisement for W. R. Lewis’ Royal Mail Stagecoach service, printed in the Mainland Guardian, 1874.

Business and the times hummed along, with no major changes wrought upon the alley until the 1970’s, when the city of Vancouver decided to turn Gastown into a commercial heritage district. Buildings were renovated, bollards added, and the street itself was laid with brick and cobblestones to give it an ‘old-timey’ feel.

The exact provenance of the name “Blood Alley” is still debated. Some believe it was a marketing ploy, introduced along with myths of slaughterhouses along the street that once made it run red with blood. Others claimed that hangings took place in the alley, though no evidence of any such events has been found. Another possibility is that the name was inspired by the old Blood Alley in New York, labelled such because of the abattoirs that once dotted its length. But perhaps the most compelling potential origin of the name is a 1964 newspaper article, which gave a rather sensationalised account of a string of violent murders that occurred in and around the alley. According to historian John Atkin, the article is the oldest known record of Trounce Alley being dubbed “Blood Alley”.


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