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  Red Lights on the Prairies. JAMES H. GRAY. Toronto, Macmillan, 1971. Pp. xvi. 207, maps, illus. S6.95. Preliminary Information
Title and its adequacy In Red Lights on the Prairies James H. Gray is in some ways guilty of deceptive packaging. As he confesses in his introduction, the legendary red light was not used as a trademark by the pioneer prostitutes of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Alberta. even had such lights been employed, they would have gleamed not on Catchy opening, using title as point of departure
Field the prairie, but in front of the urban brothels which form the subject of the book.  
Place of book in field However, since Red Lights on the Prairies is a lively and amusing survey of prostitution in Western cities before the Great Depression, Description of book
Areas covered one is inclined to grant the author poetic license in his choice of a title. Mr. Gray's new book is a fascinating tale of booze, loose women, and  
Sources tolerant policemen which gives our grandfathers' generation a dimension it lacks in more conventional histories. Gathering his anecdotes from forgotten municipal reports,  
Development of book newspapers, and personal interviews, he deals in turn with each of the tenderloin sections of the West's urban centres. Beginning in Winnipeg, Gray journeys West through Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Edmonton,  
Development of book newspapers, and personal interviews, he deals in turn with each of the tenderloin sections of the West's urban centres. Beginning in Winnipeg, Gray journeys West through Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, and Drumheller. In the process lhe releases many unremembered skeletons from the civic closets of respectable Prairie centres. The Thomas Street Raid of 1904, for example, can take its rightful place alongside the General Strike and the 1950 flood in the annals of Winnipegs' past. Mr. Gray's personal interviews with survivors of this more flamboyant period of Western Canada's history.  
The author's use of sources have given his book a flavour that printed sources could not. No annual report or newspaper, not even the Calgary Eye Opener, could tell a researcher that railroad newsboys made more money selling condoms than magazines, or that a Moose Jaw whore named Rosie Dale prompted the first U-Drive buggy system in the city. It is somewhat of a disappointment that the author has refused to identify his venerable  
  informers, but considering the nature of their information, it is perhaps understandable. In The Boy From Winnipeg Mr Gray was extremely critical of professional historians, describing Evaluation of use of sources plus one possible explanation
Author not an Academic them as "prestigious pedagogues'who mention social history 'only in passing" and even then 'get their facts awry." Red Lights on the Prairies takes the same attitude, but for the first time Gray accommodates the academic community by providing both documentation and an index. This is no doubt what has led his publisher to make the dustjacket claim that Red Lights is not simply popularization but 'a serious and  
  challenging piece of social history'. Unfortunately, however, Mr Gray's work cannot lay claim to such status Transition from description to evaluation of content.
Author's bias distorts his interpretation Mr Gray's most serious difficulty arises when he is confronted with the problem of social and moral reform. Once prostitution and the liquor traffic become harmless diversions, reformers cease to be responsible citizens, responding to the complex urban problems of towns which became cities overnight. Instead they become Red Lights on the Prairies' villains, firebreathing killjoys who attempted to spoil all the fun. Protestant ministers are a special target. Dr F.B. DuVal of Winnipeg, one of the West's most distinguished Presbyterians, is described as 'a pint-sized Zealot with a hardglinting eye'. Mr Gray also notes with glee that "there were whore houses in Regina before there was a single church,' and suggests on several  
The areas of investigation author has overlooked
The reason for this becomes apparent once the laughter subsides. In order to make his work lively and readable, Gray feels he has to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness. Red Lights completely ignores the seamier aspects of early twentieth century prostitution. Every hooker in Mr Gray's narrative has the

Note explanation

The seriousness of author's omission proverbial heart of gold, and chose her profession not because of poverty or ignorance but because she was born with a predisposition toward the trade'. Even more indicative of Mr Gray's 'good old days' approach to his subject is his utter disregard of the twin scourges of syphilis and gonorrhea, and their attendant social complications. Surely two hundred pages on pre-penicillin prostitution in which the words 'venereal disease' appear only once can hardly pretend to be credible social history.  
  occasions that prostitution may have played a more important role in the lives of our grandfathers than religion. One wishes Mr Gray could restrain his desire to engage in selective snickering long enough to examine seriously the deeply held convictions of the Western reform movement. The author's deficiencies as a social historian in no way diminish the general appeal of this book. Red Lights on the Prairies is very much like Mr Gray's earlier books - witty, anecdotal, and superficial.


Snappy conclusion

Source: Canadian Historical Review, 53 (4, December 1972): 457-458. (Reprinted by permission of author and the University of Toronto Press)

Note: Dr. Thompson's review emphasizes the fact that not all items in the checklist need be included and as well, that those included cannot be organized in the exact order in which they appear in this guide. How do you think this review might have been changed if Thompson had had half as much space allotted to him? Twice as much? If he had been writing for the citizens of Winnipeg instead of for a national audience? If his review had appeared in a daily newspaper instead of a scholarly journal?