The History of the Coroner’s Court, Part 3: The Bingo

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

This is part three of our series on the history of the Coroner’s Court.

Written by Sheena Koo

The Bingo

The former Coroner’s Court has been home to some dramatic moments. The very purpose of the place was to investigate death, and this in itself was already a macabre theme. Accordingly, inquests held in the room examined all kinds of deaths, ranging from accidental gas poisonings to traffic accidents all the way to cold-blooded murder. When it was in use, the morgue averaged 1,100 bodies a year and 1.5 inquests per week, thus cementing its fate as one of Vancouver’s most interesting heritage locations—one that harbours thousands of stories filled with death, drama and, more importantly, dutiful investigation to ensure the dead get justice even after their passing.

To give you an idea on numbers, the former Coroner’s Court investigated on average

  1. A traffic death every week

  2. A homicide every two weeks

  3. An industrial death every month

  4. 75 deaths a year from suicidal or accidental domestic gas poisoning

*stats from How Come I’m Dead? by former Chief Coroner Glen McDonald with John Kirkwood.

The most infamous of these stories you can see in our True Crimes exhibit, held in the former Morgue at our museum. However, there are many others that are not crime related, but which are equally as fascinating.

One of our favourites concerns what McDonald called “the deadliest sport in Canada.” It wasn’t hockey, lacrosse, rugby or any other contact sport, as you might imagine. In fact, it wasn’t really a sport at all. It was a game and Bingo was its name-o.

A Legion Bingo tent at the PNE during the 1970s. Credit: Vancouver Archives.

In the late 1950s and throughout the ’60s, there was a surge in traffic deaths involving the elderly. McDonald estimated that there was one pedestrian death per week involving someone over 60 years of age. He attributed many of these deaths to the fact that the elderly would cross the street to attend their nightly Bingo games and end up at his morgue as fatalities.

He wrote: