The Rise and Fall of Vancouver’s Top Cop in the 1950s

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

Written by Sheena Koo

1950s Vancouver was an idyllic time for many. The city had just a few skyscrapers, with the Hotel Vancouver and the Marine Building standing as the city’s tallest; most of the growing communities retained their neighbourhood charm and quaint customs; while wholesome family ideals remained paramount in ads from Canadian companies like Woodward’s and The Bay.

Downtown Vancouver in 1956. Image credit: Vancouver Archives: Item : Air P106.4 - [Aerial view Downtown Vancouver and Coal Harbour]

Downtown Vancouver in 1956. The two tallest buildings, The Marine Building and the Hotel Vancouver, are seen on the left and right of the skyline. Image credit: Vancouver Archives: Item: Air P106.4 – [Aerial view Downtown Vancouver and Coal Harbour]

Yet, behind all this beauty existed a dark side filled with vice, corruption and lies. One story that revealed the depth of this darkness was the Mulligan Affair.

Photo of Chief Mulligan. Image Credit: Vancouver Archives: Item Reference code AM54-S4-: Port P1200

Walter Mulligan became Vancouver’s youngest appointed Police Chief on January 27th, 1947. At 43 years of age, he had youthful vigour and charm in addition to a close friendship with the mayor Gerry McGeer. But it wasn’t too long before his rising star would fall due to allegations of corruption and scandal.

Even though the city had active Liquor and Gambling Squads that were meant to reduce illicit activity in the city, much of the squad’s actual business revolved around collecting money to keep these illegal pursuits alive and well. There were rumblings around town about officers getting their cut from this well-run, tight-lipped operation headed by Mulligan, but no public revelations came—that was until one ambitious reporter, Ray Munroe, decided to blow the lid off of the secret in grand fashion.

In front page news for Toronto-based newspaper The Flash, Munro named names and described Vancouver as “gangland Eden.” In Ian Macdonald and Betty O’Keefe’s book, The Mulligan Affair: Top Cop on the Take, they describe the headlines from the paper:

“It was purple prose and searing sensationalism, and Flash promised a lot more:

  1. Read about the Police Chief and the Vanishing Piggy Bank

  2. Read of the Society Playboy’s Sinister Double Life

  3. Read Why Vancouver Today is Hop Head Heaven

  4. Read of the Scarlet Women and Their Highly Placed Lovers

  5. Read of the Senior Detective Who Spilled His Guts to Victoria

  6. Read How the Politicians Sold Out You the Public

  7. Read How the Syndicate Captured City Hall

  8. Read the Price Tages on Vancouver Officialdom

  9. Read Why Press Photographers are Banned at Police Courts,” the book states.

On top of all these accusations came the shocking news that acting Detective Sergeant Cuthbert had attempted suicide after hearing about the story going public. He would recover, however, and go on to testify at the Tupper Commission, the now infamous inquiry that exposed this scandalous story.