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

Updated: Jul 7, 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.

[Police Chief Walter Mulligan and Superintendant John Fisk at the police probe] General material designation Photograph Title statements of responsibility W. Cunningham Vancouver Daily Province Level of description Item Reference code AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-230

Police Chief Walter Mulligan and Superintendent John Fisk at the police probe. Image Credit: Vancouver Archives: W. Cunningham Vancouver Daily Province Reference code AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-230

In 1955, The Tupper Inquiry, led by presiding Commissioner Reginald H. Tupper, began. During the inquiry, it was revealed that both Sergeant Cuthbert and Mulligan had accepted bribes from criminals and gangsters, and had almost doubled their salaries while doing so. There was also the revelation that Mulligan had used bribery money to fund an affair with his mistress, along with countless other details that shocked the public.

Yet, for all the disdain and illegal activity that occurred throughout the Mulligan Affair, a ruling by the Attorney General found that there was not enough evidence to support the accusations. Amazingly, there were no arrests, and Mulligan quickly left Vancouver for California, only to return to BC many years later, settling down relatively quietly in Oak Bay, Vancouver Island.

What Happened Next?

The VPD was due for a major reformation, and it came in the form of Chief Constable George Archer. He would go onto save the tarnished reputation for the police department, but the tall task came with its own difficulties. Join us, this April 24th at The Vancouver Police Museum to learn more about this captivating part of our city’s history during our 2019 Speaker Series: Trial by Media. Retired journalist and best-selling author George Garrett will take us back in time to the aftermath of this scandal, with his presentation: From Scandal to Discipline (a chapter from his best-selling memoir: George Garret: Intrepid Reporter). This is a rare opportunity to hear from a media legend who had a front-row seat to the reformation of the department.

All tickets to the presentation come with a ‘two for one’ voucher to The Vancouver Police Museum, which you can pick up at the front desk upon your arrival. To buy tickets, click here.


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