The Dales House at 414 Alexander Street circa 1890 CVA Photo SGN 490

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shoot Out on the 500 block of East Georgia, March 20, 1917

Last Saturday I escorted two tours through Vancouver's historic East End. March 20th was the 93rd anniversary of the sensational shootout that took place between Robert Tait and the Vancouver City Police on the 500 block of East Georgia. The shootout left three dead: 37 year-old Robert Tait (then resident of the upstairs apartment at 522 East Georgia), Vancouver's Chief of Police, 43 year-old Malcolm MacLennan, and an eight year old boy named George Robb who lived down the street from Tait at 548 East Georgia.

Chief Malcolm MacLennan

Robert Tait

In preparation for the tour I photocopied numerous articles from the four city newspapers of the time: The Daily News Advertiser, The Vancouver Daily World, The Province and The Sun. The newspaper articles not only paint a vivid picture of the sensational event, but also show us just how different Vancouver was back in 1917. The headlines reveal a level of hysteria and racism that may surprise some. Remember however, that the events of 1917 took place only ten years after Vancouver's largest (not only) race riot and five years after the Komagata Maru incident. World War I was still raging in Europe, the US was still frustratingly neutral, and Russia and it's monarchy teetered on the verge of collapse.

To give tour participants some context for the event and the reaction to the shoot out, I printed out some front pages of a number of newspapers and included them in the binder of news clippings covering the shoot out I made for the tour. Here is the front page of the Vancouver Sun for St. Patrick's Day, 1917, three days before the shooting. The headlines say it all...

Unfortunately, the copy quality from the microfilm and the size of paper I was printing on was not conducive to everyone being able to read the articles in any detail so I am uploading all of them here in order of appearance. Remember you can click on the image and it will magnify. Again, I apologize for the copy quality but this is the best I could come up with under the circumstances.

This is the first page of the Vancouver Sun the day of the shooting. If any of the participants of the shooting read The Sun that day, this is what they would have read. The paper estimates that German casualities since the beginning of the war amount to over four million. This may be propaganda.

March 21st, 1917
Here is the front page of The Daily News Advertiser from March 21st.

The previous articles are all from pages 2 and 7 of the March 21st Daily News Advertiser.

This following article is from page 2 of the same paper.


The Province of March 21st, 1917

The Province, Page 12

Detail showing the layout of the rooms Bob Tait and Frankie Russell were living in. Note the "small arsenal" of weapons in the bedroom. Tait is consistently misspelled "Tate" in most of the newspaper articles.


The Vancouver Sun, March 21st, 1917

These excerpts might be easier to read

From the Vancouver Daily World

Editorial on Page 6 of March 21st Daily World

Little George Robb

March 22, 1917

This News Clipping is from the Daily News Advertiser

From The Province of March 22, 1917

From the Vancouver Sun

March 23, 1917

Vancouver Daily Province, Page 5

Vancouver Daily Province, Page 16

Vancouver Daily Province, Page 19

Vancouver Sun, Page 5

Vancouver Sun, Page 9

March 24, 1917
Vancouver Province, Page 18

Vancouver Sun, Page 7

March 27, 1917

Vancouver Province, Page 7

Vancouver Sun, Page 2


April 2, 1917

Province, Page 20


The articles relating to the shooting and Frankie Russell's trial go on for some weeks after this. Again, a great review of that trial can be found in Vancouver historian Lani Russwurm's blog. Here is a link.

In doing my search of the newspapers of the day, I cam across a number of unrelated, but interesting articles and ads... But these I will upload in another post.

Thanks again to all those who came on my tour and who have shown interest in coming. A tour of Strathcona north of Hastings, a West End tour, Downtown tour, and a tour of Grandview Woodland are in the works.


  1. Who actually shot Tate will always be a mystery. My Grandfather, Insp. David Scott, swore till the day he died that he actually shot Tate. At one point he was positioned on a roof across the street with other sharpshooters bombarding the house(was sent home to get his long gun) and is also prominently mentioned in Lani Russwurm's story. This story was told to me by my father who was 16 years old at the time and would have heard the original story at that time as well.

    1. Your Grandfather was a "Dirty Copper" to say the least. In the Trial of Fred Deal for the Murder of Constable Macbeth in 1922, we learn that the Police Revolver used in the slaying was given to Miss Marjorie Earl, a noted brothel owner, by none other by Former Police Inspector of C Division, David Scott for "unpaid expenses" owed to Miss Earl for "Services Rendered".