Terry Chapman

Date of Award

Spring 1984

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)






For the majority of Canadian historians, the study of sexual morality, abnormality and deviance in Western Canada during the last decade of the nineteenth and first two decades of the twentieth century is primarily thought of in terms of prostitution. Given that prostitutes and brothels were highly visible commodities in the West during these years, it was and is only natural that contemporaries and historians alike would center their discussions on the impact of prostitution and red light districts on Western Canadian society. However, a study of newspapers, household guides, Mounted Police and Penitentiary reports, the debates of the House of Commons, the Criminal Code of 1892, criminal statistics, published law reports and unpublished court records reveals that Canadians in general, and Western Canadians in particular were greatly concerned with a wide variety of sexual matters. Thus it becomes readily apparent that a visit to a prostitute was not the only sexual activity indulged in by the male population in the West; nor was it the only sexual encounter classified as socially unacceptable and in terms of the written law, criminal intent. The definition of a sex crime in the late Victorian and Edwardian era knew no boundaries. For example, the use, sale and supply of birth control devices, abortion and the solemnization of a marriage were all strictly controlled by specific sections of the Criminal Code of Canada. Concerted efforts were made to prohibit same sex contact between males as homosexual encounters were forbidden by the law of the land. Women were to remain chaste before they married and the law took precautions to ensure that a necessary prerequisite in a conviction for a sex assault against a female was her proven chastity before the assault. All sexual activity was to be confined to the marriage bed, performed in the missionary position and solely for the purpose of procreation. Evidently, this form of traditional sexual morality was to be reinforced through social custom and the written law. Research into the written and unwritten restraints placed upon sexual activity and an examination as to what constituted a so-called sex crime "in Western Canada during the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century are key components of the society's past. Unfortunately however, the study of sexual morality in general and sex crimes in particular, has been neglected by Canadian historians and as a result, a more comprehensive understanding of Canadian history remains incomplete. For just as the public life of a people is important in the historical analysis of a society, so too is their private life. Perhaps the latter is of even greater importance to the historian.

McMaster University Library

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