Vancouver Centennial Plaque #8 – Houdini’s Great Escape


137 W Pender


Formerly the Vancouver Sun building, now the Pendera Building (social housing)


Missing – building demolished



March 1, 1923

As thousands watched, Harry Houdini performed his celebrated strait-jacket escape while hanging from a window on the second storey. He was assured of newspaper coverage for his publicity stunt because the building then housed the Vancouver Sun.”

Credit: Vancouver Centennial Commission, Historic Plaque Program – list and documentation plaques 1-49 (June 18, 1986). Courtesy of Vancouver Archives

In 1923, Harry Houdini headlined at the Orpheum theatre in Vancouver. Famed for his death-defying escapology stunts, he was also a master self-publicist and his visit to Vancouver was no exception. He was “challenged” by the Vancouver Sun newspaper to be strapped into a straitjacket by police officers, then suspended by his ankles and hung upside down outside their headquarters.

The newspapers were full of blustering talk from both sides – Houdini “defying” the police force and the Sun “planning to make it a tough job” for him. Houdini also promised prizes for the best photo of his stunt, “successful or otherwise”.

An estimated 10,000 people came out to watch the display – shutting down all nearby streets and providing a captive audience to whom Houdini could promote his show. (Also on the bill at the Orpheum was Jack Benny – and we’ll be looking at him later!) Although the Sun’s review of the event talked up Houdini’s struggle and showmanship, a rival newspaper (the Vancouver Daily World) merely stated he managed to escape in less than two minutes. Perhaps jealous that they hadn’t been part of the fun?

You can see a similar escape in Chicago in 1922 on YouTube.

A few write-ups of this event, including its listing in 111 Places in Vancouver That You Must Not Miss, say that there should be plaque on the site to commemorate it. Well, there was one there in 1986!

Vancouver’s 100 Centennial Plaques

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