February is Black History Month and in Vancouver, there’s a significant amount of history to share and celebrate. From the groundbreaking work of Emery Barnes to the life-saving Joe Fortes who was named the “Citizen of the Century” by the City of Vancouver. Settlers of African-American decent came from Victoria (and prior to that places such as Louisiana and California) and built up neighbourhoods in North Vancouver and East Vancouver. The centre of this, was Hogan’s Alley in Strathcona.
Per the City of Vancouver Archives, “Hogan’s Alley was the colloquial name for the lane between Union and Prior Streets, roughly between Main Street and Jackson Avenue. Many of its buildings were demolished as part of the Georgia Viaduct Replacement project.”
What made Hogan’s Alley significant, however, is that before it’s destruction in the early 1970’s it was the epi-centre of African-Canadian culture in Vancouver. Due to the close proximity to the train station and the large number of Afro-Canadian sleeping-car porters, a significant concentration of families took up residence in the alley and it’s surrounding areas; it also became the site of numerous Afro-Canadian businesses, and the city’s only Afro-Canadian church, the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel. Yet due to Vancouver Mayor, L.D. Taylor’s infamous “open town” policy – focusing on major crimes, rather than “vice” crimes – Hogan’s Alley became a red-light district home to illegal drinking houses, brothels, and gambling until Taylor’s landslide loss in the 1934 civic election. [Beyond Robson, 2008]
Hogan’s Alley became well-known for its distinctive culture, featuring blues musicians and chicken eateries. It was also associated with illegal gambling, drinking and prostitution. In the 1960s, the area was razed to make way for a modern development. Protesters managed to shut the project down but not before the block housing in Hogan’s Alley had been destroyed. In 1972 the Georgia Street Viaduct was built over the area. [Vancouver Public Library]
Since 2002, the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project has been dedicated “to keeping the black history of Vancouver alive and a part of the present”. While the website is infrequently updated, it is a great resource for history tidbits, initiatives, and even additional information about the Jimi Hendrix Shrine.
Even though places such as these are gone, they are not forgotten. Through grassroots campaigns, blogs, articles, heritage websites and archived accounts, the history of Vancouver’s melting-pot culture lives on.
You can view a full Black History Month event calendar on the City’s website.
Reminder: The Vancouver Heritage Foundation is looking for public nominations for their “Places That Matter” campaign. Nominate a significant place, venue, or event location online until mid-March.