Hogan’s Alley, a historically Black community in Vancouver, represents diversity and Black culture in the city. Several upheavals and desperate attempts by the residents of Hogan’s Alley to redefine the district’s cultural heritage, which was obliterated by the city’s urban infrastructure plans to build and subsequently demolish two viaducts that took half of Hogan’s Alley away from its residents. The gentrification of Hogan’s Alley has dispersed its population, which is still paying the price, striving to reconnect their scattered community to this day.
In the early 1900s, the southwestern fringe of the Strathcona neighbourhood became home to Vancouver’s first Black settlement. Hogan’s Alley, officially listed as Parke Lane, was bounded on the north and south by Prior and Union Streets, and on the east and west by Jackson Avenue and Main Street. According to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, the Strathcona neighbourhood, which is located east of Chinatown, was home to a primarily Italian community until the early 1900s. At that time, the southwestern end was enclaved by a Black community consisting mainly of working-class immigrants from California and Oklahoma.
Hogan’s Alley was the beating heart of the Black community; it was the primary cultural hub where people used to live, work, and dine, as well as a sanctuary of diversity and inclusiveness. With the establishment of the first black church in the area in 1922, the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, the black community started to thrive in Hogan’s Alley. The church, which was located on Jackson Street, operated until the 1950s, when it was renovated and sold to become a private residential property, which it remains today.
What made Hogan’s Alley’s location strategic, was its proximity to the Great Northern Railway station; the area’s residents thus ranged from families to sleeping car porters. The neighbourhood was mostly made up of one- to three-story brick commercial establishments, with wooden dwellings located along Union and Prior Streets. In the lots between those clusters, live-work structures with dwellings over storefronts arose, while smaller utilitarian structures lined the alleyway.
Hogan’s Alley was famous for its restaurants and nightlife at its speakeasies. One of the most well-known food hubs was Vie’s Chicken and Steak. As explained by Lama Mugabo, a former resident of Hogan’s Alley, whose mother’s home was demolished in 1970, and who is now a board member of the Hogan’s Alley Society: “It was a place where people came to party, people came to enjoy soul food, to listen to jazz. All the great musicians, when they came to town, they ended up in Hogan’s Alley.”
Hogan’s Alley Board Director, Stephanie Allen, describes the city’s systematic planning to displace and deteriorate Hogan’s Alley after this heyday of liveliness. Allen explains the processes that led to the 1931 bylaw that designated Hogan’s Alley as an industrial zone rather than a residential zone. Aside from the new zoning, the district had been neglected by the city for years, resulting in deterioration and insecurity. This led newspapers to devalue the area and highlight the poor conditions of Hogan’s Alley, as Allen puts it, “reporting … it as a place of disrepute, using poor-bashing phraseology and focusing on themes of squalor, immorality and crime to the exclusion of the hardworking labourers, small business owners, families, and church community, setting the community up for the consequences of displacement that would follow in later decades.” A 1957 Redevelopment Study by the City of Vancouver designated Hogan’s Alley Block as a “Blighted Area,” advocating a need for urban renewal in the region to remove “the slums.”
Black Canadian historian and poet Wayde Compton has studied the history of Hogan’s Alley. He notes in the Canadian Encyclopedia that the erasure began in 1967, when the City of Vancouver began levelling the western half of Hogan’s Valley in order to build two viaducts connecting the east and west sides of the city. In an interview with the CBC, he said, “It was the moment that car culture was hitting North America, and people were supposed to live in the suburbs and work in the cities. So, they needed to put freeways through, so invariably they targeted black neighbourhoods or Chinatowns, and in Vancouver it was both.” Compton portrays Hogan’s Alley as a diverse Black neighbourhood faced with further displacement and gentrification. He defines Vancouver’s Black population as devoid of a “geographical centre.”
With the city’s Northeast False Creek Plan to revitalise the region and the destruction of the viaducts that started in 2015, the Hogan’s Alley Society (HAS) is collaborating with the City of Vancouver to preserve the Alley’s heritage and integrate it into the area as part of the plan. The Society envisions a location inside the city that emphasises the achievements of the past residents of Hogan’s Alley and adds to Vancouver’s rich ethnic background, as Hogan’s Alley marks the eastern limit of the new design. One of the three main projects of this collaboration is Nora Hendrix Place, a 52-unit low-income housing project on Hogan’s Alley Block completed in 2019. It is named after Nora Hendrix, grandmother of the famous musician Jimi Hendrix, co-founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, and a cook at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House.” Artist Ejiwa Ebenebe painted the Remember Hogan’s Alley mural on the western side of this housing complex in an attempt to restore the area’s previous vestiges. “Hogan’s Alley is a precious piece of history in dire need of remembrance and revival,” Ebenebe said “With this project I hope to do justice to the memories of our predecessors, as well as respect the wishes of those who strive to preserve our history.”
The second project is the construction of a Black cultural centre at 898 Main Street, which is part of the authorized North East False Creek plan Sections 4.4 and 10.4. “The Cultural Centre is to be a focal point for the Black Community, with the programming to support community building through food, gathering and celebration, education and empowerment, art, music, dance and research and knowledge of Black Canadian history,” states the report. The Black Experience Initiative 2018 of the Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) is the third project. Its goal is to map out the diverse experiences of Metro Vancouver’s Black population. Through research and engagement, it evaluates what the community has versus what it requires.
The importance of Hogan’s Alley to the Black community makes it a priority for this community to restore the beating heart that was once the centre of all Black cultural activities in Vancouver. Residents have experienced two waves of displacement as a result of the building and dismantling of the viaducts, with no known new destination. They are clinging to the new plans for a brighter future for the area because they want to reclaim the past.
Cross Cultural Walking Tours, “Stop 5: Hogan’s Alley – Kor Kase, Afro Van Connect,” May 27, 2020, YouTube video, 8:20, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_F3LuFUSLU&t=1s.
Melinda Friedman, “Secret Vancouver: Return To Hogan’s Alley,” February 17, 2016, YouTube video, 16:29, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-8lgpvj0Hg.
 Vancouver Heritage Foundation, “Hogan’s Alley,” Places That Matter, accessed May 26, 2022, https://www.placesthatmatter.ca/location/hogans-alley/.
 City of Vancouver, “Northeast False Creek Plan” (Vancouver: NEFC, 2018), 15.
 Stephen Quinn, “Former spiritual hub of Vancouver’s black community celebrated,” CBC News, February 25, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/chapel-celebration-black-history-1.5032481.
 Channon Oyeniran, “Sleeping Car Porters in Canada,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, February 19, 2019, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sleeping-car-porters-in-canada.
 Perkins + Will, “SUB-AREA 6D-EAST BLOCK: Hogan’s Alley Working Group Workshop Report” (Vancouver: City of Vancouver, 2017).
 Amy Smart, “Society pitches new life for Hogan’s Alley after Vancouver viaducts come down,” CBC News, February 9, 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/hogans-alley-vancouver-revitalization-1.5906747.
 Stephanie Allen, “Fight the Power: Redressing Displacement and Building a Just City for Black Lives in Vancouver,” master’s thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2019, https://summit.sfu.ca/item/19420.
 City of Vancouver 1957 Redevelopment Study, 3.
 Gloria Macarenko, “Remembering Hogan’s Alley, hub of Vancouver’s Black community,” CBC News, February 14, 2016, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/remembering-hogan-s-alley-hub-of-vancouver-s-black-community-1.3448080.
 “What was Hogan’s Alley?” Hogan’s Alley Society, accessed May 30, 2022, https://www.hogansalleysociety.org/about-hogans-alley/.
 Justin McElroy, “Nora Hendrix to become first Black woman with a Vancouver street named after her,” CBC News, February 10, 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/nora-hendrix-way-2021-vancouver-1.5907896.
 Ejiwa Ebenebe, “Remember Hogan’s Alley,” Art of Edge, 2019, https://www.artofedge.com/projects/0XNWdY?album_id=1803763.
 Amendment 4.4.3: Commit to work with the Hogan’s Alley Working Group to establish the long term involvement and investment of the Black Community in the future life of the block through the exploration of land trusts, long term leases, or other arrangements as appropriate “Northeast False Creek Plan (“NEFC Plan”) and Viaducts Replacement Project” Policy Report (January 19, 2018).
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