Hogan’s Alley was the unofficial name for a T-shaped intersection at the southwestern edge of Strathcona that formed the nucleus of Vancouver’s first concentrated black community. Vancouver’s first archivist, J.S. Matthews (see Major Matthews’ House), noted that the name “Hogan’s Alley” was in use by 1914.
The first black immigrants arrived in British Columbia from California in 1858. They settled in Victoria and Salt Spring Island, but began migrating to Vancouver in the early 1900s, making their homes in Strathcona, an east side, working-class neighborhood that was the original home to Vancouver’s Italian community, as well as the southern edge of Chinatown. They were joined by black homesteaders from Alberta, who originally came from Oklahoma, and by black railroad porters worked at the Great Northern Railway nearby. Housing discrimination in other parts of Vancouver also concentrated the city’s black population in this area.
Black cultural institutions the neighbourhood was known for included “chicken house” restaurants, which often doubled as speakeasies — best known was Vie’s Chicken and Steak house — as well as the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel (founded in 1923) and the residential quarters of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. At its height in 1940s, the black population in Strathcona numbered approximately 800.
The neighbourhood was home to Nora Hendrix, grandmother to rock legend Jimi Hendrix and a cook at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House. Nora Hendrix was involved in the community from the 1920s through to its demise, remaining nearby until the 1980s. Jimi Hendrix is known to have visited his grandmother during his childhood, and attended the West End’s Dawson School Annex in 1949 (formerly at Barclay and Burrard Sts). Other performers from the community include the singer and actor Thelma Gibson-Towns and her brother Leonard Gibson, whose Negro Workshop Dance Group led to his work with Ballet British Columbia.
Over the years, the black population endured efforts by the city to rezone Strathcona making it difficult to obtain mortgages or make home improvements, and by newspaper articles portraying Hogan’s Alley as a centre of squalor, immorality and crime. Beginning in 1967, the City of Vancouver began leveling the western half of Hogan’s Alley to construct an interurban freeway through Hogan’s Alley and Chinatown. The freeway was ultimately stopped, but construction of the first phase – the Georgia viaduct – was completed in 1971. In the process, the western end of Hogan’s Alley was expropriated and several blocks of houses were demolished. Since the demise of Hogan’s Alley, no identifiably Black neighbourhood has emerged in Vancouver, but organizations like the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and festivals such as Caribbean Days and Black History Month have brought community members together.
Inspired by stories from residents past and present of Vancouver, East End Blues & All That Jazz, part of Spirit Rising (2008-09) is a live performance, curated and co-written by the late Denis Simpson and Savannah Walling with contributions from the Gibson family and others. East End Blues & All That Jazz premiered at the 2006 DTES Heart of the City Festival and was remounted in 2009 and 2011, where it sold out before it opened. It was remounted again in 2018.
In recent years, there have been significant efforts to commemorate the neighbourhood, through community and government initiatives such as a stamp issued by Canada Post in February 2014 as part of Black History Month. Artists such as Andrea Fatona and Cornelia Wyngaarden, Wayde Compton, and Stan Douglas, have explored Hogan’s Alley in their work. With the confirmation of the Georgia Street viaducts removal, there are plans for a Black Cultural Centre on the former site of Hogan’s Alley.
Beyond Hogan’s Alley
Black BC has never been a single
monolithic population . . .
nor has it ceased to shift and
transform today . . .
it has always been a population
and history always in flux.
Wayde Compton, Bluesprint: An Anthology of Black British Columbian Literature and Orature
Nearby Places That Matter