Rebirth of a historic Black neighbourhood

Mural commemorating Hogan’s Alley

For decades, Hogan’s Alley served as a hub for Vancouver’s Black community before city planning in the 1970s led to the displacement of a once-vibrant neighbourhood.

Now, a recent agreement with the City of Vancouver will provide a community land trust to the Hogan’s Alley Society for the land bordered by Main and Gore streets to the west and east and Union and Prior streets to the north and south.

In return, the society will provide housing, amenities and a cultural centre.

June Francis, the co-chair of the Hogan’s Alley Society and director of the Institute for the Black and African diaspora at Simon Fraser University, said the project is an attempt to revive what was once the main street and focal point of Vancouver’s Black community.

“The whole idea is to bring back and redress what was lost,” Francis said.

Vancouver’s Black neighbourhood was dismantled in the late 1960s to make room for the Georgia and Dunsmuir street viaducts.

Djaka Blais

Black settlement in the area dates back to 1858 when governor James Douglas introduced a policy welcoming Black Californians to British Columbia. The Great Northern Railway station nearby also meant many Black porters chose Hogan’s Alley as a home in the 1920s.

At one point, Hogan’s Alley was home to more than 800 Black community members and featured the African Methodist Episcopal Chapel, a residence for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as well as the legendary Vie’s Chicken and Steak House — a hotspot where Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother Nora, a vaudevillian performer and choir singer, worked as a cook.

The city’s efforts to rezone Strathcona made it difficult for residents to obtain mortgages or loans for home improvements. Newspaper articles portrayed Hogan’s Alley as a centre of squalor, immorality and crime, according to the Vancouver Heritage Society.

Much of the area was razed to make way for the Georgia and Dunsmuir street viaducts as part of a plan to build a freeway through the city. The viaducts opened in 1972, although plans for a larger freeway never came to pass.

Vie’s Chicken and Steak House

Francis said the destruction of Hogan’s Alley was part of a larger pattern that saw Black communities displaced in cities across North America. The loss of Hogan’s Alley, Francis said, left Vancouver’s Black community fragmented.

Coun. Christine Boyle says through the land trust, the city aims to work with the Hogan’s Alley Society to make up for past injustices.

“The Black community was lively and thriving in Hogan’s Alley, and approaches to what was then called urban renewal displaced, erased and removed them.”

The city notes the redevelopment will require the removal of the viaducts and the introduction of a new street network, both of which are still several years away.

Society executive director Djaka Blais says the project hopes to reclaim some of the hope that was lost.

“The opportunity here is to reclaim that sense of presence and place and to be working toward a thriving hub again for the Black community,” Blais said.