Reviving Hogan’s Alley: A Vancouver Legacy

‘Union Street’ chronicles decline of Hogan’s Alley once thriving Vancouver Black neighbourhood

In the heart of Vancouver, Union Street, a compelling feature-length documentary by writer-director Jamila Pomeroy, delves into the rich history and subsequent decline of Hogan’s Alley—a once-thriving Black community at the edge of the Strathcona neighborhood. Pomeroy, a Vancouver filmmaker, expresses a personal connection to the narrative, stemming from her childhood curiosity about the scarcity of Black individuals in the city and a desire for a sense of belonging within a Black community.

Hogan’s Alley mural

Hogan’s Alley, a three-block stretch, flourished for decades as a vibrant hub for Vancouver’s Black community. It was home to over 800 Black residents, featuring renowned establishments such as Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, where Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother worked. The neighborhood’s roots traced back to 1858 when Black Californians were welcomed to British Columbia, and it gained further prominence in the 1920s as Black porters chose Hogan’s Alley as their home due to its proximity to the Great Northern Railway station.

However, the 1970s marked a turning point as city planning initiatives led to the demise of Hogan’s Alley. Gentrification and urban renewal, purportedly aimed at building a better city, resulted in the displacement of the Black community. The Georgia and Dunsmuir street viaducts, constructed in 1972, erased much of the area, coupled with systemic racism denying Black businesses licenses, liquor licenses, and basic services.

Jamila Pomeroy (left) and Mack Stannard

Pomeroy underscores the devastating impact of racist city planning, revealing a dark chapter in Vancouver’s history. Yet, the documentary also sheds light on the ongoing efforts to rectify these historical injustices. The City of Vancouver has acknowledged its past discriminatory actions and committed to addressing historical discrimination and redress efforts with the Black and African diaspora communities.

The Northeast False Creek Plan (NEFC), approved in 2018, stands as a commitment by the city to replace the viaducts with a new street network.  The NEFC plan spans approximately 20 years, reflecting a long-term commitment to rectify historical wrongs.

In 2022, the City of Vancouver reached an agreement with the Hogan’s Alley Society (HAS) to collaborate on housing, public benefits, and amenities for Hogan’s Alley. The agreement includes developing rental housing, a cultural center, child-care spaces, and areas for small businesses.

Union Street not only serves as a nostalgic reflection on Hogan’s Alley’s past but also highlights a new generation of “Black Vancouver change-makers” determined to restore the neighborhood to its former glory. Pomeroy showcases a diverse array of individuals, including business owners, chefs, artists, DJs, and musicians, who are actively reclaiming space in the city. The documentary encapsulates a powerful narrative of resilience, community, and the ongoing struggle for justice.