Hogan’s Alley was a Vancouver, British Columbia, neighbourhood that was home to multiple immigrant communities but was known largely for its African-Canadian population. The name “Hogan’s Alley” was not official, but was the popular term for a T-shaped intersection, including Park Lane, and the nearby residences and businesses at the southwestern edge of Strathcona. Vancouver’s first archivist, J.S. Matthews, noted that this informal name was in use at least before 1914. The Black community had established itself in the area by 1923, when the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel was founded. Black settlement there was due to the neighbourhood’s proximity to the Great Northern Railway station nearby, where many of the men in the community worked as porters. Housing discrimination in other parts of Vancouver also concentrated the city’s Black population in this area. Beginning in 1967, the City of Vancouver began leveling the western half of Hogan’s Alley in order to construct an interurban freeway, spelling the end of a distinct neighbourhood. The memorialization of Hogan’s Alley was begun in earnest in the 1990s, with increased public recognition in the early 21st century.
In the early 20th century, racial segregation in Vancouver differed from that found elsewhere in the country. As a result, a concentration of immigrant groups came to live in and around Hogan’s Alley. Whereas Asian and Aboriginal peoples were subject to an exacting official segregation, other non-whites and non-Anglo immigrants experienced discrimination scaled to their smaller numbers. The conditions that contributed to the neighbourhood’s multiethnic development include housing discrimination beyond Vancouver’s East End, social and economic class, and the area’s proximity to the railway station. Many men in the Black community worked as railway porters. A 1957 city document on Strathcona notes that,
The Negro population, while numerically small, is probably a large proportion of the total Negro population in Vancouver. Their choice of this area is partly its proximity to the railroads where many of them are employed, partly its cheapness and partly the fact that it is traditionally the home of many non-white groups.
In an earlier planning document, social scientist Leonard Marsh acknowledged the presence of the Black community there, and the reasons for its particular location: “There is a small colony of Negro families, numerous enough to represent nearly three per cent of the total [of Strathcona’s population]. Many of them could afford to live elsewhere, but it is too obvious that they would not be welcome.”
(See also Prejudice and Discrimination.)
During its time, Hogan’s Alley was the site of overlapping and shifting ethnic populations, being the original home to Vancouver’s Italian community as well as the southern edge of Chinatown. Black cultural institutions it 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 and the residential quarters of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Its most famous resident is Nora Hendrix, the paternal grandmother of the musician Jimi Hendrix. She was involved in the community from the 1920s through to its demise, remaining nearby until the 1980s. Hendrix had a background in vaudeville, and participated in community performances in Vancouver, as did her son, Al Hendrix, Jimi’s father. Other performers from the East End Black community who achieved notoriety include Eleanor Collins, who was the first Black woman to host a national television show in Canada, the singer and actor Thelma Gibson-Towns and her brother Leonard Gibson, a dancer of note whose Negro Workshop Dance Group led to his work in with Ballet British Columbia.
From as early as 1929, Hogan’s Alley was subject to a long debate regarding its status as a slum. About that time, a shift in city bylaws began to discourage the area’s development as a residential neighbourhood. In 1939, an assize jury of the BC Supreme Court vividly reported on the conditions of poverty evident in the neighbourhood. Local newspapers responded with articles that specifically named Hogan’s Alley as a troubled zone. Helena Gutteridge, the first woman city councilor in Vancouver, took up the cause of social housing in the East End, touring Hogan’s Alley and interviewing residents. However, after Gutteridge failed to win a second term, the debate about Hogan’s Alley began to line up with the “urban renewal” paradigm of civic planning then originating in the United States (see Urban Reform). The concept of urban renewal in the US combined “slum clearance” with schemes in which interurban freeways were built and streetcar infrastructure dismantled. Typically, residents were relocated to experimental housing projects in such schemes. Cities enacting this model most often chose a Black neighbourhood or a Chinatown as areas for renewal ¾ in Vancouver, it was both. The justification for the building of a freeway exactly at the site of Hogan’s Alley and half of Chinatown was tied to the creation of two tower blocks in Strathcona: MacLean Park and the Raymur Social Housing Project. Both were to absorb the residents displaced by the freeway.
Most of the Black population of Hogan’s Alley left the area in the lead-up to the plan and effectively integrated into the general population before the city began expropriations of area lots in the 1960s. During that decade, the area that was Hogan’s Alley became the southern portion of Chinatown — though a few Black families remained, and the church continued service into the 1980s. After the building of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts wiped out the western part of what was Hogan’s Alley in 1967, community opposition stopped the remaining stages of the plan. Chinatown was saved, but few markers of the Black community that had once been there remained.
Since the end of the Hogan’s Alley era, no specifically Black neighbourhood has existed in Vancouver. Still, organizations such as the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and festivals such as Caribbean Days and Black History Month have served to bring community members together. Interest in Hogan’s Alley and the Black community of the East End grew in the early 20th century. Filmmakers, writers and artists such as Andrea Fatona and Cornelia Wyngaarden, Wayde Compton, and Stan Douglas, have explored the subject in their work. Though the area showed almost no signs of its history from the 1970s through the first decade of the 21st century, recent civic acknowledgement has emerged in the form of spaces such as Hogan’s Alley Café and the Jimi Hendrix Shrine, both at the former site of Hogan’s Alley. Community groups such as various Black History Month committees, the Black Cultural Association, and the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project also succeeded in keeping the memory alive, culminating in the foundation of a city-sponsored plaque at the site in 2013. In 2014, the City of Vancouver officially recognized Hogan’s Alley and its Black community in its proclamation of February as Black History Month. That same year, Canada Post issued a stamp commemorating the neighbourhood.