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Hogan's Alley - A Vibrant Community

For the week of Monday, February 23, 2015

On February 24, 2013, the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, unveiled a plaque at the former site of Hogan’s Alley, officially recognizing the area’s deep historical ties to the city’s first Black community.

A view down Prior Street, which was part of Hogan’s Alley
© City of Vancouver Archives / CVA 203-58 / B. J. Ray

Hogan’s Alley, the only predominantly Black neighbourhood in Vancouver in the early to mid-20th century, was the local name for the area between Park Lane and Jackson Avenue. The Black community first established itself there in the 1890s.Their choice of residence was directly related to Vancouver’s unofficial housing policy, which kept the city’s ethnic communities, including Chinatown, in the East End and far away from downtown. The neighbourhood’s location near the train yards and its limited job opportunities led many of the Alley’s men to work as railway porters. They ran sleeping cars and tended to passengers. Their labour union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, had a meeting house in Hogan’s Alley.

The African Methodist Episcopal Foundation Chapel was the social centre for the tightly-knit community. Everyone gathered there for Sunday services, parties, and picnics. “Chicken shacks,” which served a variety of fried chicken, beans, cornbread, and other southern staples, were popular. Of these, Vie’s Chicken and Steak House was the most famous. It opened from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., so that railway porters and sailors coming off their shifts could have a meal. Nora Hendrix, rock legend Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother, worked there. Vie’s had a jukebox, which made it a stylish hangout after the nightclubs closed.

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2014 stamp commemorating Hogan's Alley
© Canada Post Corporation 2014

At night, good times were enjoyed at various venues. It was not uncommon for Black musicians such as Louis Armstrong to perform at clubs in Hogan’s Alley. The Vancouver police watched the area carefully, and particularly targeted Harlem Nocturne, Vancouver’s only Black-owned nightclub.

The neighbourhood’s perceived reputation was one reason why the City of Vancouver redeveloped the East End in the 1950s. It bought property in Hogan’s Alley and built two large apartment blocks to house displaced residents. In 1972, a new freeway overpass effectively destroyed what remained of this once vibrant community.

Black Pioneers in British Columbia and Black Railway Porters and their Union Activity are both designated as National Historic Events. Another important Black community, Africville in Nova Scotia, is a National Historic Site.

February is Black History Month! To read more about Black Canadian heritage, visit Black Pioneers in British Columbia, The Fight against Racial Discrimination, and Africville’s Life After Death in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! As well, click here to learn more about the work of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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