Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Multicultural Canada Conference

The organizers of the Multicultural Canada Conference at Simon Fraser University have invited the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project to participate! We'll be presenting our research on a panel titled " Hogan's Alley Memorial Project: Preserving the public memory of Vancouver's original Black community" on June 1st, 2006.

The conference seems ideal for HAMP, as it is organized around the same issues we are concerned with. Here is a blurb from the conference web site:

"Libraries and archives have worked with individuals, governments and ethnic communities in Canada to collect and preserve the historical record of their experience. The Multicultural Canada Project is committed to making historical records widely available by working collaboratively with institutions, governments and individuals to digitize these materials. The Project will create powerful new learning opportunities for Canadian students and citizens, preserve a wealth of unique and fragile materials for historians and scholars, and help define the story of these groups as essential to the history of Canada."

For more on the conference, and to see the schedule of presenters, click here.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A detail from a 1968 map of the proposed downtown freeway system (published in Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Vancouver) showing plans for an East-West Freeway cutting through Chinatown and Strathcona.

New signs of blackness in our inner city ghost town.

Four decades later, Strathcona is hot property. The house up top is an old building, partly renovated. The house below, however, has just been built. A bunch of workers were just putting the finishing touches on it when Karina and I walked by snapping pictures. Nowadays, instead of referring to these buildings as examples of "urban blight" and planning to have them knocked down, developers are building new houses that mimic the old structures. "Blight" in the sixties equals "character" in the 21st century.

Dorothy Nealy: "When we heard of the city council's plans for the neighbourhood, we were horrified, we just screamed. They intended to put up high-rises all over here, like the West End. But the people that lived here, we just took up a petition. We got thousands and thousands of names. And we stopped them. [...] Because we were satisfied with our neighbourhood. But the people from outside came in, and told us we shouldn't have those houses, we should live in housing projects, we should live in high-rises. But what was wrong with living here? They didn't live here, I don't know what they were so worried about. As I said, I've lived here for 33 years. I wouldn't want to live anyplace else. But somebody comes over from Dunbar district, looking down their noses at this end of town. It's just like the Christians going to Africa, trying to convert you to Christianity when you already have your own tribal laws and religions and everything else. And that was their attitude when they came down here." (Opening Doors, 173).

Shots of the McLean Park projects. After the City of Vancouver slated Hogan's Alley for demolition, and started work on their planned inter-urban freeway, they built these as well. The idea was that all the people displaced by the freeway would move here. It was essentially the same sort of plan that they had across the United States, the spectacularly inhuman failure that created the infamous inner city projects in cities like Detroit, Chicago, etc. Urban planners called this "urban renewal" but in the black community is was known sardonically as "Negro removal." In Vancouver it never quite happened according to the city's plan because community activists stopped the freeway project -- though not before the building of the viaduct razed a good part of the community. Instead of moving into McLean Park, the black community spread out across the Lower Mainland. Basically, for black Vancouverites, the city became fully integrated at this point.

Dorothy Nealy: "When I came here, this district was Negroes, from Main Street to Campbell Avenue, like you see the Chinese here now. Whole apartment blocks that were all full of Blacks. In '44 it was a ghetto." (Opening Doors, 169).

Dorothy Nealy: "Fountain Chapel was really the whole hub of this ghetto. If you wanted to meet anyone, the thing to do was go to church. And that little church would be just packed to the doors. They had a beautiful choir. The preachers didn't stay here long, they were mostly American ministers." (Opening Doors, 170).

Nora Hendrix: "So, let me see, it could be back in 1918, as far back as I can think back, when we first taken that church over on Jackson Avenue. I don't know who had it before, but when we saw that we could be able to get this church, well everyone then started in, working together. All the families and everybody that wanted a church, we all got together, and commence working for it to get this church started. And some of the men, they intercede and got ahold to the high-ups in the States, and they always from the States, we got all our preachers and residing elders all come from over in the States. That's where the head office of that church was, the A.M.E. [African Methodist Episcopal] it was called." (Opening Doors, 59). These are two photographs of what was once the AME Fountain Chapel, which Nora Hendrix -- Jimi Hendrix's grandmother -- co-founded over eighty years ago. At that time Vancouver's black community took it over from the Norweigan Lutherans. Before they had it, it had been a German Lutheran Church. In 1985 the AME sold it to its present owners, the Basel Hakka Lutheran Church.

This apartment building on the corner of Prior and Jackson Avenue was once home to many of Vancouver's black residents. The apartments are located directly across from what used to be the community's black church, the Fountain chapel (now Basel Hakka Lutheran Church).

The excessive amount of signage in front of the apartment is a reminder of the historic relationship between this east-side neighbourhood and the city's heavy-handed urban planners and developers.

Austin Phillips: "Then you went down the alley, down Park Lane, to this place called Scat Inn which was, oh I'd say they cooked a few chickens and steaks and played a lot of music and people danced. They cut a few walls out of an old house, sold drinks, a regular bootlegger at that time. Whisky was 25 cents a drink, beer was 25 cents a drink -- that's bootlegging prices. Then the real part of Hogan's Alley started right at Park Lane and it ran right straight up between Prior and Union, ended around Jackson Avenue -- that's where you were out of Hogan's Alley, the rest was just called an alley." (Opening Doors, 140). This photograph is taken on Jackson Avenue facing east -- the bit that Phillips says was "just called an alley."
Nora Hendrix: "Down in the 200 and 300 block Prior and Union and Keefer is where most all these chicken places were. Mrs. Pryor had a eating place on Keefer and then there was a Mrs. Alexander had one on Union Street and there was Mr. Soldier Williams, he had one that used to be a funeral parlour. Well, there used to be different fellows around down on Prior Street and Keefer Street that had little clubhouses and things like that, years back in the Twenties and Thirties." (Opening Doors, 61)

Karina standing in the spot that Austin Phillips describes like this: "There was nothing but parties in Hogan's Alley -- night time, anytime, and Sundays all day. You could go by at 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning, and you could hear jukeboxes going, you hear somebody hammering the piano, playing the guitar, or hear some fighting, or see some fighting, screams, and everybody carrying on. Some people just singing, like a bunch of coyotes holler -- they didn't care what they sounded like just as long as they was singing." (Opening Doors: Vancouver's East End, 141).

These are all houses backing onto Hogan's Alley. Most of them look old enough to have been here back in the day.
A view of the mouth of Hogan's Alley from Gore and Prior, facing north.

This is Hogan's Alley itself. That's Gore Street in front, and the angle is facing east.

Hogan's Alley used to be here. This is a south-facing angle, with Gore Street to the left and the ramp of the viaduct ahead. In the distance along the skyline you can see the old train station near Main and Terminal. The fact that in the early to mid-20th century many black men worked as railway porters probably explains why this was the central black community back then. Perfect spot for some sort of public art or memorial explaining that there was once a community of about 400 African-Canadians living within a five block radius of here.

Straight down the middle of this photograph is where Hogan's Alley once ran. That's Gore Street in front. Behind me are the remnants of the actual alley itself. The green space you see is a holdover from the 1960s plan to put an eight-lane freeway through here. When the plan was defeated by community activists, the only segment that was completed was the viaduct, and this awkwardly shaped lot was left without any particular use. Most people assume it's a park, but technically it is non-Parks Board city property. It's the perfect spot for a memorial to the community that used to live here, we think.
Here is the opposite view of the Georgia Viaduct, this time facing west (taken while standing on Gore Street). Forty years ago this view would have been of houses, residences that backed onto Hogan's Alley.

Karina Vernon takes some photographs of the underside of the Georgia Viaduct at Main Street just south of Union Street. Austin Phillips says in the book Opening Doors: Vancouver's East End (1979): "Corner of Main and Union was the Bingarra Hotel which has been torn down since the new viaduct opened."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Picturing Hogan's Alley

It was a rare sunny day in Vancouver on Friday, so Wayde and I went down to take pictures of what used to be Hogan's Alley, down in Strathcona. It's a bit of an odd experience, taking pictures of something that no longer exists. Instead of photographing an inner city black neighbourhood, its street signs, restaurants, shops and houses, we had to imagine the community's layout and dimensions, then aim our cameras for that.

Here are two views of the Georgia Street Viaduct, built in 1972 as part of a proposed downtown freeway system to connect Highway 1 through Chinatown and Hogan's Alley to the waterfront.

Though the freeway was never built, the black-owned businesses and residences that made up Hogan's Alley were destroyed in the process.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Two local legends from Vancouver's black community, Leonard Gibson and Jeni LeGon.

BHM audience

Audience at the Black History Month Celebration Luncheon at Hastings Community Centre, Feb 26, 2006.