Lama Mugabo, a board member at the Hogan’s Alley Society, poses for a photograph at the remaining portion of Hogan’s Alley, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. The historic black neighbourhood was demolished to make way for the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in the early 1970s. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Lama Mugabo, a board member at the Hogan’s Alley Society, poses for a photograph at the remaining portion of Hogan’s Alley, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. The historic black neighbourhood was demolished to make way for the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in the early 1970s. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Reclaiming Hogan’s Alley: Society pitches new life for historic Black Vancouver area

At the height of its vibrancy, the viaduct was an entertainment district attracting the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald

When Randy Clark wants to return to the home where he spent his formative years from 12 to 16, it means gazing at a viaduct that many credit with the destruction of Vancouver’s historic Black community.

The house where Clark lived with his mother and four of his 10 siblings was demolished in 1970 alongside others that backed onto “Hogan’s Alley.”

The city approved the construction of the Georgia viaduct under a banner of “urban renewal,” but it came at a cost to those who called it home.

“That’s where the viaduct currently rests, on that piece of property,” Clark, 67, said in an interview.

Clark is part of a group hoping to see a revitalization of the area with acknowledgment of Vancouver’s Black history.

Hogan’s Alley is named for a T-shaped laneway that ran for several blocks in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.

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.

The area east of downtown was also home to Italian, Chinese, Japanese, First Nations and Jewish residents, many of whom were prevented from living in other neighbourhoods by racist housing policies, said Lama Mugabo, a board member with Hogan’s Alley Society.

At the height of its vibrancy, Hogan’s Alley was an entertainment district attracting the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald. Jimi Hendrix would visit his grandmother Nora Hendrix, who was an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel and cooked at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, which was owned by Clark’s grandparents.

“It was a place where people came to party, people came to enjoy soul food, to listen to jazz. All the great musicians, when they came to town, they ended up in Hogan’s Alley,” Mugabo said.

Over the years, the neighbourhood met challenges. 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, the Vancouver Heritage Society says.

Clark said he remembers a lack of garbage pickup by the city compared with other neighbourhoods and debris piling up on lots. When he moved in, plans for the freeway had been announced and an exodus of residents was underway.

“It was very noticeable to me that that area where I lived was not being kept up,” Clark said.

The city began bulldozing houses in 1967 and the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts opened in 1972, although plans for a larger freeway never came to fruition.

“For us, these viaducts constitute the monuments of our displacement,” Mugabo said.

The impact continues as Black people move into Vancouver and find no cultural core, he said.

Mugabo moved to Vancouver in the 1980s from Rwanda and said he could relate to the story of Hogan’s Alley and was drawn to efforts to revitalize it.

“As a political refugee, I know what displacement is. Also, as a Black man, I know how violent racism has been and the impact of racism on our community,” he said.

More than 50 years after the viaducts were built, city council voted to take them down in 2015.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia symbolically repays Viola Desmond’s $26 fine from 1946 theatre protest

The society spent two years consulting the community and meeting with various city departments to submit a proposal that would allow for affordable housing, a cultural centre and business and retail space in their place, Mugabo said.

Ultimately, the society wants a community land trust on the block that would protect the area for public use under a long-term lease.

“The work we’re doing today is not about us, it’s not for us. It’s for our children’s children,” he said.

The society’s proposal has been embedded in the city’s northeast False Creek Plan, but some elements remain unfulfilled, including the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the society, Mugabo said.

No one from the city was available for an interview, but it said in a statement that it is continuing discussions with the society on establishing an agreement, including consideration of a land trust.

However, it said the 20-year plan, which includes revitalization of the Hogan’s Alley block and removal of the viaducts, relies on development funding and timing to deliver public benefits.

“The City recognizes that this is only the initial stage in building a relationship with the Hogan’s Alley Society and the larger Black community, and sees this work as crucial to the long-term success of the city’s cultural redress efforts with Vancouver’s Black and African diaspora communities,” the statement said.

The city said it’s committed to prioritizing the needs of Black people who face racism and persistent social and economic exclusion, including work to address historic wrongs and to remove barriers to full participation of their cultures.

It is also in the process of creating a planning position to address systemic anti-Black racism, the statement said.

Clark said he’s hoping the neighbourhood has a bright future, but instead of doing so under the umbrella of “revitalization,” he chooses to reclaim a different phrase.

“I’m going to use another word: Renewal.”

Black History MonthVancouver

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Comox Valley-raised Shay Sandiford has earned a spot on the Canada skateboard team. Facebook
Courtenay skateboarder selected to first-ever national team

A young man from Courtenay is among 12 athletes who have been… Continue reading

A WestJet flight on the runway leaving Comox. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Aviation company seeks contracted employees to fill former WestJet roles at YQQ

Menzies Aviation from Edinburgh Park, Scotland, operates in 34 countries across the world

A cougar was spotted Monday near Queneesh Elementary. (WildSafe BC photo)
Cougar sighted Monday near Courtenay school

Conservation officers are warning the public to avoid the wooded areas around… Continue reading

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
SD71 to address COVID-19 exposures with virtual town hall

The meeting is set for Thursday, March 4

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

A public health order has extended the types of health care professionals who can give the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
‘It’s great that midwives are included’ in rollout of B.C.’s COVID vaccine plan, says college

The order will help the province staff the mass vaccination clinics planned for April

Shipping containers are seen at the Fairview Cove Container Terminal in Halifax on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020, worst year on record

Drop was largely due to shutdowns in the spring as COVID began to spread

The Nanaimo Clippers in action at Frank Crane Arena in early 2020. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Clippers for sale, owner says hockey won’t be back to normal any time soon

Wes Mussio says he’s had numerous inquiries about the junior A club already

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Most Read