Hogan’s Alley was an ethnically diverse neighbourhood precisely located between Prior & Union Street and Main Street in Vancouver East End. It all started and developed from a T-shaped intersection at the southwestern part of Strathcona. This area was home to many Italian, Chinese and Japanese Canadians. Strathcona neighbourhood, and subsequently Hogan’s Alley, was also the home to the first black immigrants who came to British Columbia from California in 1858 and migrated to Vancouver in the early 1900’s. They were later joined by black homesteaders from Alberta and many worked as railroad porters at the Great Northern Railway nearby. It is known that housing discrimination factors in other areas of Vancouver also contributed to the concentration of the black community in the East End.
The area was home to local entertainers and many black cultural institutions such as “chicken house” restaurants, as well as home to the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, founded in 1923. By the 1940’s, the black population of Strathcona was about 800 people. The neighbourhood was home to Nora Hendrix, grandmother of the legendary Jimi Hendrix, who lived and was involved in the community from 1920 to the end on the Hogan’s Alley era.
In the 1960’s the black population endured pressures by the City to rezone Strathcona, facing difficulties to obtain mortgages and even to make home improvements. Around 1967 the City of Vancouver began implementing the plan to construct a highway through Hogan’s Alley and Chinatown.
The Alley was mostly gone by 1970 with the construction of the Georgia Viaduct which represented the first phase of an interurban freeway. The freeway was eventually stopped by an alliance of local activists and business people. Strathcona, Chinatown and Gastown were saved, however Hogan’s Alley itself was mostly demolished by that time. Today, the Jimi Hendrix shrine is the only remaining landmark that suggests an influential black community ever existed in Vancouver Strathcona neighbourhood.
As per Wayde Compton, a Vancouver born Canadian writer, “there has been a black community in Vancouver since before there was a Vancouver.”
Hogan’s Alley was a vibrant and yet predominately poor neighbourhood of Vancouver for six decades in the 20th century. Where progress met history, the arrival of the car culture changed its fate. Vancouver evolved in a different direction despite the Alleys’ disappearance and being freeway “free” in its core. Never underestimate the power of those who love their cities and the challenging facets of urban land economics and real estate development.