To understand why Vancouver doesn’t have any “Black neighborhoods,” it’s important to look at Hogan’s Alley — its rise, its fall, and how it’s being memorialized today.
In 1935, the Park Lane street that ran through the Strathcona district of Vancouver, British Columbia, was a “red-light” district. But thanks to the African diaspora in the area — combined with the ethnic diversity provided by the incoming Chinese, Japanese, and Italian immigrants in the area — the town that became known as Hogan’s Alley was considered the most ethnically diverse, and thriving, neighborhoods in Vancouver.
For more than 60 years, residents of the area lived and thrived together. So, what happened?
In a word: racism.
Dr. Handel Kashope Wright said that unlike Black people in the United States — who often find common ground with other members of the African diaspora and come together to live in the same neighborhood— Black people in Canada, and specifically in British Columbia, have no “ethnoburb” they can call their own. And this, Dr. Wright says, is by design.
“In Halifax, there’s Mulgrave Park; in Toronto there’s Rexdale and Jane and Finch; in Montreal there’s Little Burgundy,” he said to The University of British Columbia. “These are known, named places with concentrations of Blacks. Strangely, in Vancouver, a major Canadian city, there are no Black neighborhoods. So there’s nowhere to go where you’ll see a high concentration of Black people or where you can be among Black people. We’re so dispersed that we are negligible.”
For this reason, it made sense that Hogan’s Alley — once the home of Nona Hendrix, grandmother of the legendary Jimi Hendrix — was considered negligible by the Non-Partisan Association civic government. In 1970, they voted to tear down the neighborhood to make way for a viaduct. And while, ultimately, activists and businesspeople worked overtime to prevent it from happening, they weren’t able to do it in time to save Hogan’s Alley.
There’s only one piece of evidence that proves that Hogan’s Alley was real and not a figment of a traveler’s imagination: the shrine to Jimi Hendrix, still located on the corner of Union and Main, in Vancouver’s first and only Black neighborhood that no longer exists.