A neglected history: Hogan’s Alley

Hogan’s Alley has played a significant part in Vancouver’s history, yet is one aspect of this city’s past often ignored that goes unacknowledged by its citizens. The documentary, Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley, will be showcased by the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Seniors Lifelong Learning Society at SFU’s Vancouver campus on Feb. 18.

Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley is a short documentary directed by Spotlight Productions’ Melinda Friedman that observes the history of a largely black neighbourhood in Vancouver. It investigates the overlooked institutionalized racism towards black people in this city. Hogan’s Alley was destroyed due to gentrification and urban renewal. These programs were aimed at poor and often black communities across North America in the late 1960s.

“I’d like viewers to take away from the film the same things I have, which is to appreciate and recognize the city’s history before it’s gone. Every day some part of Vancouver’s backstory gets torn down to make way for new development,” says Friedman.

Friedman, who always had a keen interest in history, especially African American history, grew up in New York City prior to moving to Vancouver.

A history ignored

Friedman discovered old photos and momentos while working on a documentary about the now gone Jimi Hendrix shrine that was in a building leftover from the Hogan’s Alley days.

“[I was intrigued by] what almost seemed like rumours about a black neighbourhood that was now gone,” says Friedman.

While the black population in Vancouver may not have been prominent, it had always existed and Hogan’s Alley played an essential role in keeping this community alive and together.

“There has been a black community in Vancouver since before there was a Vancouver,” says Wayde Compton, Simon Fraser University lecturer and featured contributor to the film.

While Hogan’s Alley holds value simply because it is a part of Vancouver’s history, Friedman points out the importance to document and to share.

“A lot of the information about the neighbourhood and its people is still largely unknown to the average Vancouverite,” says Friedman.

People are quick to assume there is no black history in Vancouver; however, Return to Hogan’s Alley makes it clear there is an electrifying backstory to this neighbourhood.

“All too often people suggest that there are no black people in Vancouver, and this is, and always has been, a false assumption,” says Compton.

Rediscovering Hogan’s Alley

The film includes passionate Vancouverites retelling the history of Hogan’s Alley through their personal experiences. It also has archival photos, films, music and other memorabilia.

Although a predominantly black neighbourhood, it is also home to many Italian, Chinese and Japanese Canadians. Established by Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother, Nora Hendrix, the city’s only black church, the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, also stood in Hogan’s Alley.

“Hogan’s Alley wasn’t just a handful of streets and houses, it was also the collective experience of generations of black residents. That shouldn’t be forgotten, it should be commemorated,” says Friedman.

Sitting on the edge of Chinatown, it is also where the Crump Twins taught Sammy Davis Jr. to dance. It was a hot spot for dancers, singers and entertainers in general like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Count Basie – Hogan’s Alley was the original ‘Hollywood North.’

“There are lessons to be learned about how institutionalized racism once worked, and how we might stop it and other forms of displacement, in the present and future,” says Compton.

Friedman and Compton will be present at SFU’s Saturday Forum discussion.

For more information, visit www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/events.