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The remaining portion of Hogan's Alley in Vancouver, on Jan. 27, 2021. The historic Black neighbourhood was demolished to make way for the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in the early 1970s.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Half a century ago, the neighbourhood known as Hogan’s Alley provided a home for Vancouver’s Black community. Now that same pocket of downtown Vancouver will hold a cultural centre and apartments that serve the same purpose.

The Hogan’s Alley Society said it had reached an agreement with the City of Vancouver to create a community land trust and a mixed-use redevelopment for the site in Strathcona, east of downtown.

Details of the building project, including the specific proportions of market and affordable housing, will be finalized by the society and the city in the next few years.

However, a planned mixed-use building project “will deliver affordable and market rental housing, a cultural centre and small-business units,” said Djaka Blais, the society’s executive director.

“It is a space that will again become a nucleus for the Black community in Vancouver and address the needs of vulnerable members of our community as well.”

A city spokesperson was not available for comment.

Reclaiming ‘renewal’: Hogan’s Alley Society pushes for revitalization of historic Black community

June N.P. Francis, co-chair of the society’s board of directors, said the planned project represents meaningful redress for the displacement of the Black community 50 years ago from the Hogan’s Alley area. “It’s a major moment for a city in North America, to actually make good on cultural redress to the displacement of Black communities,” Dr. Francis added.

Beginning around 1900, part of Strathcona became the nucleus of the city’s Black community, and acquired the nickname Hogan’s Alley. Numbering as many as 800, the Black residents included immigrants from the western United States and railway porters who worked for the Great Northern Railway (whose terminal was nearby). An African Methodist Episcopal Church operated there for 30 years. Black-owned restaurants, including Vie’s Chicken and Steak, provided space for Black Vancouverites and visitors.

Hogan’s Alley “was a lively place,” Dr. Francis said. “It was a place where people found community, they found hope. And most importantly, in a segregated city, they found a sense of belonging.”

The pattern of segregation in Vancouver echoed that in other North American cities, Dr. Francis said. Black residents were prevented from buying and renting homes through a mix of explicit and tacit means, including restrictive covenants on land titles and racist practices by landlords and real estate agents. The area’s industrial zoning made it difficult for homeowners to get mortgages.

At the same time, the city did not maintain the roads and sidewalks, and police allowed the area to become a red-light district. This, Dr. Francis said, helped bring about the end of the neighbourhood. This came in the 1960s when the city planned three freeways spanning downtown.

Under the banner of “urban renewal,” governments across North America took measures to create new car infrastructure and to eliminate supposedly blighted neighbourhoods. Vancouver generally retreated from such policies, and most of Strathcona survived intact. But Hogan’s Alley did not. It was expropriated and demolished to make way for the Georgia Viaduct, completed in 1971. In 2020, Crown corporation Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. apologized for its role in this process.

Black Vancouverites, including poet Wayde Compton, have worked for decades to memorialize the neighbourhood. This work, and advocacy by the society, led a revival of Hogan’s Alley to be included in the city’s Northeast False Creek planning process, including a Black-focused cultural centre.

Part of the site is now home to temporary low-income housing.

Jill Atkey, chief executive officer of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, hailed the agreement. “It’s a good example of the wheels of justice moving slowly, but they are moving,” she said. “We know that trauma and injustice can ripple through the generations.”

The Hogan’s Alley Society aims for below-market housing on the site to serve “vulnerable members of our diverse city community,” Dr. Francis said.

Through the agreement, the society aims to use a community land trust to control the site and take it “away from market pressures,” Dr. Francis said, maintaining community objectives indefinitely.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for the whole of Vancouver to return to something that was lost to the city: a heart of the Black community that was here.”