Hogan's Alley Revisited

Posted by Daniel on Dec 10, 2010 - 5 comments

I have written before in this spot (here) about Hogan's Alley, the east end neighbourhood known historically for its nightlife and lowlife as well as for being the nucleus of the city's black community. I bring it up again because of Wayde Compton's stimulating essay about the neighbourhood that is part of his new essay collection, After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region (Arsenal Pulp Press).

Compton, a poet and teacher, belongs to a group of activists who have been working to reinstall Hogan's Alley in the city's memory (see here). His essay is the most thorough account of the area's history that I know of.

The alley ran between Prior and Union streets, east of Main in the city's East End. It emerged as a black community partly because of its proximity to the railway station where many blacks worked as porters on the trains, but many people of various backgrounds were attracted by its reputation for cheap restaurants, good music and a vibrant after hours scene.

One story goes that the name came from Harry Hogan, a local resident. But Compton thinks it more probably originated with a comic strip that appeared in New York City newspapers in the 1890s. The term "Hogan's Alley" actually became synonymous with any down-at-the-heels urban neighbourhood that attracted an immigrant population.

The Alley was gone by the early 1960s, destroyed by the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. Compton believes that black residents were already moving away, integrating into other neighbourhoods in the city.

Recently there has been talk of tearing down the viaducts and redeveloping the neighbourhoods that once lay beneath. A few activists, Compton among them, would like some sort of recognition that this area was once central to the experience of black people in Vancouver.