Wayde Compton is a poet, writer, and advocate for histories and legacies of the Black community in Vancouver. In 2001 he edited Bluesprint, an anthology of Black British Columbian literature and histories, and in 2002 was part of founding the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project. Wayde and the memorial project have amplified the living memory of Hogan’s Alley, which they say was “the first and last neighbourhood in Vancouver with a substantial concentrated Black population.” In 1970, city politicians and planners destroyed Hogan’s Alley, displaced its residents, and built the Georgia Viaduct in its place. Forty-five years later in 2014, the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan was released. It seems a new generation of city politicians and planners want to demolish the viaduct, and, with the Black residents erased, it seems likely that they might make space for condos under the name “Hogan’s Alley.” We are grateful for Wayde Compton’s thoughts about this questionable tribute. – Editors.
The situation of the current site of what was once Hogan’s Alley is complicated. That part of town was once a key site for Vancouver’s black community, featuring many of its most enduring cultural institutions.
With the possible removal of the viaducts and discussions of sale and development in that part of town, my concern is that the black community is collectively acknowledged and that some sort of space for the black community of today is reserved there in perpetuity. That would be the right thing to do.
There are private and public players, there are matters of money and zoning, and this is a climate of rapid gentrification. Against all this, the black community of Vancouver has no community centre and no archive, but a proud history of survival and tenacious collective organization. In the absence of wealth and power, we have memory. And we will remember in the future whatever happens now, however well-handled or mishandled our legacy is.
My worry is that one of the developers of this area will eventually name one of their constructions with a nod to the history of the area. But I personally think that naming a condo tower “Hogan’s Alley” is a foolish idea — to name an instrument of displacement after a community similarly displaced is bitterly ironic. Calling a new lane or street “Hogan’s Alley” is a better form of memorialization. But best yet would be the naming of a collection of social housing units after Hogan’s Alley. That would be apt and expansively just.
Whatever they do, it is crucial that there is actual collective consultation with the black community throughout the process.