Set in Hogans’ Alley, the name given to an area of Vancouver where Blacks lived, worked, and played in the early 20th century, the play features stories of three siblings who lived in that part of east Vancouver, beside Chinatown and close to two old train stations where many Blacks worked.
Hogan’s Alley was demolished to create the Georgia Street viaduct in the 1970s, displacing hundreds of Black and Chinese families in preparation for a proposed interurban highway through the neighbourhood (stopped by community activism). Ironically the viaduct is slated for demolition and is generally seen as a blight on the city’s urban landscape and acknowledged as a mistake.
And Hogan’s Alley and the Black community there that was was part of our heritage, sadly, has now dispersed. But it is still part of the tapestry of cultures that make up our city and we should know about it and remember it.
I had never heard about Hogan’s Alley until I worked at the Vancouver Archives, but since there’s been a grass-roots resurgence of interest in Hogan’s Alley itself, led largely by Wade Compton who teaches at SFU. You can find out a lot more here on the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project blog.
Check out this short video produced a few years ago, Return to Hogan’s Alley
But Black history – like so many histories of people of colour are not always easy to research in conventional archival collections. Other than the bare-bones, vital statistics kind of documents there is little of the organizations or people who made up the community.
That’s partly why I look for art exhibitions, and performances, or people who champion a historical place or community to give me a heartier slice of that life and help me understand that piece of Vancouver’s story.
These community projects supplement the generally sparse documentation found in conventional archives.
Because if you want to do research into some of the political, social, and artistic communities of a culture other than the mainstream, it can be tricky unless there’s a specialized archives that holds the kinds of records you’d want.
In Vancouver there is no specific Black archives, but there is a collection of materials on Black history online at the Black History Awareness Society Learning Centre Information Sources.
It includes books, newspapers, and manuscripts pertaining to Black arts, political actions, people, and communities. Be aware that this Learning Centre does not have a physical location.
I was recently in London, England where October is Black History month (unlike in Canada when it occurs in February), and happened across the Black Cultural Archives. Unfortunately it was closed for the day and I couldn’t get back before we left the country, but it looks like an amazing resource, with collections of people in Britain of African and Caribbean descent gathered over many years.
Its subject guides cover the arts, education, enslavement, protests and campaigns and more, within collections of manuscripts, newspapers, photos, and letters.
Both of these resources should give writers, artists, academics, and genealogists lots to chew on in researching Blacks in BC and the UK.
I’ll do another post sometime soon on archival resources on Blacks in the U.S. which I imagine will be quite extensive.
Please let me know if you’re familiar with any of these repositories and how you found them in terms of materials, and ease of use.