Vancouver begins Black History Month celebrations with memories of Hogan's Alley
“This is like the best party we have in council chambers every year,” Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson said to begin a speech kicking off Black History Month in Vancouver. “And three years strong now.”
Living up to those expectations, the highlight of the January 29 celebration at City Hall came towards its end, when Thelma Gibson, a musician, singer, and actress, delivered an upbeat rendition of the gospel song “Get on Board, Little Children”. Joined by composer and seventh-generation African Canadian Obediya Wonderful Jones-Darrell on four-string guitar, the duo had everybody in attendance clapping along before the first chorus.
Earlier in the ceremony, park board commissioner Constance Barnes, who hosted the event, opened the ceremony on a more somber note with a reading of a poem by African American author Maya Angelou.
“I’d like to share some words of someone whose spirit and courage are always a source of inspiration for me,” Barnes said. “A source I actually pull off the bookshelves and read many, many times to stimulate my soul.”
The poem read was “Still I Rise".
Barnes then introduced a short film that was produced by the Creative Cultural Collaborations Society for a project called Black Strathcona. The interactive multimedia presentation focuses on Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s first and last African Canadian neighbourhood.
Next up was Canada Post’s Maurice Earle, who presented two stamps released in celebration of Black History Month.
“Hogan’s Alley was the first concentrated community of people of Africa descent in Vancouver,” Earle said. “It was the name of a four-block long dirt lane close to the city’s modern-day Chinatown district and it dates back to the early 1900s.
“While geographically small, it was culturally significant,” he continued. “It was a vibrant destination for food and jazz.”
Earle lamented that the neighbourhood was razed in the 1960s to make way for the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.
Mayor Robertson spoke next, noting that the city is using Black History Month as an opportunity to celebrate the history of Hogan’s Alley.
“This, as we’ve been talking about, is a very significant black community that flourished here in Vancouver from the early 1990s into the ‘70s in the Strathcona neighbourhood,” he said. “I think we all mourn the loss of that neighbourhood….The Jimi Hendrix shrine there is really a little symbol of hope that there will be a Hogan’s Alley again in the future and more recognition of that place by the future residents of our city.”
Robertson then presented a proclamation to Wayde Compton, a Vancouver writer, recognizing his years of work preserving the memory and cultural significance of Hogan’s Alley.
Adam Rudder, a teacher and student at Simon Fraser University, spoke next, delivering a personal narrative of his experience discovering the history of Hogan’s Alley.
Toward the end of the event, Barnes acknowledged the recent passing of former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela.
“December 5 of last year, the world mourned the loss of a great leader,” Barnes said. “We still mourn his loss. We also celebrate his memory and his accomplishments. His life and work touched people around the world and his accomplishments have inspired people in many ways. When I think of Nelson Mandela, I think of powerful words like freedom, courage, integrity, equality, forgiveness, and peace.”
A moment of silence was held in memory of the human rights icon.
In Vancouver, Black History Month was designated a civic special event in 2011. It runs through February with events taking place around the city. More information can be found on the City of Vancouver website.