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Vancouver is, by all accounts, a young city—and sometimes it feels like we’re absurdly intent on keeping it looking that way. But we have a lot of history here, and it too often goes untold.
Which makes any significant look at pieces of our past—especially those that shed light on underserved and marginalized communities—extremely valuable. Enter Union Street.
The documentary, which takes a discerning, artful look at the history of Vancouver’s Black population, opens with slow, sweeping camera angles on the East Side neighbourhood of Strathcona. The homes here are modest, but they’re beautiful—soft yellows, blues, and even pinks dot the streets. It’s the oldest residential neighbourhood in Vancouver, and for many decades it was home to the city’s first Black community.
From the early 1900s to the late 1960s, Strathcona had rich texture: speakeasies, concert halls, and other small businesses were abundant, along with a thriving population of Black families. The City’s consistent oppression of its Black residents, notably through rezoning and propaganda, eventually dismantled and displaced the community. No neighbourhood for the Black people of Vancouver has formed since.
Union Street details much of this important and, at times, uncomfortable part of our history. But this is not just an archival documentary. Instead, the film merges past with present, asking us what it means to be African Canadian in a performatively woke world.
Written and directed by Jamila Pomeroy, Union Street recently wrapped up the festival circuit, having shown at the 2023 Vancouver International Film Festival, Toronto Reelworld Film Festival, LA Black Film Festival, Seattle Black Film Festival, and Milan Film Fest (and scooping up some awards along the way). And now it’s coming back home to Vancouver, showing at the VIFF Centre for a week in February as part of its Black History Month programming. The film is also getting a wider (free) release later in February through TELUS, meaning you have literally no excluse not to watch it.
Through interviews with Black creatives and entrepreneurs—from Rise Up Marketplace owner Roger Collins to Mumgry founder Lilian Umurungi-Jung and Kula foods founder Asha Wheeldon—Union Street celebrates Black excellence in many forms. Beautifully shot, it’s as much a love letter to the roots of Strathcona as it is a rallying cry for us, as a city, to do better.
“Union Street” is showing at the VIFF Centre from February 2 to 7. On February 20, it will be released in BC and Alberta on TELUS Optik TV, and will be streamable Canada-wide on TELUS originals.