This is the plan to rebuild Vancouver's Hogan's Alley for the Black community

Jun 15 2020, 5:34 pm

What exactly is Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver, and what are the proposed plans for its future?

It was Vancouver’s first enclave for some of the city’s early Black Canadian immigrants, located within a T-shaped intersection at what is now the easternmost end of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts — immediately south of Chinatown.

The footprint of the former Hogan’s Alley is framed today by Main Street to the west, Union Street to the north, Jackson Avenue to the east, and Prior Street to the south.

hogans alley footprint

Footprint of the historic Hogan’s Alley in the present day urban context. (Vancouver Heritage Foundation)

According to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, BC’s first Black immigrants arrived from California in the middle of the 1800s, and by the early 1900s they created a community in and around the Strathcona neighbourhood, with Hogan’s Alley eventually becoming the cultural hub of the community.

“They were joined by Black homesteaders from Alberta, who originally came from Oklahoma, and by Black railroad porters worked at the Great Northern Railway nearby. Housing discrimination in other parts of Vancouver also concentrated the city’s Black population in this area,” reads the foundation’s historical account.

hogan's alley vancouver

Hogan’s Alley in 1958. (City of Vancouver Archives)

hogan's alley canada post

2014 Canada Post stamp commemorating Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley. (Canada Post)

The former neighbourhood was known for being home to Nora Hendrix, the grandmother of rock legend Jimi Hendrix, and a cook at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, considered one of Hogan’s Alley’s culinary institutions.

But the latter half of the 1960s marked the neighbourhood’s demise, when city blocks of homes and businesses that form Hogan’s Alley were demolished for the new replacement Georgia Viaduct.

The original viaduct, built in 1915 and named the Hart McHarg Bridge, was located towards the north of the existing viaduct, with its easternmost end located in the area of the intersection of East Georgia Street and Main Street.

When the bridge was first built, it spanned over a portion of the False Creek waterway that had yet to be filled in, and over Canadian Pacific’s vast railyards in Northeast False Creek.

georgia street viaduct 1915

The original Georgia Street Viaduct (Hart McHarg Bridge) in 1915. (City of Vancouver Archives)

Georgia Street Viaduct 1939

The original Georgia Street Viaduct (Hart McHarg Bridge) over a waterway in the area that is currently Andy Livingstone Field. (City of Vancouver Archives)

Half a century later, it became apparent a new replacement viaduct was needed due to the original viaduct’s age and its poor construction. There were plans early on to run the streetcar on the viaduct, but this was never realized, as there were concerns over the structure’s ability to hold the weight.

Even some of the lamp posts on the structure had to be removed to reduce its weight load, never mind running frequent streetcars and the vibrations it would create.

“It was poorly built and plagued by difficulties from the beginning; it was not uncommon to see sagging sections, timber propping it up, and concrete falling to the ground below,” reads the foundation’s description.

Hart McHarg Bridge old georgia viaduct east georgia street

Remnants of the original Georgia Street Viaduct (Hart McHarg Bridge) near the intersection of Main Street and East Georgia Street, immediately north of BC Hydro’s Murrin Substation. (Google Maps)

However, it was eventually made known that this would become much more than just a viaduct replacement project. The new replacement viaduct was envisioned to become a small segment of a new citywide freeway network, crossing through much of the downtown peninsula, including other areas of Strathcona, as well as Chinatown and Gastown.

Historic Chinatown was ultimately saved from the plans, but not Hogan’s Alley, with its residents subjected to discriminative practices by both the city and media.

“Over the years, the Black population endured efforts by the city to rezone Strathcona making it difficult to obtain mortgages or make home improvements, and by newspaper articles portraying Hogan’s Alley as a centre of squalor, immorality and crime,” continued the foundation.

The modernized Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts reached completion in 1971, but this would become the only span of the envisioned freeway network, as the plans were withdrawn the subsequent year in response to widespread public opposition.

georgia viaduct construction 1971

Construction of the new replacement Georgia Viaduct over Main Street in 1971, looking east towards the former site of Hogan’s Alley. (City of Vancouver Archives)

old georgia viaduct 1970

Old Georgia Viaduct (Hart McHarg Bridge) over Canadian Pacific’s Beatty Street railyard in Northeast False Creek in 1970, before the demolition of the structure and completion of the replacement. (City of Vancouver Archives)

But the expropriation and demolition of Vancouver’s original Black community for the new roadways was not uniquely a Vancouver phenomenon.

The same upheaval was experienced in the post-war era in cities across the United States, when governments set their sights on using African American neighbourhoods for the construction of their Interstate highways.

Today, the footprint of Hogan’s Alley is used as a green space and the site of a recently built temporary modular housing building for the homeless.

As an integral part of the city’s Northeast False Creek Plan, there are plans to demolish the viaducts and redevelop the area with forms and uses that acknowledge the area’s history and reestablish a cultural hub for the Black community in Vancouver.

A preliminary proposed concept created in 2017 by the municipal government and architectural firm Perkins & Will for the Hogan’s Alley portion of the redevelopment — a 3.5-acre site between Main Street and Gore Avenue — calls for six buildings reaching up to 14 storeys.

Architectural concepts for the Main Street Blocks, with the west block and Hogan’s Alley to the east. (Perkins + Will / City of Vancouver)

Architectural concepts for the Main Street Blocks, with the west block and Hogan’s Alley to the east. (Perkins + Will / City of Vancouver)

The buildings are oriented around the recreation of Hogan’s Alley — a unique public plaza and pedestrianized laneway that spans the west-north length of the development, with retail and restaurants within the ground level of the buildings activating the public spaces.

These businesses will also be supported by the economic activity that can be expected from the foot traffic of the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus, located just across the new Pacific Boulevard immediately to the south.

New St. Paul's Hospital

Artistic rendering of the new St. Paul’s Hospital and health campus at the False Creek Flats (right), the new Pacific Boulevard (left), and the towering forms of the Hogan’s Alley redevelopment (bottom left). (IBI Group Architects / Providence Healthcare)

There will be approximately 300 units of social housing within the upper floors of these buildings. Green terraces, porches, and rooftop gardens are defining features of the architectural concept.

“The proposed massing will be a departure from the conventional tower and podium model that characterizes much of Vancouver’s recent mid-rise and high-rise development,” reads the architect’s vision.

“The stepped massing is specifically tailored to respect view cones and adjacent contexts and the overall form is expressive of a unified architectural expression. This will render a clear sense of place necessary for its identity as a cultural precinct.”

Artistic rendering of the new Hogan’s Alley. (Perkins + Will / City of Vancouver)

Artistic rendering of the new Hogan’s Alley. (Perkins + Will / City of Vancouver)

The key cultural component of the Hogan’s Alley redevelopment is at the western end of the development site, fronting Main Street, where the Black Cultural Centre of Vancouver is planned. There will be social and community gathering facilities, as well as a rooftop basketball court, daycare, and non-profit office space.

Hogan’s Alley Society is envisioning this cultural centre to become a programming hub for “food, gathering and celebration, education and empowerment, art music and dance, and research and knowledge of Black Canadian history.”

But all of this hinges on the city’s ability to raise much of the $1.7 billion in public benefits costs from the market residential redevelopments set for Northeast False Creek (NEFC), particularly Canadian Metropolitan Properties’ Plaza of Nations redevelopment and the larger Concord Pacific redevelopment.

Area developers will cover a majority of the expected costs of the NEFC public benefits, which consists of 32 acres of new and renewed parks, 1,800 units of social housing, a community centre with an ice rink and other facilities, and Hogan’s Alley.

The remaining costs will be covered by the city’s budget, which has been shaken up by the plummet in revenues as a result of COVID-19. Sources previously told Daily Hive Urbanized as much as $400 million and $500 million could be required from the city, and this was before the pre-pandemic downturn of the housing market.

Artistic rendering of the Creekside Park expansion and the Concord Pacific portion of the Northeast False Creek redevelopment. (Concord Pacific)

As a result, there is some uncertainty with the precise timeline of NEFC, specifically a target date for the demolition of the viaducts to kickstart the new developments. Before the viaducts can be demolished, the new replacement roadway must be built.

The existing viaducts are a major thoroughfare into downtown, with approximately 45,000 vehicles per day during normalcy.

Without the viaducts, the plan with the new and reconfigured road system is to redirect vehicle traffic onto a new bi-directional Pacific Boulevard, and onto Hastings Street, Pender Street, Cordova Street, Cambie Bridge (via 2nd Avenue), and to a lower degree Water Street.

Vancouver Skate Plaza underneath the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. (Northeast False Creek / Flickr)

Rezoning applications have been approved for the Plaza of Nations and BC Place residential tower developments, with the Plaza of Nations project now in the development application stage. The rezoning application for the Concord Pacific project was scheduled to be deliberated over the last few weeks of the previous city council’s term in office in 2018, but it was abruptly withdrawn before the election.

Despite the fiscal hurdles, planning for NEFC’s public benefits continues, including the Creekside Park expansion and the Dunsmuir Connection — an elevated walking and cycling route between the existing western end of the Dunsmuir Viaduct to Quebec Street, ending within the park near Science World.

The city says it is also working on establishing a long-term partnership with the Hogan’s Alley Society for the cultural hub aspects of the Hogan’s Alley development, but the current health crisis has delayed their planned progress this year.

“The Northeast False Creek Plan is a 20-year plan that relies on development funding and timing to deliver public benefits. This includes the removal of the Georgia viaducts and the recreation of the Hogan’s Alley Blocks. One of the key concepts outlined within the plan is the commitment to working with Hogan’s Alley Working Group to establish the long term involvement and investment of the Black Community in the future life of this block, including consideration of a land trust,” reads an email from the City of Vancouver staff last week to Daily Hive Urbanized.

“Prior to COVID-19 related disruptions, City staff were in the process of working with the Hogan’s Alley Society to finalize a meeting time and agenda, including senior City staff. The meeting was intended to continue advancing foundational work on the implementation of the Hogan’s Alley block, as well as to work collectively to address systemic anti-black racism. Staff recognize that the COVID response has delayed progress and are likewise eager to continue these discussions.”

georgia street viaduct blm protest june 14 2020

Black Lives Matter solidarity protest blockading the Georgia Viaduct on June 15, 2020. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

In the meantime, in light of recent events, city staff say they are proposing to city council an interim memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will guide the partnership with the Hogan’s Alley Society. The MOU will formally recognize the society and address anti-Black racism and cultural redress with the Black Community and other local communities as a whole, create a safe space for the celebration of Black cultures within NEFC, and examine interim projects.

“The City recognizes that this is only the initial stage in building a relationship with the Hogan’s Alley Society and the larger Black Community, and see this work as crucial to the long-term success of the Hogan’s Alley Block and any future agreement for their development,” continued city staff.

Hogan’s Alley Society could not be reached for comment.