A vibrant, predominantly Black community in Vancouver called Hogan’s Alley was razed to make room for the Georgia Viaduct in the late 1960s. In her new novel, Junie (Book*hug Press), Chelene Knight plants her main character firmly into the heart of Hogan’s Alley, to breathe new life into the neighbourhood that was lost. She tells us more about it below.
Hogan’s Alley Vancouver, referred to by the locals as “the East End,” located in the Strathcona area of the city was a hidden paradise to the folks that set down roots and called it home in the early 30s to late 60s. It was a place where a strong sense of community was an important prerequisite. Filled with not only strong-willed and talented Black business owners, artists, and labourers, but people from a variety of marginalized backgrounds found home in Hogan’s Alley. A place filled with music, soul, and love.Like any other place, crime found its way to the growing neighbourhood and it quickly took on the label of a slum; an eyesore that needed to be demolished. These were the headlines that took up space in the newspapers. Rumours of urban renewal filled the streets and it was a heartbreaking reality when the predominantly Black Canadian community called Hogan’s Alley was bulldozed in building the viaduct.In 1972 the Georgia Viaduct officially opened despite protests from local activists and residents. Although Hogan’s Alley was not the only community to experience displacement, the fact that other Vancouver residents hadn’t even heard of this community just didn’t sit right with me. As someone who was born and raised in Vancouver, I didn’t learn about the existence of Hogan’s Alley until I heard one of my mentors at the time speak about it. It was Wayde Compton who then became my source of inspiration and I felt compelled to dig into not only the history of this place, but also the important legacy of everyday existence. But the story everyone seemed to wrapped up in was the one filled with words like unkempt, slum, and blight. But where was the living and loving?Junie originally started from a desire to rebirth or resurrect the displaced community in Vancouver’s East end. But as my narrative evolved, I realized that there was something more powerful yet to be unearthed. I wanted to reimagine and bring back the living that took place in the neighbourhood, not the places themselves, but the pulsing life. The everydayness.
Hogan’s Alley in the present day. Photo by Mike W. on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons License.To truly appreciate the splendour of this neighbourhood I needed a character who could see it all and appreciate the less than savoury bits too. I needed a character who could close her eyes and breathe in all the golden yet cracked parts of a city that others just zoomed past. I needed an observant, curious, creative woman to show everyone what slowing down, dreaming, and reimagining could do.Fictionalizing the places allowed me the freedom to really dream and to allow my characters to breathe as loud as they needed to without the pressure to colour within the lines.As the story grew I realized that this was a story about a girl searching from home and belonging. A girl searching for love and a true sense of belonging, and in the end readers can watch her find home in both.
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Vancouver-born Chelene Knight is the author of Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals and newspapers, including The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and The Walrus and her work has been widely anthologized. Her poem ‘Welwitschia’ won the 2020 Contemporary Verse 2‘s Editor’s Choice award. She was shortlisted for PRISM‘s 2021 Short Forms contest. Chelene is the founder of her own literary studio, Breathing Space Creative, through which she has launched The Forever Writers Club, whose members are writers focused on creative sustainability. Chelene works as a literary agent with the Transatlantic Agency. She lives in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia. Follow her on Instagram at @nourishing.word or on Twitter at @LWEstudio.