British Columbia

Former spiritual hub of Vancouver's black community celebrated

Members of Vancouver's black community celebrate Vancouver's Fountain Chapel, which was originally founded in 1918 then shuttered in the mid-'80s.

The African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel was a major landmark in Strathcona for decades

Yasin Kiraga Misago is helping revive the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel in Vancouver. (Stephen Quinn/CBC)

Yasin Kiraga Misago, who is Muslim and from Burundi, might not be the most obvious person to help revive a Christian congregation in Vancouver.

But he's one of the members of Vancouver's black community who are giving new life to a century-old church that was once an important spiritual hub for the city.

On Sunday, Misago and others walked to the original home of the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, a church located at 823 Jackson Ave. in the city's Strathcona neighbourhood, in recognition of its hundred-year history.

A walking tour Sunday explored the community of Strathcona which was once a lively hub for the city's black community. (Stephen Quinn/CBC)

The church was originally founded by Nora Hendrix — grandmother of Jimi Hendrix — in 1918. It grew to be an important community centre and focal point for the city's black community until mid-century.

At that point, city planners tore down many of the neighbourhood's buildings for the development of an inter-urban freeway. The freeway was dropped, but not before the Georgia Street viaducts were constructed and the community changed.

The building was eventually sold. It is currently a private residence.

The church is now using space at the Sacred Heart Church on Campbell Avenue. (CBC)

Misago, a refugee who came to Canada 10 years ago to study at the University of British Columbia, said he felt a strong kinship to the city's historic black community which transcends specific spiritual beliefs. 

"When you meet me and the generation of people of African descent in Vancouver 400 years ago together … people of African descent, their identity is the same," Misago said. 

Jahmira Lovemore-White took part in the walking tour through Strathcona with her family. (CBC)

Misago has spent the last five years reassembling the congregation, helping organize services at the Strathcona Community Centre.

This year, the church has a new home for services: the Sacred Heart Catholic Church at Keefer Street and Campbell Avenue where members of the walking tour ended their afternoon. 

The congregation has come together over the past five years. (CBC)

Jahmira Lovemore-White joined the group with her family on Sunday afternoon as an opportunity to learn about some of Vancouver's black history.

"There's just so much that we don't know," Lovemore-White said. "There's so much that kind of gets written over if we don't take the time to reflect and learn and give these moments their due. We ... lose a little bit of ourselves."

Jean Augustine, one of the first black women elected to the House of Commons, was in Vancouver for the church celebrations. (CBC)

Jean Augustine, one of the first black women to be elected to the House of Commons, came from Toronto to be part of the celebrations  Sunday.

She says honouring black history is one of the reasons why she introduced a federal motion in 1995 to declare February Black History Month in Canada.

"Black history … is part of Canadian history," Augustine said. 

"We need to know where the settlements were, where the contributions are and the people who have gone before us."

Listen to CBC's Stephen Quinn's interview with Yasin Kiraga Misago:

With files from Nora Chabib and Stephen Quinn