British Columbia·Video

Mural reclaims viaducts in memory of Vancouver's Hogan's Alley

Walking along Union Street next to Vancouver's Dunsmuir Viaduct near Main Street isn’t so grey and dreary anymore thanks to these Black artists' new murals.

Artist depicts prominent figures from Hogan’s Alley as part of the mural festival

Artist Anthony Joseph is painting a mural on the Dunsmuir Viaduct near Main Street in East Vancouver depicting prominent Black figures from Hogan's Alley for the Vancouver Mural Festival. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Walking along Union Street next to the Dunsmuir Viaduct isn't so grey and dreary anymore.

Artist Anthony Joseph has filled the face of the concrete structure near Main Street with colourful hues, bringing prominent Black figures to life in what was once a thriving neighbourhood called Hogan's Alley — before it was demolished to make way for the elevated viaducts connecting downtown with East Vancouver.

Joseph's mural, part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, is being created in partnership with the Hogan's Alley Society, which advocates for the preservation and promotion of Black history in Vancouver.

"The idea of the mural is very much to bring a spotlight and to pay tribute to not only the neighbourhood of Strathcona, a.k.a. Black Strathcona that was Hogan's Alley, but to pay tribute to the people who lived here," he says.

Anthony Joseph's mural is titled Hope Through Ashes: A requiem for Hogan's Alley. He is one of four Black artists contributing to the 2020 Vancouver Mural Festival, the most ever for the annual event. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Black artists contribute murals

Joseph is one of four artists in this year's Vancouver Mural Festival who identify as Black, a record number for the event. 

"It's extremely important to see Black art in Vancouver" because it "amplifies the voices of the Black community," says Krystal Paraboo, the festival's guest curator for 2020, who says 60 per cent of the artists taking part in this year's festival are either Black, Indigenous or people of colour.

Paraboo says she wanted to focus on Black art because the city's small population of Black people means they can often be left out.

"A lot of Black people also want to be here [in Vancouver] and so I want to see us reflected in our everyday life," she says.

Along with Joseph, the works of the other Black artists — Ejiwa "Edge" Ebenebe, Pearl Low, Tafui — centre around Black presence, awareness, joy and togetherness among races, Paraboo says.

Joseph's mural along the Dunsmuir Viaduct, titled Hope Through Ashes: A Requiem for Hogan's Alley, is approximately 45 metres long. It's the first mural of this scale that the 40-year-old digital animator has worked on.

Being chosen for this piece allowed him to learn more about Hogan's Alley, he says.

"It was a thriving cultural hub, not necessarily because there was a Black community here but also because it drew people in and made the cultural fabric of Vancouver more rich," says Joseph, a graduate of Emily Carr University.

Hogan's Alley was centred between Prior, Union, Main and Jackson streets in East Vancouver. It was home to a Black community of about 800 people, and included businesses ranging from restaurants to music and theatre venues.

In the 1970s, the blocks of Hogan's Alley were demolished to make way for the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts. Since then, there hasn't been an identifiable Black neighbourhood in Vancouver.

The mural spans approximately 45 metres in length and is the first mural of this scale that Anthony Joseph has painted. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'Reviving the history of Hogan's Alley'

Joseph's mural brings to life the vivid characters who once defined Hogan's Alley. 

"Adding art to the very instrument [the viaducts] that led to the destruction" of the community has "a sombre tone, but truth hurts and it's important that history never be forgotten," says Joseph.

There's Fielding Spotts Jr., the first Baptist in Western Canada, and Vie and Bob Moore of Vie's Chicken and Steaks, a neighbourhood hotspot for a late-night bite.

Also featuring in the mural are civil rights leader Leonard Lane, Harlem Nocturne nightclub owner Ernie King and of course, Nora Hendrix, grandmother of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix.

As well as shining a light on Hogan's Alley's past, the mural is particularly important to Joseph at a time when the movement around Black Lives Matter is so prominent, with rallies and marches fighting against racial injustice.

He says sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the shock value of what we see in the media.

"It's not always necessarily about pumping your fist. There are silent ways of expressing yourself," says Joseph, who adds his artwork is very much a part of his expression of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Joseph says his mural is merely a humble contribution toward reviving Hogan's Alley. The viaducts are slated to be taken down at some point soon, making way for new development.

"Seeing Black art, it reminds me that there is still so much to give, visually, aesthetically, spiritually," he says.

Contributing Black artists 

Artist Ejiwa "Edge" Ebenebe's explores Black people in the beauty and joys of life, says Vancouver Mural Festival guest curator Krystal Paraboo. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Flower Crown by Ejiwa "Edge" Ebenebe "Celebrates Black tranquillity, Black happiness and overall Black presence," says Paraboo.

Artist Tafui uses a technique that is reflective of Indigenous mark-making with symbols representing people. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Diaspora Diary by Tafui "is about 'oneness' and sharing our collective experiences as the human race," explains Paraboo.

Artist Pearl Low's mural in the West End depicts Black joy and prosperity. Low was part of a team of artists who worked on the 2020 Oscar-winning animated short film called Hair Love. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

Precious Fruit by Pearl Low is a " Black woman exuding joy in front of a deconstructed sun, surrounded by oranges — a symbol of happiness and prosperity," she says.

Hogan's Alley murals celebrate Black history in Vancouver


8 months ago
Artist Anthony Joseph paints a mural as part of the annual Vancouver Mural Festival on the viaducts that destroyed a predominantly Black community known as Hogan's Alley over 50 years ago. This year, the festival is showcasing more murals by Black artists than ever before. 2:36

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.