My Vancouver: Jimi Hendrix’s grandma and Black Strathcona
Above/featured: Hogan’s Alley: Main Streeet at Union Street.
When a wae lad was I, I viewed Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood through the various lenses of my parents, the people on our block, and the surrounding community. That is, I viewed the area as primarily Chinese, in school and on the streets.
As an important teacher, history can often be painful. But an important and unspoken responsibility as city resident and national citizen is recognition and acknowledgement of these past lessons. I learned years later about the destruction of the African-Canadian community with the construction of the Viaduct, which not coincidentally almost eliminated Chinatown. The Viaduct is a remnant of the planned 1960s highway project in the city of Vancouver, but final removal of the viaduct is coming in the next few years.
February as Black History Month has been officially recognized in Canada since 1995. To honour the rich history by African Canadians in the province, British Columbia has also officially recognized Black History Month.
With the present focus on Nora Hendrix, below are specific examples of Nora’s presence in Vancouver to represent partly the history of African Canadians in the city; there’s much more at Black Strathcona.
- Nora Hendrix, Jimi’s grandma, lived here
- Nora Hendrix sang and worhsipped here
- Nora Hendrix worked here
- Hogan’s Alley
Nora Hendrix, Jimi’s grandma, lived here
I’m imagining a young Jimi Hendrix running around this house and the streets of Strathcona in East Vancouver. This beautiful building in my neighbourhood is designated Heritage Building by the City of Vancouver. The Hendrix House was built by city police sergeant, Thomas H. Butler, in 1904. From 1938 to 1952, the house was home to Zenora “Nora” Rose Hendrix. She and her husband Ross met while part of a traveling Dixieland vaudeville troupe; they arrived in Vancouver in 1911 by way of Chicago and Seattle. Nora co-founded the first black church in Vancouver, the Fountain Chapel, where she also led the choir. Nora would also work nearby at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House in Hogan’s Alley. Nora and Ross were also grandparents to legendary American guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Like many similar houses in the neighbourhood, this house features a full-width front porch and modest decorative detailing. In 2007, the house was restored to its original appearance and was painted in authentic early colours under the city’s Heritage Foundation’s “True Colours” program. The building is also listed in Canada’s Historic Places.
Nora Hendrix, Jimi’s grandma, worshipped & sang here
Built originally as a German Lutheran church in 1903, this building became home to the Fountain Chapel in 1918 at the eastern end of what was once Hogan’s Alley. Nora Hendrix was the Fountain Chapel’s co-founder and choir master. This was home to Vancouver’s first black church which served as the local chapter of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I’m imagining a young Jimi visiting Vancouver’s Strathcona and getting tremendous exposure to music by hanging out at his grandparents’ house, at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, and at the Fountain Chapel. In 1985, the building was home to the Basel Hakka Lutheran Church. Their congregation eventually exceeded the building’s capacity, and the Hakka community moved out of the building in 2008. Today the building is a private residence.
Nora Hendrix, Jimi’s grandma, worked here
It’s not hard to imagine Jimi as a boy visiting his grandparents in Vancouver’s Strathcona and hanging out at Vie’s with his grandma, accompanied by soul food and soul music. Vie’s Chicken and Steak House (1920-1970) was both a culinary and cultural centre for blacks at this location in Hogan’s Alley (Main-Jackson, Union-Prior). Neighbours used to say Jimi would practice on his guitar here after hours.
Hogan’s Alley was the heart of the black community in Vancouver for decades through to the middle of the 20th-century. The 1970s were infamous throughout North America as highways connecting affluent white suburbs to the city centre were built through and on top of poor and mostly non-white neighbourhoods. Vancouver was no exception. Although the planned freeway project was halted, subsequent construction of the replacement Georgia Viaduct in the 1970s meant the razing and destruction of Hogan’s Alley, and effectively, the end of a central black community in Vancouver. At present, the area at the eastern end of the Georgia Viaduct is green space. The Viaduct will soon be demolished, and ongoing discussions about the space bounce between development plans and heritage projects.
Nora Hendrix died at age 100 in 1984 in Vancouver; she is buried in Renton, WA in the United States.
• Black History in Canada, Library & Archives Canada
• History Walks in Vancouver with James Johnstone
Canadian 10-dollar note with Viola Desmond
- 1st African-Canadian person and 1st woman (other than Queen) on Canadian currency
- In circulation from November 2018, Bank of Canada
- Official announcement, late-2016 ; Financial Post, 9 Mar 2018
- Heritage Minutes, Historica Canada
- Canadian Museum for Human Rights
I made the photos above on 2 February 2017. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie on fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-bhZ.
2 Responses to “My Vancouver: Jimi Hendrix’s grandma and Black Strathcona”
[…] a little guidance to a couple of websites, they were able to discover that Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother once lived in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. We talked about urban infrastructure, […]
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[…] with a little guidance to a couple of websites, they were able to discover that Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother once lived in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. We talked about urban infrastructure, […]
LikeLiked by 1 person