Discovering Nora Hendrix

No rain in the forecast yesterday and an itch to do something different. The lack of variety in my COVID life is stifling. My husband and I checked out Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies ‘s book 111 PLACES IN VANCOUVER THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS for options. Our choice was focused by the fact that Black History Month is coming to an end. I love holidays, commemorative days, and times like this that focus our attention on learning something new. With the destination spot chosen, Nora Hendrix’s house at 827 East Georgia, we jumped on our bikes and headed east.

Mural by Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe

The mural at Nora Hendrix Place at 258 Union Street is on the bike route by the Dunsmuir viaduct and first catches my eye.  It is now temporary modular housing that is wheelchair accessible.  It opened in 2019, in partnership with Hogan’s Alley Society to meet the needs of Black and Indigenous Communities.  As a black community organizer, Nora Hendrix, helped establish the Fountain Chapel located at Jackson Avenue and Prior Street.  It was a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal church and an important cultural resource, a centre for gospel music, and gathering space for the Hogan’s Alley black community.  In the words of artist, Ejiwa “Edge” Ebenebe:  “Motifs of music and laughter emerge throughout the stories and memories I have encountered…” 

The was actually no person named Hogan that the community was named after.  Hogan’s Alley was the name of a comic strip about an Irish ghetto in Hell’s Kitchen, New York.  The idiomatic reference was used to describe this poor neighbourhood of Italian and black people on the edge of Chinatown in Vancouver.  A few factors brought the black population to Vancouver.  Two immigrant streams, one from Oklahoma via Alberta and one from California came to escape growing racism in the United States.   Vancouver was also the end of the line for two major train companies.  Trains traditionally provided work for black people as railway porters in the United States and this tradition was continued in Canada.  It was a good position with a uniform, travel and decent pay.  Vancouver was also a major city for entertainment.  Many performers such as Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Junior, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Mitzi Gaynor to The Cave, The Palomar, Izzy’s, Granville Street and after hours to restaurants and speak-easies.  Mami’s Chicken was one of first places to provide southern comfort food and a place where everyone was welcomed.  The tradition grew as did the speak-easy’s skirting the 1917-1920 prohibition in B.C.  Vie’s Chicken and Steak House opened in 1948 with Randy Clark’s grandfather as the greeter and his grandmother, Vie doing the work.  This is where Nora Hendrix worked as a cook and allowed Jimi access to many significant performers on his regular visits to Vancouver up until 1952.

Nora Hendrix was born in Tennessee and part of a travelling vaudeville act.  When the Seattle troupe went broke, she and her husband Ross headed to Vancouver in 1911.  They raised their three boys in Vancouver in Hogan’s Alley.  Nora lived until 100 years of age and was known to be in the crowd when Jimi Hendrix performed in the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver in 1958. 

Nora Hendrix’s House

The advent of the car culture brought with it a push for people to live in the suburbs and work in the city.  Arthur Julius Burr, a building inspector of the day reference the dilapidation and social ills of the areas as a “blight that spreads like mould across the city.”  This resulted in the clear cutting of Hogan’s Alley.  Only objections from the entire city prevented the proposed 12 lane highway being built through the city.  However, the building of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in 1972 obliterated the western end of Hogan’s Alley and marked the first and last black neighbourhood.  Much of the population dispersed through-out the rest of the city.

Hendrix Family home 1938-1952

The Nora Hendris’s house is well taken care of and is marked with a granite Heritage House marker with historical information.  It has obviously been renovated with a suite downstairs.  While we are checking it out, three young boys migrate towards the suite.  We wonder, if they know the significance of living in this house.  An important part of the history of the city that only recently been pulled back from remote memory back into a place of pride in our collective civic consciousness.  I’m transported back to a Whistler ski trip with my friend Karen Monteith where her older sister blasted Jimi Hendrix for the whole trip.  And this was where it all started. 

Doroghy, D. and Menzies, G. 111 PLACES IN VANCOUVER THAT YOU MUST NOT MISS @EMONS

“Secret Vancouver Return to Hogan’s Alley” – YouTube

(with Randy Clark, Vie Moore’s grandson and the Crump Twins – discovered by Duke Ellington on Granville street and credited with teaching Sammy Davis Jr., to dance)

Published by Carrie Froese

Curiosity guarantees a life of learning😀Questioning, writing, listening, taking risks as a principal, as a student, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend to keep on learning.

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