Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


Tale of Two Cities

February 9, 2019

I was interested to read this recent article in the Montreal Gazette about the partial demolition of much of the Little Burgundy neighbourhood in the late-1960s-early-1970s. Steven High writes that in the name of urban renewal much of the city's English-speaking black population was displaced. The community had grown up close to two railway stations because so many black men worked as porters on the trains. Their homes were bulldozed to make way for the Ville-Marie expressway and for new public housing.

Why this story caught my eye was that exactly the same thing was happening in my hometown, Vancouver, at exactly the same time. In 1967 the civic government announced that a freeway was going to be built right through the heart of Chinatown. The project aroused so much opposition from local residents that it had to be abandoned. This became known as the Great Freeway Debate, a turning point in the history of the city.

However, one part of the scheme did get built, two new viaducts across the train tracks into the downtown, in the process destroying an historic community known as Hogan's Alley associated with Vancouver's small black population. At the time hardly anyone cared about Hogan's Alley; its destruction passed pretty much without comment. Subsequently, thanks to a group of community activists, the history of the neighbourhood has been rediscovered. Now the city intends to remove the old viaducts and a Black Cultural Centre is part of the plans for the future.

Little Burgundy and Hogan's Alley are just two neighbourhoods that faced "renewal" during the late 1960s when wholesale bulldozing -- aka "slum clearance" -- was all the rage. Black History Month affords an opportunity to rediscover the black communities where you live and to learn their stories.

January 31, 2019

A few changes were made to the site recently with the unfortunate result that the door was left open to those robots which flood the digital world with faux comments.

As a result I've had to close the comments section. I'd still love to hear from you. If you want to get in touch you can do so through the contact address.

January 26, 2019

I was sorry to read at the CBC website that BC's first whale watching operation is going out of business.

Stubbs Island Whale Watching was founded in 1980 by Jim Borrowman and Bill McKay at Telegraph Cove near the northern end of Vancouver...

January 21, 2019

One day last week found me out on the waters of Burrard Inlet doing a ride along in an RCMP patrol boat. (Don't ask).

As well as surveying the various industrial sites around the inner harbour we cruised all the way to the head of Indian Arm where I had a chance to inspect Wigwam Inn (photo above). The old luxury resort is now used as an outstation by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club but it...

January 16, 2019

One of my New Year's resolutions is to walk the length of the Arbutus Greenway, a new bike/walking path created by the City of Vancouver out of the old rail line that formerly ran across the west side from False Creek via Kerrisdale to Marpole (and Richmond beyond). Known as the Sockeye Special, the...

December 9, 2018

I want to mention three very fine books that I've read recently. Any one of them would make a good addition to your Christmas want list, or an appreciated gift for someone near and dear.

The first is for the marine mammal lovers among you. Orcas, of course, are the poster animal of the BC west coast. Jason Colby, from the University of Victoria, has published an absorbing history of the bad old days when they were hunted down for live capture and shipped off to aquariums and...