Nora Hendrix has been described as a remarkable woman who was the glue that connected Vancouver’s early black community.
On Sunday, the provincial government and the City of Vancouver officially opened a temporary modular housing project in Strathcona named after Hendrix, to honour her legacy and that of the black community that was wiped out of the area in the 1960s.
“Ms. Hendrix was a tireless advocate for her community,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson.
The province committed 17 months ago to building 2,000 units of temporary modular housing across the province, with 606 of those units in Vancouver. The provincial government pledged $66 million toward the Vancouver projects.
In Vancouver, 554 provincially-funded modular homes have already been opened on nine sites. Nora Hendrix Place, a three-storey building with 52 units that will be run by the Portland Hotel Society, is the final project to be completed in the city. It’s expected that people will start moving in this week.
“Hundreds of people are living outside with nowhere to sleep, use the washroom or get regular food and water, and this isn’t how you treat your neighbours,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure everyone is included and has a roof over their head.”
Stewart said the modular housing units are a testament to cooperation between multiple levels of government, non-profits and the community, and he looks forward to working on more in the future.
The studio units, built by Horizon North, are about 320 square feet each in size and have a kitchenette, bathroom, and a living/sleeping area. Six homes are wheelchair accessible. The building has an indoor amenity space, commercial kitchen, laundry facilities, administration office and meeting rooms for the staff and residents.
All new modular housing buildings have staff on site 24 hours a day and provide services and supports such as meals, education and work opportunities, healthcare, life skills, social and recreational programs, case planning and needs assessment and help navigating government services.
To honour its location in what used to be Hogan’s Alley and the woman it is named after, the housing project will have some services and supports geared specifically to the needs of the black and Indigenous communities, and members of those groups who are experiencing homelessness will be prioritized.
“Let’s call it what it is: This city has a history of anti-black racism, it has history of anti-Indigenous racism,” said Stewart. “It has a long history of racism that we’re addressing through reconciliation but I think today it’s also addressing damage of the past.”
Hendrix came to Vancouver in 1911 and became an important figure in the East End neighbourhood — now Strathcona — and Hogan’s Alley in particular, which at the time was home to Vancouver’s black community.
Hendrix started the Vancouver chapter of the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel, where people gathered to pray and socialize. She also cooked at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House on Union, which was part of Hogan’s Alley. Her grandson, rock legend Jimi Hendrix, was known to visit the area during his childhood.
Many of the homes and businesses in the community were demolished to make way for the “urban-renewal projects” and the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.
“That monument to our oppression … was what displaced our community,” said June Francis, co-chair of the Hogan’s Alley society, gesturing to the Dunsmuir viaduct. “It displaced our hopes, it displaced our dreams, it displaced our businesses.”
The modular housing site will eventually be redeveloped as part of the city’s North East False Creek Plan, which calls for the black community to be honoured and what was formerly Hogan’s Alley to be a focal point. A black cultural centre is a centrepiece to the redevelopment, and the city hopes to employ land trusts and long-term leases to build the community.