Yasin Kiraga Misano, the founder and executive director of the African Descent Society B.C., stands outside the former African Fountain Church in Vancouve. The building is now a private residence but was a church and meeting place for the black community in Vancouver from 1918 until the 1970s.
Jason Payne / Postmedia News
Before city council bulldozed the homes and businesses of its black community to build the Vancouver viaducts, the Fountain Chapel on Jackson Avenue was the lifeblood of Strathcona.On Sunday, the African Descent Society B.C. and African Methodist Episcopal Church will celebrate the centennial of the building, which has since become a private residence but remains an important symbol of a thriving neighbourhood ruined by politicians decades ago.Nora Hendrix — the grandmother of rock legend Jimi — opened the chapel at 823 Jackson Ave. in 1918. She raised half the $1,000 needed to buy the former First Scandinavian Lutheran Church at the east end of what was once Hogan’s Alley.Hendrix turned it into Vancouver’s chapter of the African Methodist Episcopal Church but also a thriving community centre where hundreds of congregants would pray and socialize. They held weddings, concerts and fundraisers there, and rallied for social justice.But with council’s launch of urban-renewal projects in the 1950s and the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in the 1970s, Strathcona was ripped apart, displacing the black community along with the chapel’s congregation.The chapel building was sold in 1985 to the Basel Hakka Lutheran Church and since 2008 has been someone’s home.In 2015, Yasin Kiraga Misago, founder and director of the African Descent Society B.C., formed a small Fountain Chapel congregation, led by Pastor Andrew Mutuma. It continues to meet in the same neighbourhood.Misago and Mutuma organized this Sunday’s centennial celebration.When Misago, 32, came to the University of B.C. from Uganda in 2009 through a student refugee program, he was disappointed to learn what had become of Hogan’s Alley, the chapel, and the people who once lived in the neighbourhood.“Our history is very important,” Misago said. “Hogan’s Alley was a central community hub, a spiritual hub, for people of African descent.“The members of the black community of that time, they had nowhere else to go.”He described his desire to feel the “intangible heritage” of the neighbourhood, including the sights, sounds and smells that once came from the restaurants and clubs, and the laughter of children on their way to church.While some buildings from the Hogan’s Alley era still stand, and projects such as Black Strathcona help tell its history, he laments what has been lost forever.“We imagine that in the community, how vibrant it could have looked today if it still existed, if it was given the opportunity to thrive,” he said. “At least maybe sometime in the future, we can have it more.”Misago wants to see the neighbourhood’s identity preserved. He believes 2019 — just over 100 years since Hendrix started the Fountain — is the right moment in time to celebrate the chapel’s history and promote work with the city to ensure that it is never forgotten.“You can be born poor and die a billionaire, but your culture and heritage are fixed,” Misago said.“We look at our black identity and how it was arrested and deleted out of the Vancouver maps and history, and we see that the only way (to fix that) is to develop this sense of self-determination … to rebuild and consider restorative justice so that we can build a new community.”Sunday at 11 a.m., Misago will lead the fifth annual Strathcona African Heritage Month Walking Tour through the neighbourhood, which will meet at 897 Keefer St. At 2 p.m., the group returns to that location and will be joined by local politicians and guest speakers for a email@example.com/nickeaglandCLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org