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Biography & Autobiography Cultural Heritage

Opening Doors

In Vancouver's East End: Strathcona

edited by Daphne Marlatt & Carole Itter

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Apr 2011
Cultural Heritage
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2011
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 15
  • Grade: 10


"There was nothing but parties in Hogan's Alley," a black musician named Austin Phillips reminisced in 1977, "Night time, anytime, and Sundays all day. You could go by at 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning and you could hear the juke boxes going, you hear somebody hammering on the piano, playing the guitar, or hear somebody fighting."

The black ghetto of Hogan's Alley was just one of the ethnic neighbourhoods that made the historic Strathcona district the most cosmopolitan and colourful quarter in Vancouver for over a hundred years. Home to Chinatown, Japantown, the Loggers' Skid Row and Little Italy among others, it had been the city's first residential neighbourhood but became the refuge of the city's working and immigrant classes when better-off Vancouverites migrated westward around 1900. By the 1950s planners had declared it a slum slated for demolition, but in the 1960s residents united in a spirited defense that guaranteed Strathcona's survival and revolutionized city planning across Canada.

It had long been known that some of Vancouver's best stories lurked behind the closed doors of the Strathcona district (rock legend Jimi Hendrix spent part of his childhood living there with his grandmother, who is interviewed in this book.) Between 1977 and 1978, Strathcona writers Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter undertook to open those doors and collect 50 oral histories representing the best of the stories. First published in 1979 as a double issue of the journal Sound Heritage, Opening Doors has been celebrated as one of the best books about Vancouver you couldn't obtain for love nor money. To help mark Vancouver's 125th Anniversary, Harbour is republishing this underground classic as a Raincoast Monograph richly illustrated with vintage photographs.

About the authors

Daphne Marlatt
Daphne Marlatt was at the centre of the West Coast poetry movement of the 1960s, studying at UBC and with many of Donald Allen’s New American Poets, most notably Robert Creeley. Her writing includes prose narratives on the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver and of Steveston and several poetry books. In early 2006, she was appointed to the Order of Canada in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished service to Canadian culture.

Toyoshi Yoshihara
Toyoshi Yoshihara is an award-winning translator who has worked tirelessly to introduce English-language works of drama to Japanese audiences. A Canadian industrialist, he has translated over seventy Canadian plays into Japanese; heads the Maple Leaf Theatre in Japan; and is an honorary lifetime member of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research.

Daphne Marlatt's profile page

Carole Itter is an award-winning sculptor and author. Her
writing has been featured in various anthologies and literary magazines including in Room of One's Own and Brick.

Carole Itter's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Human recollection is a notoriously selective, subjective, fickle thing. But it would be hard to evoke the past more directly, with a more natural blending of everyday detail and overarching attitudes, than the first-person accounts of Opening Doors do. The fact that much of what is recalled here has since slipped from living memory makes this fascinating collection all the more worth saving."

-Brian Lynch, Georgia Straight

Review: Opening Doors revives Strathcona's rich past

Librarian Reviews

Opening Doors in Vancouver's East End: Strathcona

In 1977 and 1978 Marlatt and Itter tape-recorded the reminiscences of working class, immigrant residents of Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood. The living conditions of early Chinatown, Powell Street (Little Tokyo) and Hogan’s Alley (the red-light district) are preserved through the memories of these residents who have recollections going as far back as the beginning of the 20th century. Individual stories of success (Angelo Branca’s appointment as a BC Supreme Court Justice) as well as injustices (the evacuation of Japanese residents to internment camps) illustrate the trajectory of the immigrant working class in Canadian society. The stories are enhanced with archival photographs.

Originally published in 1979, this book has been reprinted for the Vancouver 125 Legacy Book Collection.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. BC Books for BC Schools. 2011-2012.

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