"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.
"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