I visited teacher Tilia Prior’s terrific and talented grade seven class today at Tecumseh Elementary School to thank them for submitting poems about Hogan’s Alley to the City Poems Contest!
The entire class of 25 students learned about this historic and significant Black community in Strathcona that was gutted in the late 1960s by the municipal government’s freeway plan to modernize transportation routes. Strong community resistance prevented the plan from being fully implemented, but the Georgia Viaduct was still built, razing Black homes and businesses.
Tilia Prior was inspired by acclaimed local writer and instructor, Wayde Compton, who was doing daily tweets with facts about Hogan’s Alley during Black History Month this past February. She showed the class poetry videos and short documentaries about the area too, and encouraged every student to write and submit a poem for the contest. She taught them about various poetic techniques such as repetition and alliteration.
As a result, the poems were moving, thoughtful, and written with care. Vivid images rose from the pages. It is incredible how poetry works like a magic spell to bridge time and place: here were students born long after the demise of Hogan’s Alley, who were not Black, who may never have even visited that part of town, learning about and empathizing with Black residents of the era. In fact, student Sharon Pan’s poem about Vie’s chicken House won third place in the youth category!
An interesting fact to note about Tecumseh Elementary School is that Vancouver School Board’s first Asian Canadian teacher, Vivian Jung, was hired by the school in the 1940s. Over half a century of racial segregation had prevented Asian Canadians, Blacks, and other visible minorities from various professions. But the activism of Jung and her classmates led to a breakthrough in 1945.
She taught at Tecumseh as a beloved teacher for 35 years. A lane is named after her in Vancouver’s West End, near the former “public” Crystal Pool (long gone) at Sunset Beach where she was famously barred from entry.
(Some Canadians might not be aware that segregation wasn’t just a US phenomenon. Racial segregation was actively practiced in Vancouver, in BC, and elsewhere in Canada at that time—in “public” pools, movie theatres, restaurants, hospitals, housing, civic employment, and more.)
It was cool to see this kind of interracial solidarity being forged in the present about the injustice faced by the community of Hogan’s Alley in the past, paralleling the interracial solidarity that Vivian Jung and her classmates marshalled back in 1945. Kudos to Tilia Prior and her amazing grade seven class!