There’s no definitive explanation for why the alley was named Hogan’s Alley, but there are a few theories. The first is that it was named after Harry Hogan, listed as a singer living at 406 Union Street in the 1921 directory, according to Namely Vancouver by Tom Snyders and Jennifer O’Rourke.
As with much of Vancouver’s history, the first to grapple with this question was city archivist Major J. S. Matthews. Evidence for the Harry Hogan theory comes from a 1958 letter written to Matthews by Deputy Police Magistrate Gordon Scott:
As you know, Hogan’s Alley lies between Union and Prior street; the westernly terminal is on the lane immediately east of Main street. In the late 20s and 30s scarcely a day went by without some evidence being given in Court of happenings on this busy thoroughfare. On today’s police court list I found that one, Kathleen Moore was charged with being in a state of intoxication. Kathleen Moore was formerly Kathleen Newman, and in those days was known as the “Queen of Hogan’s Alley.” She is now blind, but very bright mentally, and obviously not a teetotaller. I had the police bring her to my office, and asked her if she knew any Hogan of Hogan’s Alley.
I told this story at lunch time today to a man who had driven a taxi at this boisterous period, and he said that Hogan was well known in the 20s.
She said she remembered him well, and that he had a shack on the alley and seemed to have more money than most of his neighbours. Consequently large and frequent alcoholic parties were held in his ‘residence.’ This Irishman was the shining light on the social side of the alley.
Major Matthews noted that the problem with this explanation is that the name was in use before the First World War. He suggested another possibility:
A ‘hogan’ is the earth lodge of a Navaho Indian … It may be that, owing to the collection of shacks which have always been the feature of the Hogan Alley district, and that very reputable men of dark skin, i.e. negros, who were C.P.R. porters on trains, etc., lived there, that they themselves were familiar with the southern word ‘hogan,’ and humorously applied it to the humble shelters (all our houses were rather humble in those days) on Hogan’s Alley. We were fond of nicknames in those days: Trounce Alley is another example.”
The most compelling explanation seems to have eluded Matthews. The name was probably taken from the 1890s comic strip featuring the Yellow Kid. Even if the other theories have merit, the immense popularity of the newspaper strip meant the term “Hogan’s Alley” was already associated with the meanings that made it a suitable name for the Vancouver alley.
The Yellow Kid was so successful that comic strips became a standard component of the modern newspaper (and likely inspired an even more famous yellow-shirted bald kid who debuted in newspaper strips in the 1950s). The strip did not appear in Vancouver papers, as Snyders and O’Rourke suggest, but nonetheless would have been familiar to a significant portion of the city’s cosmopolitan population.
One reason the Yellow Kid strip became such a pop culture sensation was that it appealed across class divisions. For the middle class, it was a humorous affirmation of the slum-dweller stereotype: dirty, violent, impulsive, and vulgar, immigrant children who spoke in a funny argot, behaved irrationally, and who lacked the moral rectitude so valued by Victorians.
The working class could read Hogan’s Alley in a more sympathetic light. Through their antics, the Yellow Kid and his fellow urchins were intensely critical of the bourgeois culture and politics dominating 1890s New York, which they satirized, defied, and subverted at every turn.
Eventually the populist reporting style favoured by papers carrying the Yellow Kid became known as “yellow journalism,” which ostensibly championed the “little guy.”
The widespread popularity of the Yellow Kid comics made Hogan’s Alley a common place name for areas that exhibited conditions dramatized in the comic strip. At the dawn of the 20th century in British Columbia, Hogan’s Alley was already used for an area in Rossland where poor and itinerant immigrant labourers resided and prostitutes plied their trade.
The earliest documented use of the name in Vancouver was as a nickname for the campsite of Mrs. Sam Scott at the foot of Denman Street during the summer of 1897. Prior to 1908, it was fashionable for well-to-do Vancouverites to “slum it” by camping out at the city’s beaches
The name “Hogan’s Alley” was not a random name choice. Like the tag “Skid Road” (or “Skid Row”) for innercity areas such as the Downtown Eastside, Hogan’s Alley signified a poor, ethnically and racially diverse urban area considered problematic by reformers and the stuffier classes. But unlike Skid Road, Hogan’s Alley could not be easily demarcated, regulated, and policed.
Like the denizens of Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley, the Yellow Kid and his crew were displaced from Hogan’s Alley after their creator was lured away to work for the New York Journal. R. F. Outcault continued to draw the Yellow Kid, but because the New York World owned the copyright to Hogan’s Alley, Outcault moved the gang to McFadden’s Flats.
Hogan’s Alley is also the name of the mock city used for training FBI agents.