In the early 1900s, the vibrant neighborhood of Strathcona in Vancouver pulsated with the life and culture of the city's Black community. For six decades, Black Strathcona stood as a testament to the resilience and spirit of Vancouver's Black residents. Artists showcased their talents, Black-owned businesses flourished, and passionate activists fought tirelessly for equality and justice.
During those years, freeways were being built across North America through low-income neighbourhoods in a process some called “slum clearance,” or urban renewal. Citizen activism tried to stop the same thing happening at Hogan’s Alley, a bustling enclave within Strathcona, but was unsuccessful.
Hogan's Alley served as the heart and soul of this thriving community, but when the City of Vancouver built the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts in 1971, its residents were uprooted and displaced.
What’s more, deliberate rezoning efforts made it increasingly difficult for Strathcona's residents to secure loans and mortgages. Discrimination was rampant as many financial institutions denied Black individuals access to their services.
Amid this systemic racism, Leonard Lane (pictured above) and other members of the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People took action. In 1959, they opened BC’s only Black-owned and run financial institution – the BC Unity Credit Union (BCUCU) – which offered financial literacy and equitable access to finance for Vancouver’s Black community.
Leonard understood that credit was a civil rights issue, and the BCUCU was much more than an alternative bank; it was a fundamental part of the formula for equality.
The story of Black Strathcona reminds us that financial inclusion marks the difference between a community that thrives and one that fades away.
The BCUCU was a declaration that the Black community possessed economic power and untapped potential.
Njeri Kontulahti, Senior Manager Financial Resilience and Inclusion and co-chair of Vancity's Racial Equity ERG (2021), aptly reflects on the significance of BCUCU's establishment: "It served as a resounding testament to the resilience, strength, and worth of the Black community."
In 1971 BCUCU merged with Vancity, and its legacy lives on.
Like BCUCU, Vancity was founded in 1946 to be a different financial institution – one that is open to anyone regardless of background.
Credit unions around the world are pillars of support to communities, operating for the benefit of members rather than shareholders, and offering ethical saving schemes, competitive loans and other financial products not usually available to people excluded from traditional financial institutions.
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