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If you’ve ever walked through Chinatown on your lunch break, you’ve probably experienced this familiar dilemma: should you get a steamed pork bun or just skip lunch and contemplate the impact of legendary American guitarist and cultural icon Jimi Hendrix on both music and history itself?
It’s actually such a common phenomenon that it’s known as “Vancouver’s Sophie’s Choice,” but fret, Meryl Streep–style, no more, because the days of having the latter option are over. You’re going to be eating a stupid delicious meal with stupid great value today and every day going forward because, as any Hendrix-head and/or Australian backpacker knows, the tiny shrine to the musician’s legacy that operated at 796 Main Street for 20-plus years was shuttered a few years back. It’s a shame because it was an inspiring institution for both music buffs and people who dream of having their own unauthorized tribute in a city of which they have never actually been a resident.
Don’t worry: it’s only natural to wonder why there was a shrine to a famously Seattle-based musician here in a city that is famously not Seattle—it’s just part of growing up! As a presumably cool tween, Hendrix came up to Vancouver on the regular to hang out with his grandparents, aunts and uncles, spending summers doing whatever kids did in the ’50s. (Pushed a hoop with a stick? Danced the Twist? Tried to navigate the overt systemic racism of the time?) He even went to Sir William Dawson Elementary School (now closed) for two months. As a young adult, Hendrix would visit and stay with Grandma Nora, busking outside a chicken shack and jamming at local clubs, even playing the PNE in ’69 before being caught with drugs at the border and being banned from Canada. So in the sense that he “lived here,” he, technically speaking, “did not.” But is this not a global village? Are we all not just passengers on Spaceship Earth? Do we all not eat our steamed buns one mouthful at a time, unless we’re sharing with someone else and trying to do a cute Lady and the Tramp thing?
Sicilian immigrant Vincent Fodera started the Jimi Hendrix Shrine back in the ’90s, after he bought a building and found out it used to be a restaurant, Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, where Hendrix’s grandma was a cook. He stapled a few records and family photos to the wall and, in a brilliant vertical integration move (is this guy basically Vancouver’s Gordon Gekko?), was immediately provided with a steady stream of visitors from the nearby American Backpackers Hostel, which he runs.
In 2015, Bonus Properties bought the building for development under the condition that they would one day reconstruct the shrine on the ground floor, incorporating both a 32-foot statue of Hendrix and a takeout fried chicken counter into the design—reasonable demands that I will include in all of my future real estate dealings. But construction delays have, as it turns out, delayed construction, so for the time being, the artifacts (perhaps a generous way to describe a bag of tie-dyed flags) are in storage now at the hostel, and fans will need to look elsewhere for a brush with Hendrix history. Perhaps the new Nora Hendrix Place housing complex, which opened up in March, honouring Grandma, will do. She helped found the now-100-year-old African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was a centrepiece of Hogan’s Alley and remains a great place for people who actually live here to gather… and to pray that there’s a shrine of their very own out there, somewhere far from home.
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