By TOM GODFREY
The grandmother of U.S. rock legend Jimi Hendrix is featured on one of two special-edition stamps being issued in February by Canada Post to commemorate Black History Month.
The popular Nora Hendrix, who lived to be 100, was a prominent member of Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley who cared for young Jimi and his cousins as they were growing up. Many today claim Jimi bears a strong resemblance to his feisty grandmother.
The stamp, that features a black and white photo of Nora superimposed in front of a painting of Hogan’s Alley, will be released on January 30. The second 2014 Black History Month stamp depicts the Africville community in Halifax.
Hogan’s Alley was a historic Black neighbourhood that dates back to the early-1900s and was the home of railway porters and their families. Both communities were bulldozed in the 1960s and early 1970s with Hogan’s Alley used to construct the Georgia Viaduct.
Nora, who was born in Tennessee, was a former dancer in a touring vaudeville troupe before moving to Hogan’s Alley in 1911. She was active in the fledgling Black community and worked for many years as a cook at the popular Vie’s Chicken and Steakhouse.
Nora married Ross Hendrix and settled in the ‘Alley’ raising three children. Al, the youngest, moved to Seattle at 22, met 16-year-old Lucille, and their son Jimi was born in 1942.
A young Jimi spent the summers in Hogan’s Alley with his cousins and Nora, who was instrumental in getting the community to purchase the Fountain Chapel church. She later co-founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which became a gathering place for gospel singing.
Vie’s hosted many top artists such as Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong, who would eat at the restaurant after it had closed for the night. Jimi and his cousins, it is believed, would stay up late helping Nora serve the visiting musicians.
Jimi returned to Vancouver in 1962 after being discharged from the U.S. Army and worked on his guitar skills. He even played several shows on Granville Street.
He would return six years later when the now-famous Jimi Hendrix Experience played a packed concert at Pacific Coliseum. Nora was in a front seat cheering him on.
A small red brick building in the area has been converted into a shrine for the flamboyant musician by his loyal fans.
“Nora was a key member of the community,” Elia Anoia, a spokeswoman for Canada Post, told Share last week. “A young Jimi used to stay with her.”
Anoia said Vie’s was a hub of the community with many people coming and going.
She said Canada Post officials have been working for months to obtain photos and permission from the Hendrix Estate to use the photograph.
“This year we are featuring communities and the people who lived in them.” Anoia said. “We want people to know that these communities were rich in history.”
Co-featured on the stamp with Nora is long-time Baptist Church Trustee and Deacon William Fielding Spotts Jr., who was a charter member of five churches that he made sure were “open to all races and colours”. He died in 1937 at 79.
The second Black History stamp features photographs of seven young girls who are descendants of Africville residents in front of Seaview African United Baptist Church and homes in the background.
Bertha Mantley, Africville’s oldest surviving resident, got to see the design before she died earlier this week. She was 93, according to Canada Post officials.
One of Mantley’s daughters is among the women featured on the stamp and her son is on the back of the booklet.
The City of Halifax dismantled Africville – one of Nova Scotia’s oldest Black communities dating back to the 1840s – and evicted its 400 residents by 1964 in the name of urban renewal.
During Africville’s existence, the city neglected the community, failing to provide water or sewer services, even though residents paid property taxes like everyone else.
Africville’s location is now a national heritage site.
Other prominent Canadians featured on Black History Month stamps include baseball player Ferguson Jenkins; Victoria Cross winner William Hall; cowboy John Ware; civil rights activists Viola Desmond, Carrie Best and Abraham Shadd; politician Rosemary Brown and jazz musicians Oliver Jones and Oscar Peterson.