People Profiles

Wayde Compton, MA, English

September 08, 2015

Wayde Compton is changing Canada's future by uncovering its past.    

Compton has published books of poetry, essays, and fiction and is the director of The Writer’s Studio, a creative writing program at Simon Fraser University. He completed a Master’s Degree in English at SFU in 2001. Through his writing and community activism, Compton has worked to raise awareness about BC's black history.

“I grew up in BC but had no idea there were black pioneers in this province till I was in my 20s. People were not talking about blackness in BC; they didn’t think it existed,” he says.

Compton co-founded the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project to help preserve a part of the local landscape that was particularly important to 'blackness in BC'. Hogan’s Alley was a Vancouver neighbourhood that was home to the city’s first African-Canadian community. It was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a transportation project and was on the edge of being forgotten altogether when he got involved.

“So much was lost through the destruction of Hogan’s Alley. In 1990 [many of the] people who were part of it were dying out. We stepped in just in time to capture their knowledge and experiences so that what happened there doesn’t happen again. We need to remember that if we just throw up condos and concrete we are losing aspects of the city--and ourselves,” he says.

Thanks to those efforts, Canada Post launched a Hogan’s Alley stamp in 2014. Compton also started the first publishing house for black authors in Western Canada. 

Compton explains that his drive to explore and revitalize BC's black history was what brought him to SFU. After reading a book documenting African American settlement in Nova Scotia, he wanted to learn about his home province's settlement stories. Unable to find a book on the topic, he decided to go to graduate school and write it himself.

“In my MA thesis I researched a lot of black pioneer writing. Although some of it had been mentioned by historians it had never been recognized as a body of creative work. I realized these are my predecessors,” says Compton.

Compton helped formalize this new body of literature through the publication of an anthology titled Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature.  

“Writing was my first focus but as I got into it I wound up doing activism work to help people develop the frame to understand my writing—I needed to educate people so they could understand the experience I was writing about,” says Compton.

Author: Jackie Amsden

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