A Building Restoration and Neighborhood Renewal Success Story

A mixture of eclectic shops, beautifully restored buildings and cobble stone streets make Gastown one of the main attractions in Vancouver British Columbia.

Gassy Jack, The Founder of Gastown

In 1867, all that stood was a lumber mill in this native settlement. Jack Deighton, the former owner of the Globe Saloon in New Westminster arrived in a canoe with his family and a barrel of whiskey. Because Jack was the type of person who told tall tales and talked incessantly with his saloon customers, he was nicknamed “Gassy Jack”. Back then, gassy meant a verbal “bag of hot air”.

Knowing there was no other drinking establishment; Jack built the new Globe Saloon. As the mill workers started to patronize the saloon, other businesses started to spring up. This settlement became known as Gastown in honour of “Gassy” Jack Deighton.

The Rise and Fall of Gastown

In 1870, Gastown was renamed “Granville” after the British colonial secretary, Earl Granville. Despite giving it a dignified name, locals still called it “Gastown”. In 1886, it was incorporated as the City of Vancouver, in honour of British explorer, George Vancouver. In the same year, an out of control fire burned down all but two of Vancouver’s buildings. The rebuilt Gastown continued to grow until the Great Depression hit in 1929. Other parts of Vancouver recovered but Gastown grew into a skid road area.

Saving Gastown From Demolition

In the 1960s, it was announced that developers were going to demolish the buildings in Gastown. A group of concerned citizens wanted to save these heritage buildings and managed to get the city to support their cause. Thus, the Vancouver Heritage Commission was formed. In 1971, Gastown was declared a historic area and this started a widespread restoration process. Today, the streets and narrow passages are lined with boutiques, galleries, eateries and brew pubs. Cobble stone streets and Victorian lamposts help create a vintage atmosphere.

Some of the most popular things to see in Gastown are:

Steam Clock: This is the world’s first steam clock was built by horologist Raymond Saunder. People gather every quarter hour to hear the Westminster chimes on 5 brass steam whistlers.

The Station: Built in 1912 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, this restored building represents the quality decor of that era. Once used as the western terminus of CP Rail, it is now the hub for Vancouver’s transit system (i.e. Skytrain, Seabus, West Coast Express). This is the best place to start exploring Gastown because it is closest to the downtown core on the west side.

Maple Tree Square: Located at the eastern end of Gastown, this is the site of Gassy Jack’s statue. From June through August, this is the starting point for the guided walking tour.

Gaolers Mews: It was the location of Vancouver’s first jail in addition to a customs house, stables, public baths and laundry. Today it is a collection of shops and galleries which sell original art pieces, Native art and other unique merchandise.

Blood Alley: Situated next to Gaolers Mews, it had been the location of several butcher shops. The name was derived from the daily rinsing out of bloody water from the shops onto the street. In addition, public executions were held at this site. Now it is home to several restaurants and night clubs.

The Europe Hotel: For architecture enthusiasts, this was the first reinforced concrete structure built in Canada. Constructed in 1909, this flat iron shaped building is triangular in order to fit the shape of the lot. It is located at the east end of Gastown by Maple Square.

Storyeum: Opened a couple of years ago, this is a 72 minute-long presentation of the history of Vancouver and other historic events in British Columbia. The combination of technology and photography makes this a realistic journey back in time.

Gastown is within easy walking distance of the downtown core and appeals to all ages. Kids will enjoy the souvenir shops and the nearby IMAX theatre at Canada Place, just past the west end of Gastown. Adults will love the boutiques and art galleries. At night, the pubs and nightclubs come alive in this historic, yet hip area.


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