I have lived here all my life and had no idea that Gastown’s history was so interesting and went so far back! Gastown was established the same year that Canada became a nation, Gastown quickly grew into Canada’s third largest city and one of its most cosmopolitan. Although todays Gastown district retains its historic charm, independent spirit and distinctiveness, it also hails as a go to location for great events and nightlife … the annual Jazz Festival to name only one. There’s no mistaking Gastown for any other area of Vancouver, or of Canada for that matter. But let’s start at the beginning shall we?
1867: The south shore of Burrard Inlet was a wilderness. Its only non-native settlement was a lumber mill where the owner didn’t allow alcohol on the premises.
One September day, “Gassy Jack” Deighton arrived (he received his nickname because of his penchant for spinning tall tales and talking without end). He stepped ashore with a barrel of whiskey, telling the millworkers that if they’d build him a saloon, he’d serve them drinks. The saloon was up and running within a day…just across the property line of the mill. Gastown was born.
1870: On March 1st, in order to give it a more distinguished name, Gastown was officially proclaimed to be “Granville”, after the British colonial secretary. But everybody in the rough and tumble settlement continued to call it Gastown.
1886: Gastown was incorporated as the City of Vancouver, after British explorer, George Vancouver. That was April 6th. On June 13th, a brush-clearing fire got out of control and turned all but two of Vancouver’s 400 buildings to ashes.
1920s: Gastown grew and prospered, as did the rest of the City of Vancouver. But good times couldn’t last forever.
Depression Years: Gastown fell on hard times and deteriorated into a stereotypical skid road area until the 1960s.
1960s: With talk of demolishing the area becoming more widespread, a group of dedicated citizens took it upon themselves to save Gastown’s distinctive architecture and character. The city rallied around them. Gastown was not just saved, it was reborn.
1971: The provincial government declared Gastown an historic area, protecting its heritage buildings.
2009: Gastown was designated a National Historic Site by the federal government.
Gastown is a refreshing mix of old and new, down-home and upscale, a place for tourists, Vancouver residents and office workers alike. Various shops have the streets buzzing during the day. There is virtually every type of store you can think of, from clothing stores to antique shops to furniture stores to art galleries to cafes and even cigar stores.
The other unique facet of Gastown is its alleys. Thru the endless little corridors, hidden roundabouts, alleys, and even courtyards you will discover many different types of eateries and galleries and just about anything else you are looking for. But you will do it with a twist. What is this you ask? This is the experience of walking down streets and alleys with century old buildings climbing up from the red brick under your feet only to step into a state of the art furniture gallery. Then you will skip back across the red bricks past a green petinaed bronze statue of Gassy Jack and saunter into a quaint little café for a cappuccino, or perhaps a latte with a shot of Amaretto?
After a little conversation, and a warm tummy, you embark on yet another journey down what feels like a giant red brick alley but is in fact Water Street. There you will find many things to attract your attention like a crow to a pocketful of shiny coins accidentally dropped on the sidewalk. Let me tell you, it is difficult to walk more than a block without stopping to check out some item in all the little nooks and crannies that make the district so appealing.
An excellent mandate of the city planning department and the historic society is to maintain Gastown’s identity even with the growing population and technological comforts demanded by today’s consumers. To this end the property developers are building structures that resemble original buildings in the area. Take for example the Hotel Europe, built in 1909 (photo at left) and the Woodward’s W3 building (photo at right). Both of which house apartments and condos (depending on which building you live in) as well as host of different shops.
The Gastown business development society does an excellent job of continually trying to make the district more appealing. This not only includes attempting to get the right businesses into the area, but also maintaining the hanging flower baskets that adorn the sidewalks and planning community events. There is even talk of replacing all the red bricks. That should be a big job!
So you find yourself getting pooped out after a day of browsing and shopping. What to do? Lots. There are 39 restaurants to choose from … some very interesting ones too. Like the Black Frog or the Gringo. My all-time favourite is got to be the Old Spaghetti Factory. I think it’s been the since the beginning of time, or at least since I was a child. 🙁
Now that your fed and getting your energy back, you start thinking about what to do this evening. Hmmmm. Where do I start? Gastown boasts 12 pubs, lounges and clubs! There is everything from the legendary Lamplighter Pub (which also adds extra tables outside on its veranda as does many of the other pubs during the weekends) to the Portside and Blarney Stone Pubs. If dancing is more what your after you can rock it at with Clough Club or the Revel Room which sport live bands. Oh yeah, you don’t want to miss the Jazz Festival in the summer time.
So much to do and so little time. If making an adventure out of Gastown is what you have planned, definitely visit their web site. They have even more stuff to check out!