Wandering Through Gastown

July 13, 2014
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Gastown is Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around
Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood and popular tourist site

Gastown the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a popular tourist spot. Victorian buildings along cobblestone streets house shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, offices, and apartments.

Gastown was born in 1867 when “Gassy Jack” Deighton arrived at the lumber mill, the only non-native settlement in the area. He’d brought a barrel of whiskey and told the mill workers he’d give them a drink if they built him a saloon. The saloon was up and running within a day.

Gassy Jack statue in Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

Statue of “Gassy Jack”. It’s said he received his nickname because of the tall tales he told and his incessant talking.

In 1886, Gastown was incorporated as the City Of Vancouver, named after British explorer George Vancouver. Two months after incorporation, a brush-clearing fire blew out of control and destroyed all but two of Vancouver’s 400 buildings. A period of economic growth followed that devastation, spurred by the promise of a trans-continental railway. Gastown grew and prospered, as did the entire city of Vancouver, until the 1930’s depression years when Gastown fell into hard times and turned into a skid row area. In the 1960s, amid talk of destruction, a group of citizens lobbied to save Gastown’s distinctive character. In 1972, the provincial government declared it an historic area, protecting its heritage buildings. In 2009, Gastown was designated a National Historic Site by the government of Canada.

Byrnes Building in Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

The Byrnes Building behind Gassy Jack’s statue is one of the oldest buildings in Vancouver still standing in its original location. Built in 1897, the Victorian Italianate building housed the Alhambra Hotel, which featured running water and wood stoves in most rooms.

Malkin warehouses in Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

First Malkin Warehouse, built 1898, and Third Malkin Warehouse, built 1907 with a heavy internal timber frame of Douglas Fir. W.H. Malkin was a produce merchant and mayor of Vancouver from 1929 – 1932.

Lamplighter Pub in Dominion Hotel in Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

The Lamplighter Pub on the ground floor of the Dominion Hotel is Vancouver’s oldest bar. The Dominion Hotel was built in 1900 and the Lamplighter took over the main floor in 1925. It was the first licensed establishment in the city to serve alcohol to women.

Hotel Europe in Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

Hotel Europe, built in 1908-1909, was modeled after New York’s Flatiron building.
It was the earliest reinforced steel building in Vancouver and one of Vancouver’s finest hotels, with a popular bar in the basement. In 1938, it was converted to low income housing.

Gastown is Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

The attraction that draws the most tourists in Gastown is the steam clock. Ironically, it is relatively new. It was built in 1977. Every quarter-hour, the steam-powered clock sounds the Westminster chimes. When I was there, I watched a man appearing to be a tour guide explain the workings of the clock to a group of four. At the end of his talk, money was mentioned. They handed him some bills and walked away. Within minutes, the man called out to others passing by, asking if they wanted to learn about the clock. I don’t know if he was an “official” guide or an enterprising independent. I suspect the latter.

Steam clock in Gastown, Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

Gastown is Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around

Images of Gastown: Old buildings, cobblestone streets, decorative lampposts, tour bus stops, artists carving on the street

Gastown bustles every day of the week with both locals and tourists. It can be especially busy on days when cruise ships dock. The area, bounded by Water Street to the north, Richards Street to the west, Cordova Street to the south, and Main Street to the east, is easily walked. Plagues mounted on buildings along the way provide history of the buildings and the area. There are plenty of places to stop for refreshments. 

Have you visited Gastown?

PIN ITGastown is Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood and a popular tourist site, a great area to wander around. #BritishColumbia #Vancouver

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  • Reply
    Jeannette Paladino
    July 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Hi Donna — my first time here and I enjoyed this post. I’ve only visited Vancouver once many years ago and was impressed by its lovely historic districts and beautiful port. I even took a bike ride though a path on an island (can’t remember the name). Thanks for this tour of your great city.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Thanks Jeannette. If your bike ride was in Vancouver (and not on one of the islands you get to by ferry), it was probably Granville Island, which is actually a peninsula. I will have a couple more posts about Vancouver in the next weeks – hope you drop by.

  • Reply
    jacquie
    July 13, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I’ve never been to Vancouver…but I love these pictures. That Hotel Europe looks wonderful and the architecture reminds me a little of Charleston, where I live, though a bit newer. I’ll have to try and gt there. Wonderful post! Loved the tour:)

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 9:17 am

      The architecture in Gastown and around other parts of Vancouver is interesting and beautiful. I paid more attention to it in my most recent trip last month and was impressed, noticing things I hadn’t noticed before.

  • Reply
    Michele LoBosco
    July 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Donna, what an interesting history this town has (can’t believe a fire destroyed almost all the buildings…and then the city experienced a period of economic expansion…fascinating!!). I’ve never visited Vancouver, but would certainly love to do so. Thanks for such a lovely read…!

    Michele

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 9:18 am

      Vancouver is a beautiful city with lots to offer – Gastown is just one part of it. I like learning a bit about the history of an area. It enhances my appreciation of what I see.

  • Reply
    Catarina
    July 14, 2014 at 5:10 am

    Have never been to Vancouver. But if I go I will definitely visit Gastown. The pictures make me think of Georgetown in D.C.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 9:20 am

      I’ve never been to Georgetown, but I’ve seen bits of it on TV and would like to get there some day.

  • Reply
    Lenie
    July 14, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Donna, I love the picture of Hotel Europe you took. It really shows off its unique design. Is it still set aside for low income housing. If the building is well maintained, that would be a lovely place to live and provide people on low-income with hope.
    You are supplying me with a fascinating look at Canada`s past – thanks.
    Lenie

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 9:24 am

      As far as I could find out, Hotel Europe still has subsidized housing. According to some sites, it also has a ghost or two.

  • Reply
    Leora
    July 14, 2014 at 6:28 am

    I’ve been to Vancouver twice (wonderful city), and I was in Gastown once. Thanks for this great tour.

  • Reply
    flattiresandslowboats.com
    July 14, 2014 at 11:35 am

    This is almost freaky in its timing. I was sitting, pondering, just the other day about a place I had visited that was historic with cobble stone streets and old buildings. I was rattling through my mind trying to figure out where this place was. I thought of San Diego, Quebec, and Seattle but couldn’t be sure. Thank you; it was Vancouver. I went there in the early 90’s and loved that area. Wandered around there for a day and was totally captivated. Very glad to hear it wasn’t torn down in the 70’s.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      Interesting coincidence. Glad I was able to jog your memory.

  • Reply
    Meredith Wouters
    July 14, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    What a colorful history to this place! I’ve never been there, although I have been to Vancouver. I was too young then to appreciate architecture and history. Hopefully I’ll get another chance someday…

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      I’m sure you’d enjoy all Vancouver has to offer if you get there again.

  • Reply
    Arleen
    July 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    I haven’t been to Vancouver in years. I used to visit the town several times when I lived on the West Coast. I guess it was before the steam clock because that I would have remembered. I think it is time to go back for a visit. Your pictures are wonderful

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Thanks Arleen. I’m sure you’d find a few other changes beyond the steam clock as well.

  • Reply
    William Rusho
    July 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    It seems like a wonderful place. The pictures are intriguing. I hope I can get a chance to visit it there someday. How bad are the winters?

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Vancouver winters are mild, compared to some other parts of Canada. Average temperatures in January range from 32 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. It rarely snows, but it can be rainy. Fairly similar climate as Seattle.

  • Reply
    JeriWB
    July 15, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I’ve only been to Vancouver once. It was my senior year of high school for a band trip. One of the places we got to wander around in was Gastown. I keep meaning to go back to Vancouver again, but the move to NC canceled those plans. Now that I’m back in Idaho, I can put a visit back on my list. It will be fun to show my husband around since he’s never been there.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 16, 2014 at 8:05 am

      I’m sure you and your husband would enjoy Vancouver.

  • Reply
    Erica Mesirov
    July 16, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Hi Donna. The closest I ever got to Gastown was I had a pen pal from Vancouver growing up. I’ve never actually been there myself. I love the pictures. I love that the building still exists that was the first licensed establishment to serve alcohol to women. It is amazing to remember how recent many changes in society have been.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 18, 2014 at 7:51 am

      It is amazing when you stop to check about how recent a lot of changes are.

  • Reply
    Susan Cooper
    July 16, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I loved your tour and the pictures. I’ve been to Vancouver a very long time ago and remember that hotel. I had tea and crumpets there. 🙂 It does remind me of Europe. I would love to get back there in the near future.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 18, 2014 at 7:52 am

      Thanks Susan. There are a few parts of Vancouver that evoke feelings of Europe. Much of the rest of the city though is uniquely Vancouver-ish. Great city to visit.

  • Reply
    dukestewart
    July 17, 2014 at 5:20 am

    I’ve never visited Vancouver but after meeting many people from there, it’s definitely on my bucket list of sights to see. You took some great pictures of old “Gastown.” I had no idea that its origins were so interesting.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 18, 2014 at 7:53 am

      The origins are interesting. So many places are like that – every place (like every person) has an interesting story.

  • Reply
    Mina Joshi
    July 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I have not been to Vancouver but your pictures have tempted me. I love the cobble streets which look very British to me.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 18, 2014 at 7:56 am

      I think Gastown is the only area in Vancouver that has the cobble streets – adds to it sense of “oldness”.

  • Reply
    Pamela Heady
    July 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I have not ever been Vancouver but it looks like such a wonderful town! I would love to walk the streets, take in the sights and then wander straight in that Lamplighter Pub for a beer or two!

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 18, 2014 at 7:57 am

      It’s easy to linger over a beer or two in many spots in Gastown. I like finding a patio or window seat where I can watch the people passing by.

  • Reply
    Beth Niebuhr
    July 17, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    What an interesting story. A saloon built in a day! Could that be an exaggeration? I definitely want to visit Vancouver. Maybe next summer.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      July 18, 2014 at 7:59 am

      The story about the saloon being built in a day appears in a variety of information I read. Is it an exaggeration? Who knows. The story is certainly part of the folklore now.

  • Reply
    Welli
    July 20, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Hey Donna love the Gastown architecture. I haven’t been there but Europe hotel and the steam clock are quite a sight. That guy was definitely enterprising as you say.

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