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Gastown's History

In the late 1860's, the south shore of the Burrard Inlet was a wilderness. Its only non-native settlement was a lumber mill where the owner didn't allow alcohol on the premises.

So on a fine September day, "Gassy Jack"* Deighton, arrived into Gastown with a barrel of whiskey, and announced to the mill workers that if they would build him a saloon, he'd serve them drinks. The saloon was up and running within a day and it was built just across the property line of the mill. This is when Gastown was born!  Gassey Jack's bronze statue stands today at the Gassy Jack Square at the corner of Carrall St. and Water St., which is the site of his original wooden shack.

It was on April 6th, 1886 that Gastown was incorporated as the City of Vancouver, after the British explorer, George Vancouver.   However, just months later on June 13th, a brush-clearing fire got out of control and turned all but two of Vancouver's 400 buildings to ashes.  Although many of it's original shacks and boardwalks were swept away by the fire, they were also quickly replaced by more permanent brick structures, many of which line Water Street today. The railway's arrival spurred the development of warehouses and wholesale traders, and passenger trains flooded local hotels with lumberjacks, miners and speculators. Gastown became a staging point for expeditions to the Klondike during the gold rush of the 1890s.

Gastown grew and prospered into the 1920's; however, the good times came to an end when most of the world was hit by the most difficult economic recession ever- The Depression.  Until the 1960's, Gastown fell on hard times and deteriorated into a stereotypical skid road area.  This prompted discussion of having the area demolished, until a group of dedicated citizens took it upon themselves to save Gastown's distinctive architecture and character. The city rallied around them. Hence, Gastown was not just saved; it was reborn.

The civic redevelopment project that took place in the early 1970's restored Water Street's original cobblestone paving and many of the original brick buildings that existed a century earlier, with added touches such as the simulated gas lamps that line the streets today. Renovations included the restoration of Blood Alley Square, which was the site of Vancouver's first civic offices. Also, in 1971, the provincial government declared Gastown an historic area, protecting its heritage buildings. 

* He received his nickname because of his habit of spinning tall tales and talking without end

Gastown Today 

Today, Gastown has become an interesting mix of the old and new.  Whereas the old, heritage buildings still stand tall and proud, a new surge of development has paved way for upscale retail, residence, dining, and nightlife.  The streets of Gastown are always buzzing with activity, and especially during the summer months when there is plenty of cruise traffic as well as distinguished conferences taking place in the nearby Convention Center.

As you walk down the cobblestone streets of Gastown, you will be able to experience the Victorian fixtures and narrow lanes that display the historical landscape of 20th Century architecture.  The area is further enriched by the diverse and exciting shopping that is unique to Gastown, and unlike any other area in the rest of Vancouver! Gastown is also a great choice for those of you out there that have children. 

As you stroll down the famous Water Street, ** your feet will draw you into the souvenir stores where you can find the best bargains in all of Vancouver!  Not only will you be able to take home Canadiana souvenirs, but also you can purchase the finest in Canadian Diamonds and Ammolite, native crafts, brand name clothing, all types of authentic sports jerseys, and so much more!  Make sure to visit the stores that have been featured here, as they are the oldest, most reputed, and definitely the most visited souvenir shops in all of Vancouver!  Also, don't forget to visit the beautiful galleries, and indulge in the delicious food in the popular restaurants of Gastown that are unsurpassed in its variety.

Gastown, only being a few blocks long, makes for a very relaxing and enjoyable walk.  It is located only a few minutes walk away from Chinatown, Canada Place, as well as Robson Street.  Also, transportation to and from Gastown is not an issue at all. Several tour operators drop off and pick up in Gastown. Most public transit connects to or runs within a block of the Cordova Street Station.

Gastown is open all year round since it is fully integrated into Vancouver life as a business, retail and entertainment destination for locals as well.

The Famous Gastown Steam Clock

On a street corner of this Victorian-era warehouse district stands the world's first steam clock, and the city's most photographed attraction. The timepiece plays the Westminster Chimes every hour and whistles every 15 minutes with a gush of steam. Despite its gothic style, it's not as old as it looks. Famed inventor and horologist Ray Saunders built the clock in 1977 (from an 1875 design) to muffle steam from underground lines that were used to heat local buildings.  If you look through the glass panels in the sides of the clock at the internal mechanism, steel balls are raised to the top of the clock under steam power, and then slowly allowed to fall in order to power it.

Other attractions in Gastown include the statue of Gassey Jack, the Gaoler's Mews, the Byrnes Block, Hotel Europe, and the new Storeum. 

** One of the first named streets in the original townsite. At first it was called Front Street since it ran along the shoreline.


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