Vancuver's Historic Gastown
It is hard to believe that Gastown was one abandoned as a Skid Row even as late as 1950's. The town was founded in 1867 when a certain saloon keeper named John 'Gassy Eye' Deighton opened his doors to the public. Early Gastown (which was officially named "Granville") was a small and rough pioneer town with only three saloons, one hotel and two stores. Brawls were frequent and as a result, the town's treasury came to depend on the fines levied against the drunks and disorderly.
The arrival of Captain James A.Raymur who took over the direction of Hastings Mill and subsequently the duties of the magistrate, eventually provided the incentive for a vital community to emerged. With the arrival of William Cornelius Van Horne in the 1870's, Gastown was suddenly seen as a potential site for a railway system. The popularity of Gastown boomed and soon became a busy commercial port for sea traders.
In the summer of 1886, a terrible fire (known as The Great Fire of 1886) ravaged the newly established town. The town rebuilt but its popularity waned when the CPR sought other lands beside the town. The only building that survived the fire is the Regina Hotel. The bartenders in the hotel bar will only be too glad to tell you the story of how the hotel managed to survive the ravages of the fire.
At the start of 1971, it was declared as a heritage zone when the government designated Water Street as a historical area. Gastown was literally transformed into streets filled with shops, stores, restaurants and coffee bar thus becoming on the most frequent tourist stop.
Here at Water Street, be sure to look out for a sophisticated renovation of a turn-of-the-century warehouse called The Landing. Most stores are made from wooden floors, have pillars and reflect plenty of natural light. If you go past The Landing you will see a Romanesque style house built in 1897 by H.H. Richardson. This is known as Hudson House and was once owned by the Hudson Bay Company for 60 years.
Located between Cordova and Homer Street is the Horne Block. The block took its name off from one of Vancouver's early real estate holder by the name of J.W. Horne who personally financed the Stanley Park Zoo. Unfortunately the only zoo in Vancouver is closed due to financial problems.
Walk along further until you reach 131 Water Street and you will find a building renovated in 1975 by the CPR's Marathon Realty. This is known as The Courtyard and you will find the Architectural Institute of British Columbia located on the main level. There are walking tours that are available all year round.
There are areas which are somewhat out of place near Gastown. Certain areas around Hastings and Cordova are not part of the new refurbished town. Instead, these areas are home to the more economically disadvantaged residents and immigrants. Do not let the condition of these areas turn you away as it is worthwhile to visit these areas and explore the interesting architectures of some of the building. However, it is advisable to go during daylight hours.
If you go to Gastown, you must take a closer look at world's only steam powered clock. It will puff clouds as it sounds the Westminister Chimes when it hits every hour. The clock is unique as it was designed in 1875 but was actually created in 1977 by a local chorologist by the name of Raymond L.Saunders. He is responsible for the restoration of the post office clock at Sinclair Centre.
Born John Deighton (b.1830 d.1875) in Hull, England, this ambitious saloon keeper was affectionately known as Gassy Jack. In 1849, he migrated to San Francisco during the gold rush and eventually moving to Vancuver in the 1860's. He began working on the Fraser River as a steamboat captain until he finally settled in Burrard Inlet. In 1867, Deighton and his wife arrived in Gastown and persuaded the locals to build him a saloon despite the lack of whiskey and money. When Deighton House finally opened, Gastown was finally born.
In 1871, Jack expanded his saloon into a hotel. Three years later, he made further renovations and tried to enticed more paying customers. Unfortunately, his fortune soured and Jack along with his family abandoned Gastown that same year. He died in New Westminister at the age of 45 years old. Unfortunately, Jack's tombstone is not marked but he will be remembered as one of the pioneers of Gastown.
Getting to Gastown is easy. It is a mere 5 minutes walk from the Waterfront Station. Weekends are usually busy. You can be sure to grab a few souvenirs when you visit the town.
For more information, visit Gastown Official Site. For more tourist information on Vancouver's attractions please refer to our attractions guide.
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