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N AV I G AT I O N June 2013

TREASURES 14 hidden treasures of Gastown

TOURISM How to be a tourist in your own city.

H I S T O RY

A glance into the past: the history of Vancouver and historic Gastown


Gastown “There’s no mistaking Gastown

for any other area of Vancouver, or of Canada for that matter.”

Established the same year that Canada became a nation, Gastown grew into Canada’s third largest city and one of its most cosmopolitan. But the Gastown district today retains its historic charm. There’s no mistaking Gastown for any other area of Vancouver, or of Canada for that matter. 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 talkingwithout end) He stepped ashore with a barrel of whiskey, Navigation - 1

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. 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. 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 urned all but two of Vancouver’s 400 build-

ings to ashes. Gastown grew and grew and prospered, as did the rest of the City of Vancouver. But good times couldn’t last forever. Gastown fell on hard times and deteriorated into a stereotypical skid roadv area until the 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. The provincial government declared Gastown an historic area, protecting its heritage buildings. Gastown is a refreshing mix of old and new.


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Amongst the shops, clubs, and cafes, lies an underapreciated aspect to Gastown. The details of nostalgia. There are so many details hidden throughout; windows, gates, doors and much more.

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Details Gastown is a mix of “hip” contemporary fashion and interior furnishing boutiques, tourist-oriented businesses (generally restricted to Water Street), restaurants, nightclubs, poverty and newly upscale housing. In addition, there are law firms, architects and other professional offices, as well as computer and internet businesses, art galleries, music and art studios, and acting and film schools. Gastown has become a hub for technology and new media. It has attracted companies such as Zaui Software, Idea Rebel, BootUp Labs Entrepreneurial Society, and Market. Popular annual events that take place on the cobblestone streets of Gastown include

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the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and the Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix international bicycle race. Gastown’s most famous (though nowhere near oldest) landmark is the steam-powered clock on the corner of Cambie and Water Street. Built to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver’sdistributed steamheating system, the clock was built as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather. The steam also powers the clock’s sound production as whistles are used instead of bells to produce the Westminster “chime” and to signal the time.


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