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Where it all started...
Even though it now ranks as the third largest city in Canada, Vancouver is still fairly young. Its origins can be traced back to the area called "Gastown", Vancouver's most historic district. In 1867, "Gassy Jack" Deighton opened up a saloon near a lumber mill and just like that, a city was born! For a few decades, Gastown remained at the heart of the new city of Vancouver but when businesses started moving away to new areas, practically the entire district was left to fall into disrepair. In the 1960s, a group of citizens got together to save and restore Gastown, which has now become a very popular tourist attraction.
Gastown is basically one street (Water Street) lined with historical brick and stone buildings dating back to the end of the 19th century (all of the town's wooden buildings were destroyed in the great fire of 1886). Most of them are now filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. Another big attraction seems to be the Gastown Steam Clock around which people gather to take pictures and hear it whistle every quarter hours (the clock was added in 1977 when the area was restored). But for me the most interesting thing to do in Gastown was to go on the free guided walking tour which runs every day at 2:00 pm, from June 15 to August 30 (tours start near the statue of Gassy Jack, at the corner of Water and Carrall St). The tour was 90 min long and our guide was very interesting, giving us plenty of information about the area's history and architecture, and he kept on with the tour even when rain started pouring down!
One thing to keep in mind while visiting Gastown is that the rather infamous Downtown Eastside area begins not far from the corner of Water and Carrall St. Nothing to keep you from visiting Gastown, but you might not want to venture too far out up Carrall St.
- Historical Travel
There are so much to see in Gastown. Named after "Gassy" Jack Deighton, an English sailor who opened a saloon for the local sawmill workers in 1867. His statue can be found there.
In front of Gassy statue you find the famous Triangular Building which used to be an hotel in early 1900's and now it's an apartment building.
Most of Gastown can be seen in Water Street where you find shops, cafes and the world famous Steam Clock which it is said is the world's first steam clock and it toots every 15 minutes. Sit down in the Starbucks in front of the clock and enjoy your coffee while you hear it tooting
Vancouver's Gastown is a neighborhood of contrasts: Vancouver's most touristy area meets Vancouver's most poverty-stricken area. While Water Street is lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, and bars, the surrounding streets are full of homeless and what look like frequent drug abusers.
Some of the key landmarks in Gastown include the Gassy Jack statue, the steam clock, and the old Hotel Europa. The steam clock was built in 1977, and it is one of just a handful of steam clocks in the world, most of which were created by Vancouver clockmaker Raymond Saunders. The Gassy Jack statue was created to honor John "Gassy Jack" Deighton, who opened the first bar in this area that is now named after him. Finally, the unique old Hotel Europa is a triangular concrete building completed in 1909.
During our visit in Vancouver, we walked the waterfront from near Stanley Park to Gastown. We spent just 30-45 minutes in this historic neighborhood, and weren't overly impressed with its collection of touristy shops and restaurants. We decided to move on to Chinatown via Carrall Street. This area of town was just swamped with homeless people, trash, graffiti, and boarded up buildings, especially the little park at the corner of Carrall and Hastings Streets. I would not want to walk this route at night.
Not Just another tourist trap
Established in 1867, Gastown was once one of Canada's largest prospering urban cities...today, many feel Gastown is synonymous with tourists, overpriced souvenirs and un-affordable merchandise.
Although this feels true at first glance, with A mix of old cobbled streets and newly renovated buildings, Gastown is slowly becoming the cosmopolitan neighbourhood it once was.
With stores like Dream, Tabu, One Of a Few and Deluxe Junk Co. it's hard not to love this little district. Although One of a Few is not to be visited by those with a smaller wallet, the other aforementioned stores are reasonably priced, some downright cheap. At Deluxe Junk Co. (a great consignment store on Cordova) I was able to find a really cute t-shirt for 15 bucks, and although it's hard to find anything under 40 dollars at Dream, it's also hard to buy anything over 100 bucks. Tabu has some great underwear sets in the double digits and they offer local delivery so you don't have to lug it home with you!! for more info on these and more stores, see my shopping tips.
Gastown also has a couple of really great night spots like The Blarney Stone and Shine, a great club on Water St. not to mention great restaurants like the eclectic Annex.
Gastown: Go for the steam clock, stay for the shopping.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Women's Travel
Old Time Vancouver
Gastown is probably the most touristy place in Vancouver, but it is still well worth a visit. Filled with 19th century buildings, it is the old town square of Vancouver and has its charms spread among its souvenir shops. Its number one attraction is the Gastown Steam Clock, which plays a tune and bellows steam every 15 minutes. Just enjoy a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood. If you want to learn more about its history, download a free MP3 tour of Gastown (http://www.geogad.com). It will really help explain the history of this place.
- Budget Travel
Gastown is a refreshing mix of old and new, downhome and upscale, a place for tourists, Vancouver residents and office workers alike. Various shops have the streets buzzing during the day. A host of restaurants and nightspots keeps the area humming into the wee hours.
Named after gold prospector John `Gassy' Jack, Gastown has retained its old and quaint atmosphere with cobblestoned streets and wrough iron lamps. The most characteristic icon of Gastown is the steamclock which lets off steam every 15 minutes.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Family Travel
This is where downtown Vancouver began. A young Englishman by the name of John Deighton, a sailor,gold miner and riverboat pilot bought a pub, the Globe Saloon in New Westminster. Through this pub he became known as Gassy Jack because he always loved to talk of his adventures. He lost this pub but made his way , by canoe with his Indian wife down to the Burrard Inlet in 1867. Thanks to the thirsty workers at the Stamps Mill, Gassy Jack opened a new saloon at what is now the junction of Water and Carrall streets and named it the Globe after his previous saloon. By 1870 the area around the saloon was now named the townsite of Granville and because of new town planning Jack had to move his business. So he bought property nearest to his saloon and built a much better place that he named the Deighton Hotel.
Although the township was officially called Granville, unofficially it was know as Gastown.
In 1875 at the young age of 44 Gassy Jack passed away but even after the great fire of 1886 which consumed Gastown and the Deighton Hotel the memory of Gassy Jack Deighton remains as does the name Gastown.
Home of the Famous Steam Clock
Oops! I just realized that my pictures of Gas Town were taken before we owned a digital camera!! I am going to have to go through boxes of photos and scan them before I can do anything else with this tip - sorry!
Check back later for (hopefully!) some great pics of Gas Town and the Steam Clock.
Wander Water Street in historic Gastown.
This oddly named section of downtown Vancouver, is the historic site of the city's origins. Named after a colurful sailor and tavern keeper, "Gassy Jack", the area of Gastown along Water Street makes for a pleasant stroll and a good place to buy souvenirs.
Located in this part of Gastown are two tourist spots of interest. One is the intriguing steam powered clock (that looks like a TARDIS incongruously parked on the footpath) and the family frinedly 'Storyeum'. I've put a separate entry in for the Storyeum, which, though designed for kids, will appeal to anyone young at heart.
As you wander further east and southeast on Water Street, Gastown gets a bit dodgy and is this area is best avoided at night.
- Historical Travel
Gastown is a mix of tourist-oriented business , restaurants, and nightclubs. Gastown's most famous landmark is its steam-powered clock, located on the corner of Cambie and Water Street. Long powered by electricity after its previous breakdown the steam mechanism has been completely restored with the financial support of local businesses. The steam used is low pressure district heating steam that powers miniature steam engine in its base, in turn driving a chain lift. The chain lift moves steel balls upward, where they are unloaded and roll to a descending chain. The weight of the balls on the descending chain drives a conventional pendulum clock escapement, geared to the hands on the four faces. 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. Learning about the clock's complicated mechanism encourages tourists to spend more time in the district and hence consume more food.
Also located here is the new Storyeum attraction. Storyeum offers up a live, interactive, educational, re-creation of British Columbia's history through special effects, actors and actresses in a 65 minute show.
The Warehouse Studio is today located in the renovated brick building that once housed Vancouver's City Hall on Powell Street. It's where many recording artists have done their work including Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, R.E.M., Sarah McLachlan, and David Foster.
Gastown is Vancouver's first downtown core and is named after "Gassy" Jack Deighton, a British settler who arrived in 1867 to open the area's first saloon. The town soon prospered as the site of a sawmill, a seaport, and general trade and commerce.
- Historical Travel
I have a love-hate relationship with Gastown. I love it for its history, architecture and cool pubs. I hate it for its kitschy tourist trap shops, panhandlers that purposely target the unsuspecting tourists, and how Gastown's advertized as a high priority "must see" Vancouver neighbourhood, whereas, I beg to differ...
Gastown is an area of Vancouver located in the north-eastern corner of downtown. It was here in 1867 that the townsite was founded, first called Gastown after "Gassy" Jack Deighton - the first man to open a salloon for the sawmill workers that worked here. Gastown wasn't much of anything except a sawmill. Then, it became the terminal of the CPR railroad which allowed Gastown to expand into the town of "Granville" and then finally into the City of Vancouver in 1886.
Nowadays if you walk along Gastown's Water Street, you can still see some warehouses made of old brick (rare for Vancouver) which were built along the CPR railway. The sawmills are long gone, but you can see how this area once used to be a busy industrial waterfront to which the city grew from. Those railroad tracks are still in use today, but those warehouses have since been converted to trendy lofts, souvenir shops and art galleries. Generally, the buildings in Gastown are typically the oldest in the city.
Unfortunately, Gastown is right next to the Downtown Eastside, and the area gets its fair share of panhandlers which is often unsettling for visitors. The shops here tend to be of the tacky souvenir shop kind and the restaurants don't really showcase the excellent cuisine scene of Vancouver.
Most importantly, Gastown's shops close down around 6pm and the neighbourhood feels vacant afterwards. There are much more vibrant downtown neighbourhoods such as English Bay, Denman Street, Robson Street, and Yaletown, for evening strolls.
If you only have one day in Vancouver, Gastown is worth an hour, but in my opinion there are better places to explore downtown if you have such little time.
- Historical Travel
As the oldest part of Vancouver, Gastown has some historic charm. It exemplifies what you'd think of old western towns to be like. Nevermind that it is outrageously touristy, but come to enjoy the ambience and the architecture. It brings you back in time just a bit. Just try to mentally block out all the tourist traps and envision how lovely Gastown must have been back in the day.
I had never actually been to Gastown until recently (Jan '06), after more trips to Vancouver than I can count. The mass-tourism never appealed to me and I simply had no interest, but I am finally glad that I saw this part of the city. Come on, who can resist walking along cobblestone streets? (Driving on them is another story and you're entirely entitled to curse your head off) Then there's the silly steam clock that shoots its top off and way more western-wear paraphernalia than you could ask for. Gimme a Yeeeee haw.
Good shopping and food
Gastown is an area of the city that has been restored over the years and continues to rise from the tough times it used to be in. There are plenty of little cafes, good restaurants, and souvenier shops to stop off at. Driving looked like a nightmare in this area, so drop off your car somewhere, and explore the area on foot.
Gastown Steam Clock
The Gastown Steam Clock can be found on Water St.
It is very easy to find. It seems to be on route for many buses in the area. We managed to get to it by using the Vancouver Trolley cars.
Built by Raymond Saunders in 1977 the Gastown Steam Clock is apparently the only working Steam Clock in the world. It is worth a look. It sounds every 15 minutes and if you look closely you can see all the working mechanisms inside.
It can however be tricky to get a decent photo because of the number of people around it also trying to take photos.
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Park and Walk
Tourist Trap Warning!!! That said it makes for a fun walk with lots of people, shops, and outdoor cafes so it is defiantly worth the time to see. Watch out how for you stroll out of Gastown, we turned a corner and there were a lot of homeless in the area.
- Historical Travel
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