Rich in history with an unusual story, walking Gastown is a must.
Dianne and I attended a travel expo at Vancouver’s Canada Place. We were drumming up business for Travelloafers, our travel agency (www.travelloafers.com). For lunch, we wandered into Vancouver’s historic Gastown district three blocks away. I lived in Vancouver years ago, and Gastown was always a draw for those seeking out the nightlife. Whether you were looking for live music at the famous Town Pump or at Lamplighter or looking for DJ beats in basement clubs, Gastown delivered. At one time in its illustrious history, there were 300 watering holes in a 12 block radius. On this wet and snowy Saturday in February, I was looking forward to my first visit in quite a few years.
Gastown was named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton who opened the first saloon here in 1867. Located on the Burrard Inlet, Gastown became Vancouver’s first downtown core due to a sawmill, seaport and the Canadian Pacific train terminal built here. By the 1960’s there were plans to demolish Gastown to make way for a major highway. But property owners, business people, and the counterculture got in the way of those plans. In 1971 the British Columbia government designated Gastown as a historic area, and in 2009 it became a National Historic Site of Canada.
Gastown’s most famous attraction is the steam clock at the corner of Cambie and Water streets. Interestingly, while it looks like it’s been there forever, the steam clock was erected in 1977. There is a steam vent here, and to prevent homeless people from sleeping by the warm vent on cold nights, a clock was built taking advantage of the steam. Street people are certainly an issue in Vancouver’s downtown area. Any walk will introduce you to several asking for money or cigarettes. Gastown is no exception.
A short walk from Canada Place and we were at the Lamplighter. I had heard the pub had changed quite a bit since the days when I was a regular weekend patron. And it’s true, the place is nothing like it used to be. Not only has the decor changed, but so have the prices. Granted, this is a touristy part of town, but a pint of Guinness and a Spanish coffee cost us $19 dollars!! …and bar owners complain that people don’t go out like they used to. I can imagine the cost had we actually had lunch.
Still, Gastown is well worth experiencing. Its mix of seedy rundown hotels, shifty colourful characters, and chic upscale restaurants create an atmosphere that can only be found here. No visit to Vancouver is complete without a tour of Gastown and a snapshot by the steam clock.
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Dianne & Mike