John Deighton, generally known as “Gassy Jack”, was born in Hull, England. Alongside his brothers, he learned to sail and hoped to apprentice on a British ship. When the gold rush hit, he headed to the USA, making a voyage from New York to San Francisco, and later to Hong Kong. As the rush moved north, so did Jack. And while he found no gold, he made a switch to local boats, piloting steamships and sternwheelers on the Fraser River.

By the late 1860s, health problems forced Deighton ashore. He started with a bar in New Westminster. It lasted a five years before a friend let a party get out of hand and ruin the business. Jack was back on the hunt and a boat, landing on the south side of Burrard Inlet. 

It all began one September day in 1867 when “Gassy Jack” Deighton stepped onto Gastown’s terrain with a barrel of whisky. Known for spinning tall tales and talking without end, he bribed millworkers with drinks in exchange for their help to build him a saloon. The saloon was up and running within a day…only a few steps away from the mill’s property line. And just like that, Gastown was born.

Six weeks ago a letter written by Jack was posted online by Brian Grant Duff of All Nations Coins and Stamps. Bidding started at $500 and grew slowly. Then, on March 12, the auction went live and that’s when things got interesting.

The Vancouver Sun’s John Mackie wrote the story.

“Legend has it Gassy Jack Deighton got his nickname because he was a bit of a blowhard. But he doesn’t seem to have been much of a letter writer — only a couple of letters from the founder of Gastown are known to exist.

But that only makes them more valuable. A Gassy Jack letter that went up for auction March 12 attracted a dozen bidders. When the smoke cleared, it had sold for an astounding $44,000.”

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