Gastown is a timeline of Vancouver’s history stretching far into the future.
Built on the territory of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam peoples, Gastown is the first and only neighbourhood of modern Vancouver to absorb every layer of the city’s legacy. Its history is simultaneously cherished and iterated upon, resulting in a never-ending evolution – from sawmills to bars to startups.
Some call it nostalgia, we call it proud. History runs deep in our veins and we aren’t prepared to stray far from our roots anytime soon.
Behind every brick or cobblestone, there is a story – and a whole lot of soul. Join us this month as we take a trip down memory lane to explore those stories and honour Gastown’s rich history.
Together, we will continue to pour endless amounts of love & care into this national historic site.
Food + Drink
Whether you’re in need of a snack or a spook. Gaoler’s Mews will fill your craving.
A visit to Gaoler’s Mews is a truly unique experience. From its featured shops to the culinary chefs at L’ Abattoir, it is one of the oldest parts of Vancouver with a storied history. A public space that goes back to the mid-1800s when the first buildings were erected along this small alley. It is also said to be where the first jail in Vancouver was positioned until it was destroyed by the Great Vancouver Fire in 1886.
BLOOD ALLEYNo one really knows where the name Blood Alley came from but our best guess ties back to the butchers and meat markets that used to inhabit the area. Today there are plenty of fabulous restaurants and pubs surrounding this alley – even for Vegetarians and Vegans. The irony, we know.
Shop + Style
Follow that giant W in the sky until you have reached Woodward’s.
Woodward’s was the first department store and established the area as the heart of Vancouver’s retail shopping district. From clothing to Tobacco, they had it all. Many may still remember the famous jingle “Woodwards has it all!” The jingle still holds true as Gastown truly does have it all.
The Homer Street Arcade, built-in 1912, has undergone a series of rebrands and name changes throughout the years, including “Cloth Hill” and finally landing on the name, Le Magasin. This remains one of the earliest shopping arcades in Vancouver. Whether entering from the Water or the Cordova Street side, one will find wonderful shops that suit any style.
MAPLE STREET SQUARE
These days it’s a rare occurrence to have a meeting offline, but back in the day Maple Street Square was the go-to gathering place. Councilmen would have town meetings. Protests would be held. People of all backgrounds would enjoy performances. All under the shade of the Maple Tree. The trees may be slightly bigger, and the gatherings may be smaller these days, however, we will continue to find ways to bring the party to Maple Tree Square – rest assured!
THE STEAM CLOCK
Real talk – would you rather be stuck in traffic on a freeway or take a stroll down Gastown? Thanks to the Steam Clock you have the latter. A beautiful combination of art and engineering, the Steam Clock was created as part of a movement to keep Gastown a historic area rather than a freeway. You heard us right, without the Steam Clock there would be no Gastown. Let it be a reminder every half hour when you hear it sing.
THE GREAT FIRE OF VANCOUVER
In 1886, it took only 45 minutes for a large part of old Vancouver to perish into flames. On the North Shore, the flames and smoke were seen by the local Squamish people in the community of Ustlawn who quickly launched canoes and paddled across the inlet to rescue those in the water. Politicians and people alike went straight to work under their canvas tents. Within 6 months buildings were rebuilt. This time with brick… lots of brick.
Currently, the Gateway to Gastown is located in close vicinity to beautiful Waterfront Station, Vancouver’s main transportation terminus. From here you can catch the SkyTrain to almost anywhere, or take a SeaBus trip over to North Vancouver. This sign signifies you have arrived and serves as a transition to heritage brick buildings full of character, shops and fine restaurants.
WILL WOODS: FORBIDDEN VANCOUVER WALKING TOURS
When researching the deep history of Gastown, we couldn’t think of a better go-to person than Will Woods of Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours. Will is a plethora of knowledge. One may even call him the “Bill Nye” of history.
Operating since 2012, Forbidden Vancouver has brought the magic of theatre to the many mysteries of Gastown. Founder Will Woods created tours around first-person historical experiences. Having an actor portraying someone who dealt with smallpox and the Great Fire of Vancouver is far more appealing than a walking textbook. The tours were such a hit that they have expanded all over the city.
We sat down (over Zoom) with Will to learn more about Gastown’s history and why this neighbourhood is so important to the city.
Currently, Forbidden Vancouver has hit the pause button on their Public Tours until May. In the meantime they are offering safe private tours – for you and your bubble, of course.
We acknowledge with respect and gratitude that the land on which we live, work, and love is the unseded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) nations whose ancient relations with the land continue to this day.