I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).
To get a historical perspective of the City of Vancouver in Canada, one should visit the original site, which is now known as Gastown. This particular area dates back to when Canada first became a nation. Indigenous people lived there, and some of the first white settlers developed a prosperous lumbering industry. Gold exploration also brought prospectors to what was to become Canada back in those early days.
In the lumber mills, alcohol was not allowed on site. The arrival of "Gassy Jack" Deighton forever changed that.
Jack Deighton was a riverboat pilot turned tavern and hotel owner. Supposedly, he was a great talker and could spin tales endlessly, thus the name "Gassy." He offered to bring whisky to the mill workers if they would build him a tavern. It did not take much persuasion on his part to get that accomplished.
Soon after a hard day's work, the men would cross over to Gassy Jack's tavern and enjoy some whisky and entertainment with never-ending stories for hours. Before the building of that saloon, the closest one was about 25 miles away. The tavern was part of a two-story hotel named the Deighton Hotel.
Changes Over Time
Further development of the area ensued. In 1870 the area was called Granville, named after the British colonial secretary Earl Granville. However, locals still referred to it as Gastown.
In 1886 the City of Vancouver incorporated this area, named after a British explorer George Vancouver. But shortly after that, a raging fire practically decimated the area. All but two of the original buildings burned to the ground.
With much effort, the burned-out area was once again rebuilt into a livable community when the Great Depression occurred. As with most of the country, it was hit hard but did not rebound as other areas did. It turned into something of a "skid row" and was no longer a desirable area.
Discussion among some residents would have had the entire area razed, but others wanted to preserve Gastown because of its historical significance. Those people's ideas prevailed, and in the 1960s, after renovation efforts succeeded, Gastown was reborn.
The cobblestone streets and a mixture of building styles make this a unique area to visit today. Of course, there are many businesses now calling Gastown home. Tourists can find almost anything they desire, such as restaurants, shops, etc.
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One fascinating and unique landmark is the Edwardian-designed Steam Clock, which graces a street in Gastown. It was the very first of its kind in the world!
The Steam Clock stands 16 feet high and has a clock face on all four sides framed in antique bronze. It derives its power from an underground steam mechanism that also heated buildings in the area. One can view the steam escaping from the top of the clock, and every quarter-hour, you can hear the musical sounds that emanate from the world-famous steam clock.
There are very few functioning steam clocks worldwide, and several of them are in Canada. This particular one was built in 1977 by clockmaker Raymond Saunders. Every quarter-hour, a whistle chime plays the Westminster Quarters.
Steam Powered Clocks
Tour buses regularly take visitors through this historic neighborhood of Gastown in Vancouver. It is one sight that will add to your enjoyment of understanding the history of this third largest cosmopolitan city in all of Canada.
That is how my mother, niece, and I became familiar with this charming neighborhood after taking a Vancouver tour. If you are new to the area, I highly recommend taking a guided tour.
Revisting and Rethinking History
In February 2022, the statue of "Gassy Jack" was torn down and defaced with red paint during the annual Women's Memorial March. The march is in remembrance of the women, girls and other indigenous persons that were murdered or went missing as a result of European colonists. What will happen with the statue is yet to be determined.
Indigenous activists want people to know more about Jack Deighton and the treatment of young indigenous girls in those earlier times. You can read more about it and about his wife, Quahail-ya, who was only 12 years of age when he married her. You will find more information by clicking on one of the links below.
- Official Site: Gastown
- Wikipedia: John "Gassy Jack" Deighton
- From the Daily Hive: Who was Gassy Jack and why was his statue toppled?
- Wikipedia: Steam Clock
- Britannica: Vancouver, Canada
© 2009 Peggy Woods