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Vancouver History, News

Vancouver Then and Now: Gastown (PHOTOS)

Vancouver History, News

Vancouver Then and Now: Gastown (PHOTOS)

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Guest Author Aug 18, 2016 1:03 pm

Story by Andrew Farris, Founder and CEO of the On This Spot app. This is part of a six-part series in which he’ll share some of the photos and history you can find on the app with Daily Hive readers.

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Gastown was where Vancouver got its start, when in the 1860s Gassy Jack Deighton set up a bar for the lumberjacks working at the Hastings Sawmill. The spot he picked for it was a grove of maple trees in what is today Maple Tree Square and in the years that followed a small town of hardy frontiersmen grew up around Gassy Jack’s bar.

In 1886 Vancouver incorporated as a city and then two months later the entire city burned down in the Great Fire of Vancouver, killing 20 people. You can follow the path of the fire and read the harrowing accounts of those who survived in the On This Spot app‘s Great Fire tour. It was not a very good start for the new city. As the Vancouver Daily News wrote in its first issue after the fire:

“Probably never since the days of Pompeii and Herculaneum was a town WIPED OUT OF EXISTENCE so completely and suddenly as was Vancouver on Sunday…”

Nevertheless, the fire did little to dampen the optimistic spirit of Vancouverites. As the reporter wrote:

“[The fire] is to the city as a whole not a very serious matter, in fact it can scarcely impede the progress of Vancouver at all. A few months, or even a few weeks, will restore the city to as good a basis as it was on before the fire.”

This turned out to be true, and when the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in the city in 1887, Vancouver began to grow rapidly. As the calendar ticked over to the year 1900, the city’s centre of gravity however began to move to Granville and Georgia, and Gastown was left to decay into skid row.

In the 1960s the city planned to demolish almost the entire neighbourhood to make way for a massive expressway, but a grassroots movement to save Gastown prevented these plans, and today Vancouver is the only major city in North America without an inner city expressway.

After the 1970s, an ambitious urban renewal plan brought businesses and tourists back to Gastown. The plan was a huge success and now the neighbourhood is one of the best preserved historic districts on the continent.

Since those early days, people have visited Gastown and witnessed the development of the neighbourhood.

Many of them took photos, and for the On This Spot app we have restaged some of them from the same perspective.

Before the Great Fire in 1886

1886: This photo was taken from what is today Hastings and Seymour, looking back towards early Vancouver. It was taken only days before the Great Fire swept the city away on June 13. The photo is fascinating because the Great Fire was started when a controlled burn of brush and tree stumps around Cambie and Cordova was blown out of control by heavy winds. Cambie and Cordova is roughly where that patch of stumps on the right side of this photo is, so the smoking stumps in this photo may have been the exact ones responsible for burning down Vancouver.

1886: This photo was taken from what is today Hastings and Seymour, looking back towards early Vancouver. (Vancouver Archives)

(Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

The Tremont Hotel in 1886

1886: After almost all of Vancouver was destroyed in the fire rebuilding began within hours. One of the first businesses to go back up was the Tremont Hotel, seen here. This temporary shack was erected on the smouldering ashes of the old Tremont Hotel on Carrall Street.

1886: After almost all of Vancouver was destroyed in the fire rebuilding began within hours. (Vancouver Archives)

(Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

The Sunnyside Hotel in 1887

1887: The Sunnyside Hotel on Maple Tree Square, seen rebuilt just after the fire. The hotel was one of the most important buildings in Vancouver at the time; the city’s first mayor had just given his election night victory speech from the balcony a couple weeks before the fire.

1887: The Sunnyside Hotel on Maple Tree Square, seen rebuilt just after the fire. (Vancouver Archive)

(Vancouver Archive)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

Early Gastown residents in 1890

1890: The man on the left almost looks like a character from the Clockwork Orange. His bowler hat is cocked far forward on his head, his collar is popped and he is grasping a cane in his hand. In front of him is one of Vancouver’s early Chinese residents and behind them a tough-looking frontiersman. The building in the background still stands, though another floor has been added.

1890: The man on the left almost looks like a character from the Clockwork Orange... (Vancouver Archives)

(Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

At the butchers in 1890

1890: A group of men pose in their butcher shop in the Dunn Miller Block on Cordova and Carrall. See the post at left in both photos.

1890: A group of men pose in their butcher shop in the Dunn Miller Block on Cordova and Carrall. (Vancouver Archives)

(Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now… The building has seen better days.

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

The Oppenheimer Building in 1898

1898: This is Vancouver’s oldest brick building, the Oppenheimer Warehouse. It was under construction during the fire and today it is Bryan Adam’s recording studio.

1898: This is Vancouver's oldest brick building, the Oppenheimer Warehouse. (Vancouver Archives)

1898: This is Vancouver’s oldest brick building, the Oppenheimer Warehouse. (Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

Hotel Europe in 1908

1908: The Hotel Europe here was meant to be one of the most luxurious and classy hotels in Vancouver. Unfortunately by the 1910s Gastown was sinking into irrelevance as the city’s business hub moved to Granville and Georgia. A luxury hotel could never succeed in the middle of skid row, as Gastown became.

1908: The Hotel Europe here was meant to be one of the most luxurious and classy hotels in Vancouver. (Vancouver Archives)

1908: The Hotel Europe here was meant to be one of the most luxurious and classy hotels in Vancouver. (Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

The Holden Building in 1910

1910: The Holden Building, one of Vancouver’s first skyscrapers. Back then a skyscraper was defined as taller than nine storeys.

1910: The Holden Building, one of Vancouver's first skyscrapers. (Vancouver Archives)

1910: The Holden Building, one of Vancouver’s first skyscrapers. (Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

At the taxi stand in 1920

1920: Drivers proudly pose with their taxis outside the former Hotel Rainier.

1920: Drivers proudly pose with their taxis. (Vancouver Archives)

1920: Drivers proudly pose with their taxis. (Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

Gastown in 1931

1931: Cars parked in front of the Hotel Europe. The neighbourhood still housed many businesses at this point, but the steep decline of Gastown was to begin shortly afterwards, and the neighbourhood was considered a slum by the 1950s.

1931: Cars parked in front of the Hotel Europe. (Vancouver Archives)

1931: Cars parked in front of the Hotel Europe. (Vancouver Archives)

On this spot now…

(On This Spot)

(On This Spot)

The On This Spot app offers you a guided tour of Vancouver’s historic photo spots and allows you to create your own then and now photo mash-ups as you walk around.

The app launched in Vancouver this year, but will expand to other major cities in Canada and the US soon – if you have a talent for writing history tours, On This Spot wants to know.

To download the app for Android or iPhone, for more info or to contact Andrew, check here: onthisspot.ca


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