Gastown in Vancouver

By: Susanne Pacher

After my extremely interesting walking tour of the Downtown East Side I decided to round out my exploration of the city with another bicycling trip. In my mind, bicycling is just the perfect way to discover a city, it gives you greater range than walking, you don't need to wait around for buses, and you get exercise at the same time -bonus!

I realized that I had not even seen Gastown yet, which gave me a perfect excuse for another round of exploring. I went to Spokes Bicycle Rentals again, talked to Phil who had been so helpful to me on Saturday in my exploration of Stanley Park and off I went for another few hours, to see just a bit more of Vancouver before I had to leave. I decided to ride back to the Downtown East Side since I wasn't able to take any photos during the walking tour. I rode along the waterfront trail past Canada Place and the Harbour Centre to the east side of town.

I closely retraced my steps from this morning's walking tour on the bicycle and took some pictures of some of the buildings along the way. One place that definitely stood out was the Sun Tower , a building created between 1911 and 1912 that used to be the headquarters of the Vancouver Sun. I rode through Chinatown again, which still had such an unusually orderly and organized feel to it.

Then I explored Gastown, one of Vancouver 's most historic areas. Its founding father was a loquacious saloon owner: John "Gassy Jack" Deighton, who, in 1867, built a saloon near the corner of Carrall and Water Streets to profit from the local lumber mill workers and gold prospectors on their way to the Yukon. By the 1870s, Gastown was a multicultural community, complete with saloons, hotels and grocery stores, brought into town because Vancouver had been chosen as the Canadian Pacific Railroad terminus.

By 1886 it had 1,000 buildings and 3,000 residents. Then, in 1886, a blaze broke out and burned the town to the ground. Although destroying the town, this fire started the biggest building boom in West Coast history. After an economic decline in the early part of the 20th century, Gastown became a virtual backwater from the 1930s to 1950s until a group of local merchants and property owners put it back on the map in the 1960s by renovating the historic buildings and turning them into one of the city's top tourist attractions.

One of the biggest draws Gastown is the steam-powered clock, the world's first, created by Raymond Saunders who has a small shop nearby. Live steam, pumped from a plant that heats more than 100 downtown buildings, operates the mechanism of the clocks and blows the whistles. At each quarter hour the clock sounds the Westminster Chimes while the large whistle announces the hours. Gastown's Steam Clock is one of the favourite photography spots for tourists. Gastown also houses another major Vancouver attraction: an innovative educational and cultural experience called Storeyum: it's 100,000 square foot indoor venue showcases the colourful history of Canada 's West Coast in live reenactments.

Of course I didn't have time to explore Gastown and all its stores and restaurants in detail since my plane would be leaving in a few hours and I still wanted to head back to Stanley Park one more time to catch another glimpse of this most gorgeous urban greenspace. So back I cycled past construction of the new convention centre and back on the waterfront into Stanley Park. Since this was my second time in the park I caught a few things I missed the first time around: I saw the Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture, created in 1972, which is a life-size bronze statue of a woman in a wetsuit, with flippers on her feet and her mask pushed up on her forehead, and sits on a large inter-tidal boulder just offshore of Stanley Park.

I didn't go all around the park but cut across it after a nice little ice-cream break at the Lumberman's Arch concession stand and I rode through the beautiful Rose Garden and Shakespeare Garden which form the backbone of the perennial flower beds and ornamental trees and shrubs. Stanley Park is really a sight to behold, and it offers so many recreational and relaxation opportunities. The park also holds a children's farmyard and miniature train.

My final stop in the park was the Lost Lagoon, a large pond, featuring a fountain at its centre, set against a gorgeous backdrop of forests, flowering shrubs, with the mountains towering in the background. The amount of visual beauty of this area is virtually overwhelming and I was starting to feel a little sad that I had to end my visit since I had to make it back to UBC on the other side of town to retrieve my luggage and head off to the airport.

I had originally planned to go biking until 5:30 pm, considering that my flight wouldn't leave until almost 9 pm , but then I realized it's Monday and rush hour would be setting in soon. So I took my bike back early, said my goodbyes to Phil, who's been so helpful all along, and he gave me a few more words of local advice as to which bus routes to take and off I went to catch a bus to Burrard Street. The intersection of Burrard and Georgia was totally nuts, since the city was repaving and police were directing traffic manually. I was glad I had taken my bike back early, at least I would make it back to the university in time for my departure to the airport. Finally the #44 bus came and I could relax. Actually I was surprised that it only took me 25 minutes to get back to the University which left me extra time to complete some travel reports over the Internet.

All in all, Victoria and Vancouver have been an awesome experience. I had absolutely perfect weather: 25 degrees with beaming sunshine and absolutely no humidity. I had a fabulous reunion in Victoria with my co-worker Clare, two and a half very interesting days at the Canada-US Servas Conference where I got to know some of the most generous and dedicated individuals I have ever had a chance to meet, and in the time in between I had an opportunity to explore Vancouver, a vibrant and exciting city full of contrasts, set in one of the most physically stunning locations anywhere on the planet.

It's been a very short trip, and all I can say - I'll be back.....

Share this article :

Most Read
• All about Vancouver Island , by David LeAche
• Vancouver to Whistler, by Barry Sheppard
• Grouse Mountain Vancouver, by Susanne Pacher