Gastown Walking Tour, Vancouver

Gastown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Vancouver

To get the feel of authentic Vancouver, head for the Gastown district. This is where the city was born: an ex-sailor turned gold prospector built an inn here in the late 19th century and a small settlement, mostly of mill workers, dockhands and merchants, sprang up around it. Many of the streets in Gastown are still cobblestoned and you will find lovely examples of Victorian buildings that have been converted from houses to gift shops, galleries and up-market stores.

The area also attracts artists, so you will also find plenty of studios, museums, galleries, and even drama schools. The students hang out in the neighborhood’s many cafes and you’ll often hear a group of them declaiming lines from a Shakespearean play while you are enjoying a light snack!

Visit Vancouver Lookout to get a 360 degree bird’s eye view of the city and stop by the Maple Tree Square to see a statue of the man who started it all, Gassy Jack Deighton. Don’t be fooled by the famous steam-powered clock on the corner of Cambie Street: it’s one of Vancouver’s most photographed monuments, but it is less than years old. Built in the late 70’s, it covers a steam grate and instead of chiming – it whistles on the hour!
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Gastown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Gastown Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Vancouver (See other walking tours in Vancouver)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Vancouver Lookout
  • Gastown Steam Clock
  • Gaoler's Mews
  • Maple Tree Square and Deighton's Statue
  • Hotel Europe (Flat Iron Building)
  • Alibi Room
  • Vancouver Police Museum
  • Millennium Gate
Vancouver Lookout

1) Vancouver Lookout (must see)

The Vancouver Lookout is the place without which no proper sightseeing of Vancouver is possible. If you're on a day trip to the city, this spot is a definite must!

Elevated 167 meters on top of the Harbour Centre Tower – which is Vancouver's tallest building – this observation deck offers visitors a truly magnificent, unobstructed view of the city; a glass elevator can lift you 50 stories up in just 40 seconds.

Here, the Lookout's multilingual staff will take you on a free city tour around the 360-degree, enclosed space. Spread out before you, in plain sight, you will find the cosmopolitan metropolis in its entirety extended toward the historic Gastown area, the North Shore and Burnaby mountains, Bowen Island, Burrard Inlet, and other places. Displays on the deck allow visitors to go on a self-guided visual tour as well, learning about Vancouver's history, and testing their ability to identify Vancouver's multiple landmarks.

Tickets are valid all day, so you can go in the morning and then come back at sunset to see the city lit up at night.

Apart from the viewing area, the building houses the Vancouver Revolving Restaurant, several shops, and a food fair.

You can spend as little or as long as you like, but make sure you walk the whole Lookout floor.
Also, check the weather forecast in advance, so there isn't any fog when you visit; otherwise, you won't see a thing!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-10pm (May to mid-October); 9am-9pm (Nov-Apr)
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Gastown Steam Clock

2) Gastown Steam Clock

Of all Gastown's attractions, there is probably none as well-known as the Gastown Steam Clock. Although the clock itself is certainly not the oldest site in the neighborhood (and steam clocks, as such, can be found elsewhere), this one is among the few still functional steam-powered clocks left in the world.

The clock was originally built over a steam grate. It was done partly to hide the unsightly grate, partly to harness the steam power (generated by the local heating system) otherwise wasted, and partly to prevent transients from using it to keep themselves warm in cold weather.

As the steam rises from the grate, it powers a small engine that brings a chain lift into motion, which, in turn, moves steel balls upward until they roll onto a descending chain lift. The weight of the balls is what actually powers the clock's pendulum, allowing it to keep time without winding. Since the clock uses whistles to mark the time, the steam also powers the clock's chiming mechanism.

After a period of time, the original clock mechanism failed and electricity was needed to keep it operational. At some point, with the help of donations from local businesses, the steam mechanism was repaired and today continues to work.

When the clock strikes – on the quarter, the full hour, and especially mid-day – it puts on a bit of a show, so you may want to set your camera to video to capture the moment. Summon your patience, it will be rewarded!
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Gaoler's Mews

3) Gaoler's Mews

Gastown's Gaoler's Mews is where Vancouver's first jail used to be. Over the years, this spot has seen the great Vancouver fire of 1886, a pub, and over 40 public executions by hanging. Though it has the same old time appeal as the rest of Gastown, Gaoler's Mews is probably more famous for its unseen inhabitants.

Stories abound of the hauntings that supposedly take place in Gaoler's Mews. One of the contractors, working on the Irish Heather pub, discovered that his tools would regularly be moved, and one of the owners heard a woman calling her name when nobody else was there. Visitors have also seen a mysterious woman dressed in black, moving along the area near where Vancouver's scaffold used to be. Another spirit, a man in black, was seen multiple times by the Irish Heathers' staff, as well as the staff of the coffee house next door. When the building was renovated, the figure could be seen moving through a wall where a door used to be.

Though neither the Irish Heather nor Blake's Coffee Parlour are still in Gaoler's Mews, this building is still a popular destination for tourists. People from all over come with infra-red cameras, Geiger counters and other paraphernalia to, hopefully, record some evidence of the area's famous hauntings.
Maple Tree Square and Deighton's Statue

4) Maple Tree Square and Deighton's Statue

The intersection of Water, Powell, Alexander, and Carrall streets in Vancouver is home to one of the most photographed and historic spots in the city. Maple Tree Square dates back to the times when Vancouver was just a townsite called Granville. It gained popularity thanks to the first bar in the area, opened on the south side of Burrard Inlet in 1867 by John Deighton at the behest of his old buddy, Captain Edward Stamp, the owner of the Hastings Mill.

Legend has it that Deighton, native of England's Hull, dubbed "Gassy Jack" for his talkative nature and penchant for storytelling, paddled over from New Westminster and promised mill workers that they could have all the whiskey they could drink if they helped him build a saloon. Within 24 hours, the “watering hole” was up and running. The proud owner later named it the Globe Saloon.

Frequented by sailors and workers from the nearby sawmill, it soon proved to be the local epicenter of trade and commerce, let alone booze entertainment. Over the next four decades, some 300 bars had sprouted up within a twelve-block radius.

The legendary bar was demolished when the townsite of Granville was established, but the name stuck and the surrounding area is now known as Gastown. As for Gassy Jack himself, the statue erected in his honour adorns Maple Tree Square to this day, marking the exact spot of his famous joint.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Hotel Europe (Flat Iron Building)

5) Hotel Europe (Flat Iron Building)

Hotel Europe is a six-story heritage building located at 43 Powell Street (at the convergence of Water, Alexander and Powell Streets) in the Gastown area of Vancouver. Situated on a triangular lot, the building is designed in the flatiron style. It was completed in 1909, becoming the first reinforced concrete structure in Canada and the earliest fireproof hotel in Western Canada.

The old hotel is also known as the Angelo Calori Building, named after the hotelier who had built it, and was purposefully situated close to the old steamship docks at the foot of Columbia Street. From there a bus would bring passengers to the hotel. To this day, the edifice has retained its original Italian tile floors and leaded-glass windows.

The Hotel Europe was one of the filming locations for the suspense movie The Changeling. In it, the building houses the Seattle Historical Society, but the hotel sign can be seen on the right side of the facade in some takes. Some scenes were set on its roof terrace. Hotel Europe was also a filming location in the 1994 epic drama film Legends of the Fall.

They say, the hotel houses one ghost for certain and possibly even two. The initial paranormal encounter here was reported in the 1980s and appeared in the form of scratching noises coming from behind the brick wall coupled with the feel of a bad presence in the otherwise empty building. That ghost had scattered around the floor the orderly placed tools left by one of the contractors.

The second spirit, which might as well be same as the first, is the apparition of a man dressed in a black coat with a flat cap. He appears in the poster shop on the street level, and was first spotted in the early 2000s. The apparition has been seen on several occasions since.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Alibi Room

6) Alibi Room

Alibi Room is Gastown’s legendary Free House beer joint that has been operating since 2006. A long time favorite among Vancouverites, this is a true drinker’s paradise, offering one of the best beer selections in town, hard pressing the guests to choose from an impressive 50+ taps of delicious, latest & greatest, regularly changing out beers from the lower mainland Canada, across British Columbia and beyond, including imported craft beers from U.S. micro breweries, waiting to be enjoyed in a chill, laid-back atmosphere.

Matching the abundance of phenomenal beer is the menu of comforting dishes, featuring locally sourced, ocean friendly, naturally raised and free run meat, fish & poultry. If you feel hungry, consider trying something from the local Four Winds or Brassneck breweries, paired with a burger or the jalapeno chicken “samwich” with fries. And if you are not particularly keen on beer, there are plenty of creative cocktails and a list of local boutique & organically grown wines to choose from.

The building itself is a heritage site, erected over a century ago, situated along the rail-yard, just a short walk from Vancouver’s trade and shipping ports. The inside space is filled with a number of long communal tables, seats along the bar, large windows and a solid mix of music playing, all of which combined creates a unique and inspiring experience.

The place fills up fast. If you’re here on a weekend, arrive early or prepare to wait a while outside before ordering your first brew.

Opening Hours: every day Monday to Thursday, from 5 pm to 11:30 pm; Friday, from 5 pm to 12:30 am; Saturday, from 10 am to 12:30 am (brunch from 10 am to 2:45 pm); and Sunday, from 10 am to 11:30 pm (brunch from 10 am to 2:45 pm).
Vancouver Police Museum

7) Vancouver Police Museum

The Vancouver Police Museum (formerly Vancouver Police Centennial Museum) opened to commemorate the centennial of the Vancouver Police Department and the City of Vancouver, British Columbia in 1986.The museum is housed in a building that was once both the Coroner’s Court and autopsy facilities (until 1980) and the City Analyst’s laboratory (until 1996). In 1935, the Coroner's Court was used as a makeshift hospital by police during the Battle of Ballantyne Pier. It was designed by architect Arthur J. Bird, and today it is a municipally designated heritage building.

The museum houses a collection of approximately 20,000 objects. This includes archival documents, photographs, publications, confiscated firearms and other weapons, counterfeit currency, and various other artifacts and memorabilia, of which an estimated 40% is on display. The museum offers educational programs for children and walking tours of the neighbourhood on the theme, "Sins of the City." It has a gift shop and publishes a quarterly newsletter.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Millennium Gate

8) Millennium Gate

Straddling West Pender Street near the intersection with Taylor Street is an awe-inspiring feat of architecture called the Millennium Gate. This four-pillar-, three-story-tall structure marks the entrance to Vancouver's famed Chinatown and was built in 2002 to celebrate the arrival of the new millennium.

But most importantly, it honours the role of Chinese settlers in the long and eventful history of the city. This includes both the early migrants from China, in the late 19th century, and those ethnic Chinese who came from Latin America later on.

The piece was designed to commentate a journey in time as well as to represent both the past and the future. With tall poles appearing to precariously hold up the orange roof, three large rectangular gray slabs, and ornate carvings on the top edges, the Millennium Gate makes an interesting sight in which new art forms occur within a very traditional setting.

The two stone foo lions, guarding the gate, include one male – on the left – with a ball under his paw, and one female – on the right – holding a cub. The images of people depicted in the upper portion of the gate show different styles of clothing typical for various parts of China. Another interesting feature is the colour scheme, a blend of traditional Eastern and modern Western-inspired motifs.

Many plaques and dedications to those involved in the project adorn the lower portion of the gate.

Vancouver's Chinatown is a living symbol of multiculturalism. It serves as a place where people of every ethnicity gather to partake in the sampling of delicacies from the local restaurants and shops and to interact with the locals that are an integral part of Vancouver society.

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