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 from which any sightseeing tour of Vancouver should really begin, as it offers visitors a full, beautiful panoramic view of the city, from 50 stories up. A glass elevator lifts visitors 167 meters up into the viewing area in only 40 seconds, where the Lookout's multilingual staff conduct city tours around the 360-degree, enclosed sightseeing space.

The Lookout is located on top of the Harbour Centre Tower, Vancouver's tallest building that also houses the Vancouver Revolving Restaurant, several shops, and a food fair. If you're on a sightseeing day trip to the city, then the Vancouver Lookout should definitely have a “must see” spot on your list!

The views offered by Vancouver Lookout cover all of the cosmopolitan metropolis to its historic Gastown area, the North Shore and Burnaby mountains, Bowen Island, Burrard Inlet, and more. Displays on the Lookout deck give visitors a chance to go on self-guided visual tours of the city, learn about Vancouver's history, and test themselves on their ability to identify Vancouver's many sights and attractions.

Why You Should Visit:
Great way to see the Vancouver area and it is worth listening in on the free tour they provide.
Tickets are valid all day, so you can go in the morning and come back at sunset to see the city lights.

You can spend as little or as long as you like, but make sure you walk the whole lookout floor.
Make sure there isn't fog when you visit, or else 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, none is as well known as the Steam Clock. Though the clock certainly isn't the oldest attraction in Gastown, and steam clocks, as such, can be found elsewhere, Gastown's steam clock is one of the few remaining steam-powered clocks that is still functional.

The clock was originally built over a steam grate, partly to hide the unsightly grate, partly to harness the power of the otherwise wasted steam, and partly to prevent transients from using it for warmth in cold weather. The steam itself is generated by Vancouver's distributed steam heating system.

The original mechanism that powered the clock failed after a period of time, and electricity was required to keep the landmark operational. Fortunately, with donations from Gastown businesses, the steam mechanism was repaired and replaced, and continues to work to this day. As steam rises from the grate, it powers a small steam 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.

Why You Should Visit:
When it strikes (on the quarter, but especially the full-hour, and more so at mid-day) it really does put on something of a show.
Lots of neat shops in the area to browse through, while waiting, or you could sit across the street and enjoy it with a meal.

Set your camera to video to catch the impressive display.
Difficult to photograph, but patience 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 a home to one of the most photographed and historic spots in the city, called Maple Tree Square. It dates back to the times when Vancouver was called Granville Townsite, and it gained popularity thanks to John Deighton, dubbed "Gassy Jack" for his talkative nature and penchant for storytelling, who opened the area’s first bar on the south side of Burrard Inlet in 1867 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, had 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 emerging city’s centre of trade and commerce, let alone drinking. Over the next four decades, some 300 bars had sprouted up within a 12 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 today, marking the exact spot of his former saloon.
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

Vancouver's Millennium Gate sits at the entrance of Chinatown, and was built to honour the people of China and the role they have played in Vancouver's long, colourful history. The name derives from the fact that the gate was constructed in 2002 to mark the turn of the millennium.

The four pillar-, three story tall gate is guarded by two stone foo lions, one male with a ball under his paw on the left side, and a female with cub on the right side. Images of Chinese people adorning the gates show different styles of clothing worn across China. One interesting feature of the Millennium Gate is its colour scheme, since it's a blend of traditional Eastern and modern Western motifs. The gates feature the traditional colours of red, yellow, and gold, as well as white and blue colours that are traditionally reserved for funerals.

Vancouver's Chinatown is a living symbol of its multicultural heritage. It serves as a place where people of every ethnicity gather to visit shops and restaurants, and its people are an integral part of the community. Nowhere is that more evident than in the design of the Millennium Gate.

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