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 50 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)

Situated atop the Harbour Centre in close proximity to the charming Gastown district, the Vancouver Lookout stands as a popular tourist destination, providing panoramic 360-degree vistas of the cityscape.

From this vantage point, approximately 550 feet (equivalent to 168 meters) in height, you are treated to an expansive bird's-eye scene that encompasses Canada Place and the entirety of Vancouver's bustling downtown nucleus. Additionally, your gaze can trace the contours of Stanley Park, the North Shore Mountains, Burrard Inlet, and, weather permitting, extend as far as Surrey and beyond.

The ascent to the pinnacle of the Vancouver Lookout forms an integral part of the overall experience. Notably, the elevator's front is entirely composed of glass, and a significant portion of the ascent occurs on the exterior of the edifice. This distinctive approach grants an unparalleled view of downtown Vancouver and the surroundings as you ascend to the observation deck.

The deck itself is circular in design, enveloping the structure seamlessly. Scattered across this expanse are various spots furnished with tables and chairs, offering ideal vantage points to revel in the spectacle. Furthermore, the observation deck is adorned with informative plaques that provide valuable insights into the multitude of sights within view.

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.
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!
Gastown Steam Clock

2) Gastown Steam Clock

Among Gastown's many attractions, none holds as much renown as the Gastown Steam Clock. Although this clock isn't the oldest fixture in the neighborhood (and similar steam clocks can be found elsewhere), it stands as one of the rare functioning steam-powered clocks remaining worldwide.

Originally constructed above a steam grate, this endeavor served several purposes. It concealed the unappealing grate from view, harnessed the otherwise wasted steam power from the local heating system, and deterred transient individuals from using it for warmth during chilly spells.

As steam ascends from the grate, it propels a petite engine that initiates the motion of a lifting chain. This chain, in turn, guides steel balls upwards until they transition onto a descending chain, their weight propelling the clock's pendulum and enabling timekeeping without the need for manual winding. The steam, crucial for the clock's time-marking whistles, also fuels the chiming mechanism.

Following a period of operation, the original clockwork mechanism faltered, necessitating the introduction of electricity to maintain functionality. At a certain juncture, local businesses' contributions facilitated the restoration of the steam mechanism, which endures and operates to this day.

When the clock chimes – at quarter intervals, each full hour, and notably at midday – it delivers a captivating spectacle. To capture this event, consider setting your camera to video mode. Exercise patience, as the experience promises rewarding results!
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

In the heart of Vancouver lies a captivating historical site known as Maple Tree Square, situated at the convergence of Water, Powell, Alexander, and Carrall streets. This intersection has garnered fame as one of the city's most photographed and cherished locations. Its origins trace back to the early days of Vancouver when it was a fledgling settlement named Granville.

The square gained notoriety through its association with the inaugural bar in the vicinity. In 1867, John Deighton, affectionately nicknamed "Gassy Jack" due to his loquacious demeanor and talent for spinning tales, heeded the request of his close friend Captain Edward Stamp, the proprietor of the Hastings Mill. At Stamp's urging, Deighton established the first bar on the southern shores of Burrard Inlet.

The story goes that Gassy Jack, hailing from Hull in England, embarked on a journey from New Westminster, offering mill workers an enticing proposition. He promised them an unlimited supply of whiskey in exchange for their assistance in constructing a saloon. Astonishingly, within a mere day, the establishment affectionately referred to as a "watering hole" was up and operational, eventually christened the Globe Saloon by its proud owner.

Drawing a crowd that encompassed sailors and laborers from the nearby sawmill, the Globe Saloon swiftly became a hub of local commerce and social activity, in addition to its reputation for libations. Over the subsequent forty years, nearly 300 bars sprouted within a compact twelve-block radius, signifying the immense impact of this epicenter on the community's vitality.

Although the iconic bar eventually succumbed to demolition when Granville transitioned into a townsite, the appellation endured. The surrounding region now bears the name Gastown, a tribute to Gassy Jack's legacy. A monument commemorating Gassy Jack, depicting him in all his animated storytelling glory, now graces Maple Tree Square. This statue stands as a steadfast marker, preserving the exact location of his renowned establishment for generations to come.
Hotel Europe (Flat Iron Building)

5) Hotel Europe (Flat Iron Building)

Hotel Europe stands as a historic six-story structure positioned on Powell Street, at the intersection of Water, Alexander, and Powell Streets within Vancouver's Gastown district. The building's design follows the flatiron architectural style and was completed in the year 1909. This marked a significant milestone, as it became Canada's pioneer in reinforced concrete construction and the earliest fire-resistant hotel in Western Canada.

Dubbed the Angelo Calori Building, the hotel also bears the name of its creator, Angelo Calori, and was strategically placed near the former steamship docks along Columbia Street. An accompanying bus service transported guests from the docks to the hotel. Remarkably, the original Italian tile floors and leaded-glass windows have endured through time, lending an air of authenticity to the structure.

Hotel Europe gained recognition as a backdrop in the suspense film "The Changeling." Within the film, the building serves as the setting for the Seattle Historical Society. Although the hotel sign is visible on the right side of the facade in certain scenes, the rooftop terrace also features in some of the film's sequences. Additionally, the hotel played a role as a filming location for the 1994 epic drama "Legends of the Fall."

Legends of supernatural occurrences at the hotel include hints of one or two ghosts. Reports of paranormal events go back to the 1980s, marked by scratching sounds behind a wall, coinciding with an unsettling feeling in the vacant building. Another ghostly figure, potentially the same as the first, appears as the silhouette of a man in a black coat and flat cap. This entity is seen in a street-level poster shop, first spotted in the early 2000s and observed multiple times since.
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.
Vancouver Police Museum

7) Vancouver Police Museum

The Vancouver Police Museum, formerly known as the Vancouver Police Centennial Museum, was established in 1986 to honor the centennial anniversaries of both the Vancouver Police Department and the City of Vancouver, located in British Columbia. Housed within a building that once served as the Coroner’s Court and autopsy facilities until 1980, as well as the City Analyst’s laboratory until 1996, the museum holds a unique history. Notably, during the Battle of Ballantyne Pier in 1935, the Coroner's Court was temporarily transformed into a makeshift hospital by the police. The architectural design of this heritage building is credited to Arthur J. Bird.

With approximately 20,000 items in its collection, the museum showcases an array of treasures. Among these are archival records, photographs, publications, seized firearms, weaponry, counterfeit currency, and a diverse range of artifacts and mementos. Around 40% of this assortment is on display for visitors. As part of its offerings, the museum presents educational programs tailored for children and conducts guided walking tours in the surrounding area, focusing on the theme of "Sins of the City." Additionally, visitors can explore the on-site gift shop and stay informed through the museum's quarterly newsletter.
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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