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Statue of "Gassy" Jack, Gastown.
Gastown is a national historic site located in Vancouvermarker, British Columbiamarker, located at the northeast end of Downtown adjacent to the Downtown Eastsidemarker . Its historical boundaries were the waterfront (now Water Street and the CPR tracks), Columbia Street, Hastings Street, and Cambie Street, which were the borders of the first townsite survey, the proper name and postal address of which was Granville, B.I. ("Burrard Inlet"). Today's official boundary does not include most of Hastings Street except for the Woodward's and Dominion Buildingsmarker.

History

Gastown was Vancouver's first downtown core and is named after "Gassy" Jack Deighton, a Geordie seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area's first saloon. The town soon prospered as the site of a sawmill, seaport, and quickly became a general centre of trade and commerce on Burrard Inletmarker as well as a rough-and-rowdy resort for off-work loggers and fishermen as well as the crews and captains of the many sailing ships which came to Gastown or Moodyvillemarker, on the north side of the inlet (which was a dry town) to load logs and timber.

In 1886, the town was incorporated as the City of Vancouver. It fell victim to the "Great Vancouver Fire" that same year, losing all but two of its buildings. The area was completely rebuilt and continued to thrive, finding new life as the centre of the city's wholesale produce distribution until the Great Depression in the 1930s and until the instigation of Prohibition, the centre of the city's drinking life (there were 300 licensed establishments the twelve-block area of the former Granville, B.I.) After the Depression Gastown was a largely-forgotten neighbourhood of the larger city and fell into decline and disrepair until the 1960s.

In the 1960s, citizens became concerned with preserving Gastown's distinctive and historic architecture, which like the nearby Chinatownmarker and Strathcona were scheduled to be demolished to build a major freeway into the city's downtown. A campaign led by businessmen and property owners as well as the counterculture and associated political protestors, some of them American draft dodgers, pressured the provincial government to declare the area a historical site in 1971, protecting its heritage buildings to this day.

Also in 1971, the Gastown Riots began when a marijuana 'smoke in' became violent when the Vancouver police intervened.

The Gastown has been designated a national historic site of Canada in 2009.

Today

Street scene, Gastown.
Gastown is a mix of "hip" contemporary fashion and interior furnishing boutiques, tourist-oriented businesses (generally restricted to Water Street), restaurants, nightclubs, poverty and newly-upscale housing. In addition, there are law firms, architects and other professional offices, as well as computer and internet businesses, art galleries, music and art studios, and acting and film schools.

Popular annual events that take place on the faux-cobblestone streets of Gastown include the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and the Tour de Gastown international bicycle race.

The Gastown Steam Clock

Gastown's most famous (though nowhere near oldest) landmark is its steam-powered clockmarker, located on the corner of Cambie and Water Street. Built to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver's distributed steam-heating system, the clock was built as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather. Its original design was faulty and it had to be powered by electricity after a breakdown. The steam mechanism was completely restored with the financial support of local businesses as it had become a major tourist attraction, and is promoted as a heritage feature although it is of modern invention. The steam used is low pressure downtown-wide steam heating network (from a plant adjacent to the Georgia Viaductmarker) that powers a miniature steam engine in its base, in turn driving a chain lift. The chain lift moves steel balls upward, where they are unloaded and roll to a descending chain. The weight of the balls on the descending chain drives a conventional pendulum clock escapement, geared to the hands on the four faces. The steam also powers the clock's sound production as whistles are used instead of bell to produce the Westminster "chime" and to signal the time.
Gastown retains few vestiges of its 1970s role as "Haight-Ashburymarker North". , with the area now mostly coffee shops, galleries, native art and import stores, restaurants and nightclubs.

Nightlife

Among Gastown's clubs are Canvas, Modern, Fabric and Shine. Bars (a different licensings category in Vancouver) include 19 Below, The Cambie, Chill Winston, Columbia Club, Lamplighter Public House, Mao Mao Bistro, One Lounge, Revel, The Annex, and The Columbia. The Town Pump, now renamed was one of Vancouver's premier live music venue since the hippie-era of the 1960s. The Blarney Stone is one of the more popular Irish-style party houses in Vancouver, while around the corner on Maple Tree Square Loft Six, located upstairs in one of the city's first bank buildings on the corner of Powell and Carrall, was closed when hip-hop nights there incurred a violent group shooting; the same location during the punk era was a long-standing main venue for live music until converted into a discothèque.

References

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