A History of Gastown: Then and Now

Category: First Time Buyer, Real Estate Agent, Renew Refinance,

Gastown Featured Image

A national historic site, Gastown is a bustling urban centre, full of charm, nightlife, fabulous shopping, and many of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants.

Gastown at night

History of Gastown

Established the same year that Canada became a nation, Gastown is the oldest neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver. Named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman who opened the area’s first saloon, Gastown burned to the ground in what is known as the Great Fire. All but two of the town’s 400 buildings were reduced to ashes and smoke.

Following the Great Depression, Gastown was a largely forgotten neighbourhood. It became known as Vancouver’s “skid row” in the 1960s, and even after “rehabilitation” in the 1970s, it continued to be a lower-income area well into the 1990s and early 2000s.

"Gassy" Jack Statue

A “Gassy” Fun Fact! “Gassy” Jack received his name due to his talkative nature and his penchant for storytelling. He DOESN’T get it from that other thing…

Woodward’s Building

  • 1903: Built by Charles Woodward, the Woodward pioneered the concept of one-stop shopping.
  • 1993: Woodward’s fortune declined as customers gravitated to suburban malls. As a result, Woodward’s went bankrupt and closed its doors.
  • 1995: Fama Holdings acquired the building.
  • 2001: Province of BC bought the building from Fama for $22 million.
  • 2003: City of Vancouver purchased the building from the province for $5 million.
  • Today, the $400 million project includes:
    • 536 market housing units
    • 125 single non-market housing units operated by Portland Hotel Society
    • 75 family non-market housing units operated by Affordable Housing Society
    • 130,000 sq. ft. addition to SFU’s downtown campus
      Local businesses
Woodward's building


Over the decades, Gastown has evolved from a failed tourist haunt to a vibrant, thriving community. While many are excited about Gaston’s growth, a small but vocal percentage is concerned about the area’s classic gentrification. Displacement of lower-class residents has been replaced with higher-end buildings, higher-priced rentals, trendy restaurants and expensive furniture stores, leaving lower-income residents unable to afford Gastown’s facelift.


  • Richards Street (west)
  • Water Street (north)
  • Main Street (east)
  • Cordova Avenue (south)
Gastown's borders


  • Population: 79,140
  • Average Household Income: $64,500
  • Average Household Size: 1.3
  • Population Density: 15,174 (per square km)
  • Language: 79% of residents’ mother tongue is English

The Residents

Gastown’s gentrification has made its neighbourhood one of the most sought-after locations for young urban professionals.

Gastown's population by age

Residents: predominantly young, single, or couples without families

Age Range: 39% of residents are between the ages of 20-34

Education: 46% of residents have a university degree

Children: 7% of the population (compared to 25% for Canada overall)


  • Steam-Powered Clock: powered solely by a steam engine (located at Cambie & Water Street)
  • Maple Tree Square: has a statue of “Gassy” Jack Deighton at its centre
  • Victory Square: where a memorial to Vancouverites who lost their lives in WWI
Steam-powered clock

Real Estate

  • To Buy: the average condo in Gastown is $578,806
  • Renters: 69% of Gastown’s residents are in rental units (compared to Vancouver’s average of 53%
Apartment building in Gastown


Cordova and Water Street are major transportation routes for commuters. Traffic volumes can peak as low as 22,000 to as high as 25,000 cars per day. Due to high levels of traffic, residents of Gastown tend to commute through public transportation, foot, or bike.

Annual Events

  • Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix: International bicycle race
  • Vancouver International Jazz Festival
  • Make Music Vancouver: Annual performances in Gastown
Global relay Gastown grand prix

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