Gastown designated as ‘national historic site of Canada’

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 Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Catherine McKenna, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, and Mayor Gregor Robertson, City of Vancouver, on Tuesday celebrated the area’s historical significance by unveiling a plaque.

The plaque commemorates the designation of Gastown Historic District as a national historic site of Canada. Gastown Historic District is an intact urban area of business and commercial buildings in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the northeast end of Downtown adjacent to the Downtown Eastside.

Dating for the most part from 1886 to 1914, the district represents, through the visual qualities of the buildings, an early Western Canadian city core and the economic flowering of the Western Canadian economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The District is an exceptional group of commercial buildings that displays, as a whole, the architectural styles of the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, and is a rare, harmonious group of buildings in terms of materials, scale and architectural detailing. As an early legally protected historic district, Gastown illustrates the activist heritage movement that emerged in Canada’s urban centres in the years around 1970, and the creation of local organizations intent on protecting the historic fabric of cities and reorienting urban redevelopment.

Before – and after – the arrival of Europeans in the region, the location of Gastown and the surrounding area played an important role in the culture and society of Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-waututh Indigenous Peoples.

In 1867, Captain John “Gassy Jack” Deighton persuaded some mill workers to build him a saloon on the south side of Burrard Inlet. From such modest beginnings, “Gastown” as it became known, began to grow. The earliest years of economic growth here were fuelled principally by the lumber industry, but two formative events changed Gastown forever.

In 1884 the Canadian Pacific Railway announcement that it would extend its tracks to this area made it a target for speculative investment. And in 1886 a major fire cleared out ramshackle buildings, which made way for rapid development.

The Gastown buildings appeared within a relatively short span of time (1886-1914), responsive to the rapid economic growth characteristic of Western Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These buildings are handsome indeed, strikingly harmonious in their materials, scale and architectural detailing, collectively splendid examples of Victorian and Edwardian commercial architecture. The few skyscrapers that were added in the early 20th century are innovative works of engineering for the time.

The Gastown area fell into decline during much of the 20th century and its buildings degraded into flophouses or were simply left vacant. Large-scale demolitions were proposed, which drew a speedy reaction from the many who wanted to save the area.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Gastown once again became a popular destination and the area revitalized rapidly. One by one, individual buildings were rehabilitated for new uses. Finally, Gastown (and Chinatown to the east) was designated a provincial historic area, making this an exceptional and early example of an urban historic district that was created by civic involvement in the heritage conservation movement. This signalled a new understanding in Canada that urban renewal did not necessarily mean the destruction of earlier urban fabric. – Parks Canada

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