Although José María Narváez was only 23 years old when he became the first European to sail into what would become Vancouver Harbour in 1791 he was already a veteran of several Spanish expeditions in the Pacific Northwest. The following year Captain George Vancouver charted North America’s northwestern Pacific Coast and although he would die in obscurity at the age of 40 just six years later he made sure his name and those of many of his friends would live on for centuries. Among the landmarks George Vancouver named were the famous American mountains - Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Mount Baker and Mount St. Helens and the main harbour of the future Vancouver, Burrard Inlet, remembering his friend Sir Henry Burrard.

The first industry that developed along Burrard Inlet was logging; American lumberman Sewell Moody built the first sawmill in 1863 and his Moodyville camp was the first settlement on the inlet. About that time Canada was forming into an independent country back east and in 1871 British Columbia agreed to join the Confederation on the condition that it would be linked to the transcontinental railroad. It took the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) 15 years to make good on the bargain. In the interim it was assumed the western terminus of the railroad would be Moodyville on the eastern end of Burrard Inlet. But in 1884 general manager William Van Horne visited the area and dismissed the existing settlement as too shallow for ocean-going ships to meet the railroad. 

He looked around and recommended a site on English Bay occupied by a collection of ramshackle wooden structures called Granville, which happened to have the advantage of plenty of land that could be granted to the CPR to develop a major coastal townsite. So it came to be that the Canadian Pacific Railway terminated on piles on the shore along Water Street in 1886. In keeping with his grand vision for British Columbia’s new mainland port Van Horne jettisoned the “Granville” name and replaced it with “Vancouver.” The town was incorporated on April 6, 1886.

Regardless of what officials were doing with the name, the 400 or so residents were used to calling their home “Gastown,” as it had developed around the saloon of Yorkshire seaman “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a world-class talker. Vancouver was not even nine weeks old when sparks from a brush-clearing fire blew into town and burned every building save two to the ground in a firestorm on June 13, 1886. Undaunted the optimistic townsfolk started rebuilding before the smoke blew out of town and the first brick buildings were being occupied when the first Canadian Pacific Railway train, #374, steamed into the station on July 4, 1886.

The population burst to more than 13,000 by 1890 and after a financial panic in the early 1890s the Klondike Gold Rush insured Vancouver’s status as a major Pacific Coast port city. The original townsite at Gastown, however, did not fare as well during the 20th century as Canada’s third-largest city spread out in every direction. The neighbourhood was rescued by the preservation movement of the latter half of the century, however, and has been re-born as a mix of tourist-oriented businesses, re-purposed housing and cultural destinations. Our walking tour of the transformation of Gastown will begin where the city started - on the site of Gassy Jack Deighton’s whiskey bar...   

Gassy Jack
Maple Tree Square
southwest corner of Water and Carrall streets

In the 1830s John Deighton grew up on the River Hull in eastern England about 40 kilometres from the North Sea. The California Gold Rush gave him an opportunity to realize his dream of a life on sailing ships. He joined in the prospecting and later followed the gold rumours to the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush where he wound up running the Globe Saloon for several years in New Westminster. Deighton had fallen in with fellow seaman Captain Edward Stamp and in 1867, at the request of his old friend, Deighton set up another Globe Saloon on Burrard Inlet for the workers at Stamp’s lumber mill. Deighton showed up with but $6 to his name but the millworkers built the saloon in exchange for their fill of whiskey. In 1871 Deighton went in search of more customers and constructed the Deighton House in the village of Granville on land he bought on the southwest corner of Carrall and Water streets. He was known around his bar as “Gassy Jack” for his loquacious nature and the stories he always had at the ready. The business was successful but operated mostly by his family as Deighton returned to working Fraser River steamships; he died of an illnessat the age of 44 in 1875. Even so the neighborhood had already assumed an identity from its favourite barkeep - Gastown.

Alhambra Hotel/Byrnes Block
2 Water Street at southwest corner of Carrall Street

This was the site where Jack Deighton erected his Deighton House and after it burned in the Great Fire of 1886 this was one of the first properties to be rehabilitated which makes it the city’s oldest building in its original location; the money man was George Byrnes, a local auctioneer. Byrnes was an Australian who sailed to San Francisco in 1867 on the sloop Coya which was tossed into the rocks and sank with only Brynes and two crew members surviving the wreck. He came to Cariboo with the gold stampeders but wound up holding various public offices instead. Byrnes invested his money in property and this Victorian block was designed by Elmer H. Fisher, the first architect to advertise in local papers after the 1886 conflagration. The upper floor was occupied by the Alhambra Hotel which stood in the first rank of seasonal waterfront rental houses. Byrnes dies of a heart attack on March 13, 1899. The Byrnes Block has been restored to its Victorian Italianate appearance from his lifetime.

Turn to the right to begin walking clockwise around Maple Tree Square.

Dunn Block
110 Carrall Street at north side of Maple Tree Square

Scottish-born Thomas Dunn served on the first Vancouver City Council and was flying high as a business leader when he bankrolled the construction of this handsome Romanesque Revival brick warehouse in 1899. Noble Stonestreet Hoffar, one of Vancouver’s first professional architects, drew up the plans. An early tenant was the Union Steamship Company that was started by John Darling of New Zealand and ran its operations from here for many years; union Steamship was a pioneer shipper for the logging camps of the Pacific northwest. Dunn, however, over-extended himself in the Klondike Gold Rush and when the boom evaporated he was forced to sell this warehouse. The new owners retained architects John Edmeston Parr and Thomas Arthur Fee to tack on four storeys to the east end in 1907.

Hotel Europe
43 Powell Street on east side of Maple Tree Square

Englishman John Edmeston Parr and Canadian Thomas Arthur Fee came together in 1899 to form one of Vancouver’s most formidable early architectural partnerships. In 1909 Italian-born hotelier Angelo Calori commissioned Parr and Fee to build a first class, fireproof guest house on this challenging piece of ground at the wedge intersection of Alexander and Powell streets. The designers responded with a five-story flatiron building that was the first reinforced concrete structure built in Canada and the first fireproof hotel in Western Canada. Crafted of stone, marble and glass the classically-inspired Hotel Europe, which now does duty as affordable residential housing, remains the city’s finest example of flatiron architecture. 

Ferguson Block
6 Powell Street at southeast corner of Carrall Street

Alfred Graham Ferguson was a Californian trained as an engineer who made his money as a tunnel contractor for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In Vancouver he spent much of the 1880s as parks commissioner; Ferguson Point in Stanley Park remembers his early service. Ferguson constructed a wooden commercial block on this corner and after it burned in the 1886 fire he hired W.T. Whiteway to design a new building. Whiteway gave the new Ferguson Block a distinctive Italianate appearance with heavy roof brackets, elongated windows and decorative window caps. The building was expanded by brothers R. Mackay and Charles Fripp in 1889. Ferguson, who was one of the city’s largest early land barons, also owned the two buildings to the south. They were single storey affairs in Ferguson’s day; after his death in 1903 architects Parr and Fee added additional floors for the new owners.

Head south on Carrall Street (Gassy Jack is on your right).

Bodega Hotel
225 Carrall Street

Another building that had to be replaced after the 1886 Fire was the Bodega Hotel owned by Victoria pioneer John Badcock Lovell. Lovell sailed from England for British Columbia in the 1850s when he was in his twenties. He did some mining, milled grain, ran stores and even put in a stint as the coroner in the Stickeen region in the 1870s. For the rebuild Lovell retained John Wesley Mallory, the son of a Toronto architect who came to Vancouver to practice during the Klondike Gold Rush boom and gave the new Bodega a Romanesque appearance; the modernized facade has attempted to replicate that look.

Turn right on Cordova Street.    

Dunn-Miller Block/Lonsdale Block
8-28 West Cordova Street

Thomas Dunn showed up in Vancouver in February of 1886 and moved into the Ferguson Block to sell hardware. Four months later he was wiped out by fire and starting over. By 1888 he was moving his line of paints and dry goods from rented space on Cordova Street. Dunn then partnered with Jonathan Miller, twenty years his senior, and a logger whose time in Burrard Inlet went all the way back to the Hastings Mill. Miller became the Granville constable and when Vancouver organised he was appointed Postmaster. The 1886 Fire disrupted his life as a government official and forced him into commercial pursuits. The Dunn-Miller Block was constructed in 1888 and Vancouver had never seen anything like it. Although presenting a united front, the block is actually two similar Georgian-style buildings designed by Noble S. Hoffar. The 55-metre long brick facade was called “the largest, most pretentious and important building in the city.” Inside were Vancouver’s first Jewish synagogue, the original drug business of city institution H. McDowell & Company, the Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company offices and Dunn’s provision business which he was advertising as the “Headquarters for Klondike supplies” in the late 1890s. It was also during that time that the property was sold to North Vancouver property owner A.H. Lonsdale whose name graces the front of the building as well.   

Fortin Hotel
57 West Cordova Street

The bay windows on this mid-block structure were a way for hotel guests to get an enhanced street view and give the guest house a splash of style. The “1893” date badge actually refers to an earlier structure now deceased; this building was erected in 1909. The design flowed from the offices of George W. Grant and Ernest Alexander Henderson. Grant was a leading architect in New Westminster and Vancouver when he took on Henderson as an assistant in 1898. Within five years he was invited to become a partner. The firm was active for a decade before Henderson left to practice on his own, specialising in hospital designs.  

Manitoba Hotel/Hildon Hotel
50 Cordova Street

William Tuff Whiteway was born in Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador in 1856, from where he launched a long peripatetic architecture career that took him to Victoria, San Diego, Port Townsend, Washington and back to the Maritime Provinces. His design work brought him to Victoria in 1882 and briefly to Vancouver after the Great Fire of 1886. He returned to Vancouver in 1900 where he remained and worked until his death in 1940. Whiteway created this Edwardian-style six-storey hotel in 1909, using glazed white bricks. It has greeted guests continuously ever since, changing its name in 1954 to the Hildon Hotel.    

Union Bank of Canada
93 West Cordova Street at the northeast corner of Abbott Street

This stylish little Edwardian vault was the handiwork of Arthur Julius Bird who as City Architect and building inspector did much to shape the coming of modern Vancouver in the early years of the 20th century. English born and trained, Bird designed many of the city’s earliest large multi-storey apartment complexes. This single-storey building of pressed brick atop a granite base was one of his earliest creations, raised in 1910 for the Union Bank of Canada. The Union Bank of Lower Canada took its first deposits in 1865 and was eventually absorbed into the Royal Bank of Canada in 1925. 

Turn left on Abbott Street.   

Woodward Building
101 West Hastings Street at the northwest corner of Abbott Street

Charles A. Woodward grew up on a farm outside of Hamilton and began his Canadian Business Hall of Fame career selling goods out of a log cabin on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. At the age of 40 in 1892 Woodward moved to Vancouver and opened an apothecary. He greeted the new century by taking an option on this corner and incorporating Woodward’s Department Store which opened its doors in 1903. Woodward’s would expand here a dozen times until it grew to 12 storeys and occupied almost the entire block. Charles Woodward pioneered the concept of one-stop shopping in Vancouver with everything from the Food Floor in the basement to household goods to the latest in fashion. Woodward’s became the premiere shopping destination in the city, cherished for its Christmas displays, and anchored the growth of Vancouver’s retail district. In 1944, seven years after Charles Woodward’s death, a 25-metre replica of the Eiffel Tower was constructed on the roof and topped with an illuminated “W.” The heritage store’s fortunes flagged with the drain of shoppers to the suburbs in the latter half of the 20th century until bankruptcy was declared in 1993. In 2006 the entire sprawling complex was imploded, leaving only the original 1903 store section standing. 

Turn right on Pender Street.  

World Building/Sun Tower
128 West Pender Street

Louis Denison Taylor was born in Michigan in 1857 but was lured to Western Canada by the Klondike Gold Rush. He wrote and published mining newspapers and launched a public issues leaflet called “The Critic.” In 1910 he switched sides from flamethrower to target when he won election as Vancouver mayor. Over the next quarter-century he would run seven more winning campaigns and lose several more. All told he served 11 years as a flamboyant promoter of the city, completing such projects as the five-lane Art Deco Burrard Street Bridge and the airport at Sea Island. At the same time his political career was beginning Taylor was harbouring big plans for his then newspaper, The Vancouver World. He wanted a headquarters tower so large that every reader of his paper could see where their news was produced. Taylor hired William Tuff Whiteaway to create the city’s tallest tower and he delivered an 82-metre Beaux Arts confection crowned by a dome and cupola painted green to imitate aged copper sheathing. Around the cornice of the supporting block of the L-shaped structure the architect inserted nine terra cotta caryatids to represent muses as imagined by Austrian sculptor Charles Marega. Marega also created the statues of the lions at the Stanley Park entrance to the Lions Gate Bridge. When finished in 1912 the World Building was not only the tallest structure in Vancouver it was the tallest building in the British Empire. In 1924 The Vancouver Sun purchased the financially-challenged The World and the landmark on the Vancouver skyline became the Sun Tower.

Turn right on Cambie Street. 

Victory Square
bordered by Pender, Hastings, Cambie and Hamilton streets

The street system makes an angled jog at this point because Cambie Street marked the delineation between Gastown and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) townsite to the west. Cambie street is named for the railroad’s chief engineer, Henry John Cambie. This was dense rainforest in the 1880s when CPR land commissioner Lauchlan Alexander Hamilton drove a stake at the corner of today’s Hamilton and Hastings streets to begin laying out the Vancouver street plat. The first provincial courthouse was constructed here in what was marked off as “Government Square.” After the courts moved in 1913 the building was demolished and the square morphed into a public space. The Vancouver war memorial carved from Nelson Island granite was dedicated on April 27, 1924 to the men who lost their lives in the Great War; the Cenotaph stands on the site of the old courthouse.

The Province Building
198 West Hastings Street at southeast corner of Cambie Street

The provincial courthouse attracted a scramble by the town’s newspapers to get in close to the action. The Province started as a Victoria newspaper and launched its first Vancouver editions in 1898 under the guidance of Walter Cameron Nichol who cut his journalistic teeth back in Hamilton where the Ontario native drew cartoons and wrote poems for the Hamilton Spectator when he was 15 years old. He was running the News in London, Ontario when he caught gold fever and headed west. Within a year of setting up shop in Vancouver Nichol boasted that The Province had a circulation of over 5,000 - “practically as great as that of all the other daily papers in the province put together.” This Neoclassical newspaper office designed by Alfred Arthur Cox and Louis August Amos was actually constructed in 1908 for the News-Advertiser which Frank Carter-Cotton formed in 1887 from two pioneer presses, the Advertiser and the News. Carter-Cotton’s money problems eventually forced him to sell both his paper and the building to The Province. The sale did not help - he ended his life by walking into English Bay “crisply attired in business suit and hat, and carrying a neatly furled umbrella.” This has been the home of the Vancouver Film School since 1986.         

Flack Block
163 West Hastings Street at northeast corner of Cambie Street

In 1897 on Eldorado Creek Thomas Flack of Vancouver Island and two partners became the rarest of prospectors - they struck it rich. Flack used his money to hire one of Vancouver’s finest early architects, William Blackmore, to construct a substantial commercial block on the most prominent corner of the young city. Blackmore tapped the burly Richardsonian Romanesque style popularized by Boston master architect Henry Hobson Richardson and characterized by a powerful arched entrance, polished columns and rough-faced stone. When the four-storey Flack Block opened in 1898 it was one of the most elaborate structures yet to grace Vancouver streets. The original Bank of Vancouver moved in along with small businesses and gold brokers who could take advantage of ten massive vaults built into the interior. On the basement level was a “Turkish Bathhouse for Ladies” billed as the finest on the Pacific Coast. An award-winning restoration has the Flack Block looking just like it did for Thomas Flack.

Dominion Building
207 West Hastings Street at northwest corner of Cambie Street

Architect John Shaw Helyer hailed from the Isle of Wight and came to Canada in his early forties in 1900. He opened his own office in Vancouver in 1908 and was soon at work on the city’s first steel-framed skyscraper. Helyer outfitted his 13-storey high-rise with an ornate Second Empire-style mansard roof which marked the highest constructed point in the British Empire when the Dominion Building was finished in 1910. Classical Corinthian columns grace the ground floor entrance. Meanwhile financing for the project was shaky - the original client, the Imperial Trust Company, was forced into merger with the Dominion Trust Company to cover the estimated $600,000 in building costs. It was marriage of doddering financial institutions and the building was soon sold to the Dominion Bank, of no relation to Dominion Trust. 

Turn left on Hastings Street.   

Rogers Block
301 West Hastings Street

From his beginnings on a Welsh farm in 1865 and speaking no English until the age of 16, Jonathan Rogers found himself stepping down first to the platform off the first train to arrive in Vancouver on May 23, 1887. He bought four lots on Hastings Street at auction and went to work as a painter and builder. Rogers would eventually build up more than 1,000 feet of frontage along Hastings and Granville streets; this was the second property he developed. It is actually two buildings started in 1894 on plans drawn by William Blackmore; the second half is nearly identical to the first save for a slight variation in window size. The addition was added by architects John Edmeston Parr and Thomas Arthur Fee. Rogers would go on to bankroll one of the city’s most expensive office buildings - the 10-storey Rogers Building on Granville Street in 1912 - and serve as Vancouver parks commissioner. When he died in 1945 Jonathan Rogers left $100,000 for city parks.  

Royal Bank of Canada
400 West Hastings Street at southwest corner of Homer Street

This is another piece of property owned by Jonathan Rogers. In 1903 the contractor built one of Vancouver’s earliest reinforced concrete buildings here - including a vault with walls over half-a-metre thick and a massive steel door. Local architects W.T. Dalton and S.M. Everleigh worked on the innovative design and gave Vancouver its first banking temple. The Royal Bank of Canada moved in and stayed until 1931. The original floor plan was extended to the south along Homer Street in 1909, although the classical arched window openings were abandoned. Rogers went on to develop several more branches for the Royal Bank.

Bank of British Columbia
490 West Hastings Street at southeast corner of Richards Street

Thomas Charles Sorby was designing buildings in England as far back as the 1860s. He surfaced in Vancouver following the 1886 Fire and was busy repopulating the city streetscape, including several buildings on this block. This three-storey corner building constructed for the Bank of British Columbia in 1891 has been severely compromised by retailing interests on the ground storey but you can look up to see the essence of Sorby’s Beaux Arts design. In its time there were 10 banks operating on Hastings Street between Granville and Homer streets.

Standard Building
500 West Hastings Street at southwest corner of Richards Street

A.G. Ferguson was the first to develop this corner, with a three-storey commercial block in 1889. That building gave way to the current 15-storey office tower in 1915. John Walter Weart as representative of the Investors Guarantee Corporation was the driving force behind its construction. Weart was an Ontario native who began his working life as a teacher before traveling west to sell sewing machines in Manitoba. By his 30th birthday in 1891 Weart was in British Columbia studying law. He entered politics and was eventually elected to the Legislative Assembly while managing investment interests. He shepherded this project to completion, hiring Seattle architects Everett P. Babcock and Walter E. Rice who provided a Gothic Revival design with elaborate roottop tracery that has long since been removed. Also long gone is the Standard Bank, the building’s main tenant who gave the building it name after briefly being known as the Weart Building.   

Harbour Centre
555 West Hastings Street at northwest corner of Richard Street

In the 1850s David Spencer left the family farm in Wales to apprentice with a local dry goods merchant. He took what he learned and sailed to Victoria in 1862 where the 25-year old Welchman plied his trade selling books and stationery. He bought his own dry goods business in 1873 and set up a branch in Vancouver in 1906. After David Spencer died in 1920 his son Chris assumed control and set about consolidating businesses on this block. He hired two local architects, John Y. McCarter and George C. Nairne, to create a mammoth new department store to corral the expanding enterprise. Up to this time the pair had earned their way designing houses and small apartment buildings. The new Spencer’s was completed in 1926 although it never achieved its block-filling dreams. Chris Spencer sold the Vancouver institution to Toronto retailing behemoth T. Eaton Co, in 1948. When Eaton departed in the 1970s the building was turned over to Sears which never made a go of it here and eventually sold the buildings to Simon Fraser University for its first urban campus.

Turn right on Richards Street. 

Kelly Douglas & Company Building/The Landing
375 Water Street at the intersection of Richards and Cordova streets

Robert Kelly migrated from Ontario to Vancouver in 1890 and took a job working in the Oppenheimer Bros. provision business. He struck out on his own with the Braid and Kelly grocery but the venture could not survive the economic downturns of 1893. Kelly then partnered with Frank Douglas in 1896 and the business thrived outfitting Klondike stampdeders. Their brand of coffee, Nabob, became a best-selling staple. Frank Douglas, unfortunately, drowned in 1901 on a journey from Skagway when his ship struck an iceberg and sank; his brother Edward stepped into his role with the firm. Kelly Douglas & Company moved into this brawny stone warehouse, designed by W.T. Whiteway, in 1905. With a series of expansions it became the largest structure in Gastown by 1913, boasting seven storeys and two basement levels. 

Turn right on Water Street (The one angling to the left).

Holland Block
350 Water Street

Developer James M. Holland attacked this triangular plot of land where Water Street meets Cordova Street in 1891. His solution was a three-storey mixed-use building with access to both street frontages. The parade of bay windows borrowed from the rowhouses of San Francisco bring increased light and space to the residential units upstairs. Cast iron was used in the construction of the ground floor to enable large storefront display windows.     

Greenshields Building
345 Water Street

Samuel Greenshields, an immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland, founded the family dry goods business in Montreal in 1833. S. Greenshields, Son and Company expanded to Winnipeg and was one of the first national concerns to invest in Vancouver with an outlet in 1888. The building is actually two individual halves, tied together with powerful Romanesque arches. The upper stories are distinguished by decorative brickwork and the bays are separated by rough stone-faced pillars topped with intricately carved capitals.

Burns Block/Buscombe Building
342 Water Street

When you walk around to Cordova Street later in the tour remember this facade because you will see the same Romanesque-styling and rough-faced stone over there that you look up and see here. The design is by celebrated architect William Blackmore but the client is not as celebrated. John Burns paid the construction bills but as to exactly which John Burns that was is undecided. By the 1930s the building was owned and occupied by Buscombe & Co., a glassware and china company started by Frederick Buscombe who was the 11th mayor of Vancouver. 

Hudson House
321 Water Street

The first Hudson’s Bay Company store in Vancouver opened on Cordova Street on January 17, 1887 - four months before the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks reached town. The population had not even reached 500 at the time. By 1895 the legendary retailer required a warehouse for its fur and liquor products which was designed by W.T. Dalton and executed in red brick with stone trim. The warehouse served the company until the 1960s after which it was given a makeover for office and retail use. 

McPherson Building
322 Water Street

The fancy zig-zag brickwork on this five-storey commercial building is typical of the whimsical flurries architects and brothers Joseph and Alfred Townsend often gave their designs. The ground level of this 1912 building has been compromised but the yellow- and red-brick patterns remain on the upper floors. 

Taylor Building
310 Water Street

Walter Taylor and Edward Clarence Taylor bankrolled the construction of this mid-block commercial building in 1912. Walter Taylor accumulated his money with the Empress Manufacturing Company that supplied local businesses with imported coffee, jams and jellies. G.W. Grant and A.E. Henderson provided the classically-influenced facade.

Edward Hotel
302 Water Street at southwest corner of Abbott Street

In the Great Fire of 1886 firefighters used the Regina Hotel located here as a staging base, soaking the premises with sea water and wet towels; it was the only building on the waterfront to survive the conflagration. There was no sentiment 20 years later when the Regina was demolished. This three-storey guest house, looking much as it did when it was raised in 1907, was built at the cost of $21,000 for Charles Edward Beckman, a Swedish mining engineer. 

McClary Manufacturing Company Building
305 Water Street at northwest corner of Cambie Street

Born in Upper Canada in 1829, John McClary took off for California with a case of “gold fever” in 1849 to use the skills as a tinsmith that his brother Oliver had taught him. By 1852 John and Oliver were back in London, Ontario making stoves from a new foundry, the product that would make them famous. In 1871 the brothers created McClary Manufacturing to also churn out copper goods, agricultural tools and iron machinery. The business slowly spread across Canada and reached Vancouver in 1894. Architect John Mackenzie Moore married the daughter of Oliver McClary which brought him the contracts to design all the McClary buildings in Canada with his partner Frederick Henry. This one, completed in 1897, helped usher in the Classical Revival style in Vancouver. Gone are the familiar rounded arched openings of the Romanesque style, replaced with window lintels and a modillion block cornice. 

Steam Clock
northwest corner of Cambia Street and Water Street

Although steam is considered a 19th-century power source clocks powered by a steam engine are a modern technology, pioneered by Canadian horologist Raymond Saunders with the Gastown Steam Clock in 1977. The combination tourist attraction and public artwork was a response to a troublesome steam vent in the sidewalk. Saunders’ contraption uses a steam engine and electric motors to drive the mechanisms which deliver a loud whistle on the hour and the sound of Westminster chimes on the quarter-hour. Saunders has gone on to build some 150 similar steam clocks, including a handful of public steam clocks around the world. 

Turn Right on Cambie Street and make the first right into Trounce Alley, a name borrowed from a far more famous alley in Victoria. Turn left on Cordova Street at the REAR facade of the Buscombe Building.

J.W. Horne Block
315 West Cordova Street

Only the Canadian Pacific Railway owned more early Vancouver land than James Welton Horne. He made his money in Manitoba in insurance and shipping before arriving in Burrard Inlet in the early 1880s. Horne founded the B.C. Electric Railway and was a mainstay on the Vancouver city council in its early years. He enthusiastically developed substantial blocks on many of his parcels and this exuberant flat-iron building rose in 1889 from plans drawn by Noble Stonestreet Hoffar. Hailing from America, Hoffar was one of Vancouver’s busiest architects after the 1886 Fire, often infusing his buildings with Italianate detailing as can be seen here along the Cordova elevation. Look up at the point of the flatiron to admire a semi-circular Juliet balcony.

Springer-Van Bramer Block
301 West Cordova Street at northwest corner of Cambie Street

The construction of the Horne Block completed filling in the wedge-shaped lot that N.S. Hoffar had started a year earlier with this three-storey Italianate commercial block for Ben Springer and James Van Bramer, a ferry boat captain on Burrard Inlet. The brick structure was one of the earliest in Vancouver and impressive enough for the Masons and Odd Fellows to call home on the top floor.

Cambie Hotel/Cambie Hostel
310 Cambie Street at southeast corner of Abbott Street

Architects John Edmeston Parr and Thomas Arthur Fee tapped the emerging Chicago Commercial Style for this corner building in 1899. The use of large glass display windows and cast-iron rectangular frames stands in contrast to the more ornate offerings of the Italianate buildings from a decade earlier at this intersection. This type of hotel catered to the working class males - often single - who logged and fished around Vancouver. Accommodations were sparse and meals were taken in the over 300 licensed saloons on the surrounding streets in Gastown.

Look down Cordova Street to see...

W Building
28 West Cordova Street

After the Woodwards’ implosion this 40-storey mixed-use tower was one of the structures that rose in is stead in 2009. The redevelopment project was guided by architect Gregory Henriquez who was awarded the Design Exchange Gold Medal and the AIBC Special Jury Award for the work.

Walk back down Cambrie Street to Water Street and turn right.

B.C. Plate Glass and Importing Co. Building
157 Water Street

Edward Cook followed the Canadian Pacific Railway from Ontario to Victoria in 1885. The next year he moved to Gastown where he became one the pioneer town’s leading land owners and contractors. Cook built Vancouver’s first bank at Richards and Hastings streets and some of the first large multi-unit apartments. Here he planned a standard three-storey warehouse in 1906 but demand for rental space along the waterfront was so strong at the time he pushed the structure to seven storeys, much the tallest on its side of the block, much of which has been preserved and retains its turn-of-the-20th century appearance. Look up to see large plate glass windows that served as advertisements for the wares of the primary tenant - the B.C. Plate Glass and Importing Company.

Des Brisay Block
122 Water Street

The Des Brisay family were wholesale grocers across British Columbia. Albert Des Brisay commissioned this seven-storey mid-block building in 1912. The architects were G.L.T. Sharp and C.J. Thompson who carried with them formal training from England - a rarity in early Vancouver. This stylish Edwardian design was intended as a twin for the Thompson Rooming House next door. The grocery business was carried out on the ground level and the upper floors functioned as hotel rooms for the logging and fishing trade. 

Hotel Winters
102 Water Street at southwest corner of Abbott Street

This was one of Vancouver’s swankiest guest houses after the first visitors signed the guest register on November 1, 1907. The Hotel Winters boasted 120 rooms, all with hot and cold water and fifty had a private bath - the symbol of luxury at the time. The money behind the hotel belonged to Alice M. Winters, who was the widow of a Victoria barber which somehow resulted in the required $45,000 stake. Prominent architect William Tuff Whiteway provided the handsome design for the substantial structure.

Nagle Brothers Garage
12 Water Street

This humble building carries a noble architectural pedigree. John Young McCarter and George Colvill Nairne were just finishing up work on their landmark Marine Building on Burrard Street when the Great Depression struck. So even the most distinguished of firms was happy to land any work in 1930 when this early automotive stable was constructed.

You have now returned to the tour starting point at Maple Tree Square.