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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Vancouver neighbourhood Gastown designated National Historic Site

Vancouver neighbourhood Gastown was officially designated a National Historic site of Canada in a ceremony today, attended by Mayor Gregor Robertson and federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. 

The popular tourist area, famous for its steam clock, cobblestone streets and restored heritage buildings, has undergone a major transformation that continues to this day. It was only about ten years ago that the area was deteriorating. Heritage buildings were falling into to disrepair and there were a series of violent incidents at nightclubs in the neighbourhood. Apart from tacky tourist knick-knacks, there weren’t a lot of quality shops or restaurants in the area. 

A decade later, the neighbourhood is thriving. Millions of dollars have been spent to restore and seismically upgrade heritage buildings. New businesses, restaurants, pubs and services have moved into the neighbourhood. Hundreds of residents are now living in lofts in restored turn-of-the-century warehouses and newer condo projects such as Woodwards.

Development on the periphery of the neighbourhood is accelerating, with Railtown, Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside all seeing enhanced interest from businesses and developers. New condo and rental projects in those neighbourhoods will bring hundreds of new residents living in close proximity, supporting local businesses and adding to an already lively patio scene. All this development comes with concern about gentrification and its impacts on the traditionally low-income population of the neighbourhood, as single room occupancy (SRO) housing is renovated and rents increased. However, the City of Vancouver and the province have opened hundreds of new social housing beds in the area in the past five years to help alleviate this pressure.

In today’s ceremony, Gastown was cited as an example of an “exceptional intact urban area of commercial buildings that displays the architectural styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including a rare harmonious group of buildings in terms of materials, scale and architectural detailing. The area is an example of an early Western Canadian city core and exemplifies the rapid economic growth that was characteristic of the West during that time.”

A plaque was unveiled in Gaoler’s Mews, now an internal courtyard accessed off either Water or Carrall streets, behind the Coffeebar and Pekinpah restaurant.

“I am very proud to recognize Gastown as a historic site that forms an integral part of our country’s history,” said Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada.Gastown is as diverse and vibrant today as it was a hundred years ago and its story contributes greatly to the tapestry that is Canada.”

“Gastown was Western Canada’s first economic centre and remains an important historical, cultural and commercial hub for the city on the unceded territories of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-waututh First Nations. I’m pleased to commemorate the Gastown Historic District with the Government of Canada so residents and visitors can experience the District with a lens into Vancouver’s history, while enjoying the modern and vibrant amenities,” said Gregor Roberston, mayor of Vancouver.

The area has been a provincially-designated heritage district for many years, but this latest designation for Gastown will offer more protections for the neighbourhood.

Now, if the city could just do something to fix all those broken cobblestones on Water Street, the newly-minted National Historic site could get the streetscape it truly deserves.

More info: Backgrounder on Gastown

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Peter Meiszner
Peter Meiszner
Peter Meiszner is an experienced journalist and media relations professional, based in Vancouver. As founder of urbanYVR.com, he has been reporting on urban development across the Lower Mainland since 2016, and has also served as vice-chair of the Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee. In October 2022, he was elected to Vancouver city council and is no longer actively reporting for urbanYVR.

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