Historic District of National Significance
The Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee, at its meeting on December 20, 2000, agreed to request Council to forward an official letter to the National Historic Site Committee seeking official National Historic Site status for Gastown.
Gastown vividly illustrates the transformation, between 1887 and 1914, of the City of Vancouver from a struggling colony into western Canada's largest centre of commercial activity. This historic commercial district represents the evolving dominance in commerce and finance at the high point of the western economic boom that predated the First World War. The preservation of Gastown has maintained a distinctive and tangible legacy of a formative period in Canada's economic and physical development.
The history of Gastown is the history of the arrival of the transcontinental railway on the west coast of Canada. The Canadian Pacific Railway is of great significance to the history of the Canadian nation. By physically joining both sides of the continent, a link was forged that allowed the connection of once separate colonies. The railway was apromise made to entice British Columbiain to Confederation in 1871. Once established, the CPR allowed the free movement of goods and people throughout the country, and provided the means to reach international markets.
In 1887 the city of Vancouver became the western terminus of the CPR, and the eastern terminus for the trans-Pacific shipment of goods. Vancouver's natural harbour became Canada's main Pacific Ocean port, connecting the west coast of Canada to the world. The hub of this international. and intercontinental commercial activity was Gastown. Established in 1870 as the old Granville townsite, Gastown is the birthplace of the City of Vancouver. In 1971, in recognition of its historic value, the Province, at the request of City Council, designated Gastown and the adjacent area of Chinatown as historic areas.
Gastown has a consistent and distinctive architecture that provides a unified historic physical environment. The area's buildings are defined by a common Late Victorian and Edwardian commercial vernacular that illustrates the main development period of 1887 to 1914. Some of these buildings are distinguished examples (such as the Hotel Europe) while many others provide historic context. The consistent masonry expression is a result of one of the city's first building bylaws that required the use of fireproof construction -- a response to the destruction of the city during the Great Fire of 1886.
The area also has a series of important urban open spaces -- including Maple Tree Square (the city's first public gathering place) and the diagonal rail right-of-way that was later used as the route of the BC Electric Inter urban Line. The street pattern is also a distinguishing feature. Granville Townsite was the first part of the city to be surveyed (1870), and is oriented to the original line of the waterfront; later surveys follow different alignments; the result is a radial pattern that breaks the traditional grid layout seen throughout the rest of the city. This is manifested in the closed street vistas, and in wedge-shaped lots that fostered the development of landmark 'flatiron' buildings distinctive to the area. After designation occurred in 1971, an extensive street beautification was undertaken. This was the first Canadian area-wide upgrading initiative for the purpose of heritage conservation, and still frames the historic tone of the area.
Within the boundaries of Gastown we can find:
- A distinctive and recognizably historic group of buildings that comprise a harmonious representation of western Canada's boom era.
- Historic open spaces
- Historic infrastructure
- An early example of historic district conservation and beautification
Gastown appears to fit all the criteria necessary to be considered for National Historic Site Designation.
Therefore, as a result of these considerations, the Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee reccomends that Vancouver City Council formally request the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to evaluate Gastown's potential for being declared an Historic District of national significance.