As world cities go, Vancouver – incorporated just 126 years ago in 1886 – is a young whipper-snapper. But if there’s one place in the city that truly feels rich with history, it’s Gastown.
It was in Gastown, after all, where “Gassy” Jack Deighton opened the city’s first saloon back in 1867. Many of the brick Victorian buildings in the neighbourhood today are originals – dating from the 1890s. Strolling Gastown’s cobblestone streets, under its old-fashioned street lights, feels like stepping back in time.
At least for the moment. A recent Vancouver Sun article reports that the days of Gastown’s cobblestones may be numbered. Apparently, the stones are cracked and wearing out. They’ve been patched and repatched over the years with asphalt. They just can’t stand up to the traffic and the tour buses. So, the city is considering whether it’s time for them to finally go.
Before you start a “Save the Cobblestones” petition, however, there is one quirky fact to be aware of.
The “historic” stones aren’t really that historic at all. They actually date to 1974-1975, when Gastown underwent a wave of beautification to make it more tourist friendly. The cobblestones look old, but they’re not.
So does this mean Gastown’s quaint and charming (if not exactly historic) streets are doomed to boring old asphalt in the near future? Not quite. City engineers are exploring options that preserve the character of the neighbourhood. Brand-new, vintage-style cobblestones may well be in the cards.
The other good news is that the city is considering replacing the garish, fluorescent bulbs that illuminate Gastown’s streets at night. Although the ornate old lampposts themselves are in keeping with the character of the district, the gray-green office-style lighting certainly is not.
All of these changes will take time. The city isn’t expected to issue a definitive decision on the pesky cobblestones for about a year. In the meantime, you can still admire the cracked and faded old pavers while waiting for the steam clock to blow its top.
Are cobblestone streets important to Gastown’s character? Please weigh in below.