What started as a manufactured tourist destination has captured the hearts of Vancouverites and become a real neighbourhood. But as reporters Jeremy Lye and Estefania Duran found out, it might be necessary to let Gastown evolve, in order to preserve it.
But despite the constant change there’s one store that’s stood the test of time while many others haven’t.
The store that stood the test of time
Anne Banner is the owner of Salmagundi – a unique store in Gastown that has been open for almost half a century.
“A lot of it has vanished, I don’t really recognize most of the places now. I remember it being a little more bohemian, a little variety of different vintage things and stores. There was an antique mall, I seem to remember.”
A civic historian in Vancouver, John Atkin, has been studying the evolution of the city and its neighbourhoods for years – including Gastown.
“What had happened with Gastown is that we had a whole bunch of old warehouses, all that had moved to the South East of the city, and so now you had empty storefronts. Well that long lost tribe of humans called hippies started moving in and opening the shops, and at the same time the City of Vancouver recognized the district for its uniqueness so there was a plan to create a district.”
And that’s when Gastown’s evolution began. In 1971, the planning of a true tourist haven began, says Atkin, drawing design influence from Victorian landscape. That’s how we ended up with those romantic streetlights you can’t find elsewhere.
But recently – then the neighbourhood began experiencing change once again.
New stores moved into Gastown, while old ones had to find their place in the community. So what caused this shift?
“And so there’s all these residential buildings inside the area, that’s what’s giving Gastown its “oomph” because suddenly you’ve got a resident population; you want to eat, you want to shop, and suddenly the tacky t-shirt shops are kind of pushed to the margins.”
And Vancouverites have noticed the change, but understand its necessity, too.
“We have to adapt to the times and you know adapting means maybe changing the product to suit the costumer’s needs, bringing in different concepts, bringing in different things… Like you have to change with the times to accommodate the higher rents,” says Banner.
Staying unique amidst constant transformation
Atkin says trying to limit or label Gastown would actually be detrimental. He says the reason the neighbourhood works is because it has been forming and changing ever since it was first created.
He says Gastown has found its way to be unique – with changes and all.
“You would never want to try and restore its authentic quality because, again, what’s its authentic quality? The beautification is now authentic so it’s all part of the neighbourhood and so that’s, I think, the beauty and fascination with this place is that it’s a historic part of the city but it’s an absolutely artificial creation. But that artificial creation is now the authentic Gastown.”