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Gastown: Vancouver’s historic hub

 

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While much of downtown Vancouver is dominated by modern, glass highrises, Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood represents the city’s historic beginnings. In the late 1800s, sawmill, seaport and railway converged here, making it an ideal hub for warehouses, saloons and hotels.

Now a national historic site, more than 100 of the old brick-and-wood buildings that line Gastown’s cobbled streets have been protected as reminders of the region’s heyday. Here, visitors pack the sidewalks to wait for the Steam Clock’s whistles to chime, and browse the shops and galleries where they can buy authentic B.C.-made Aboriginal crafts, from moose-hide moccasins to carved cedar masks.

Many people make their homes in the warehouses that have been converted into chic live-work condos overlooking the busy Burrard Inlet, where float planes land and container and cruise ships unload their precious cargo. Residents spill onto the streets to join the crowds at the annual TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival and to cheer on cyclists racing in the Tour de Gastown.

Come rain or shine, fashion enthusiasts can venture into acclaimed shoe store Fluevog, which originally opened its doors in Gastown in 1970, or international fashion design house Obakki — its chic clothing is manufactured in Vancouver. Bargain hunters can shop for deals at Army & Navy, a discount store packed with everything from fashionable footwear to fishing rods, that has made its home in Gastown since the 1900s.

Food also figures prominently in the Gastown scene; at least a dozen new restaurants and lounges have opened up in recent years. Places such as Pourhouse Vancouver and Boneta serve up inventive cuisine and devote equal attention to the cocktail menu. Lively little restaurants like Salt Tasting Room and Judas Goat Taberna are hidden haunts accessible through Blood Alley (Gastown’s gritty alleys have been immortalized in movies such as “Rumble in the Bronx,” starring Jackie Chan). Each eatery embodies a casual atmosphere where small plates of food have been designed for sampling and sharing.