Gassy Jack statue in Gastown

March 7, 2013

By Elliot Chan

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Formerly published in MeetVanCity.com.

A small settlement established in the mid-19th century sat at the lip of downtown Vancouver. It was there that the city sprouted into the urban metropolis it is today. Gastown, the six-blocks long district that influenced so much of the city — But to understand the area, we must first understand the man the town was named after, Captain John “Gassy Jack” Deighton.

The word “gas” was an old Victorian slang. If someone was to be gassy, that meant they were very talkative. And Captain Deighton had a reputation for storytelling. The name Gassy Jack stuck and Gastown followed suit.

He was born in Hull, England where he became a sailor for a British fleet, but made a transition to American ships because they were of better quality and had greater provisions. Gassy Jack later became a well-respected steamboat captain on the Fraser River before he settled down and opened his saloon. Back before the cobble streets, Starbucks and high-rises, Gastown was an industrial area set in the wilderness. Gassy Jack took a gamble and developed a community to serve the mill workers. Inadvertently, he became the father of a new town. Expanding from his saloon out, Gastown and Vancouver grew from there.

His establishments were relocated multiple times, during the course of the town’s expansion. But the most memorable spot was on the intersection now known as Water and Carrall Street. It was an early construction, a 12-feet by 24-feet beaten shack that stood amidst the maple trees. The spot received the name, Maple Tree Square. The early days in Vancouver were not pleasant, as Gassy Jack describes, ”A lonesome place when I came here first, surrounded by Indians. I care not to look outdoors after dark. There was a friend of mine about a mile distant found with his head cut in two. The Indian was caught and hanged.”

Times have changed; but in the spot where Gassy Jack shaped the core of downtown Vancouver is a statue resurrected in his honour. For the man that set the city in motion, Gassy Jack will remain a prime figure in Vancouver history.

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