Gastown-Chinatown is in the east end of downtown Vancouver between the City Centre and East Van. It is one of the oldest parts of the city and much of the early architecture and character remains, giving it a different look and feel than the glass and concrete of the rest of downtown. Its precise boundaries are difficult to pin down, but it is roughly bounded by Gore St in the east, Dunsmuir St to the south, the railroad tracks to the north and Cambie St/Cordova St/Waterfront Station to the west.


The Millennium Gate at Chinatown's entrance

Much of the neighbourhood's distinctiveness is derived from their early importance to Vancouver and subsequent decline. Gastown emerged from a collection of shanties around a sawmill in the 1860s, later becoming part of the city of Vancouver when it was incorporated in 1886. It was the early entertainment district of the city with a large number of saloons and drinking establishments. Hastings Street, on its south side, became a commercial area with many of the city's early office buildings. Chinatown, to the southeast, was settled primarily by Chinese immigrants who came to Canada in the late 1800s to build the national railroad. Many remained in Canada and started their own businesses that helped make Chinatown, and Vancouver, flourish.

The city's business district slowly shifted westwards towards the Granville Street area and after the Great Depression, Gastown and Chinatown began a long decline. A proposal to demolish much of the area to make way for an expressway in the 1960s started a debate about their future and helped spark interest in the neighbourhoods. Renewal has been uneven, and today, Gastown and Chinatown (and the broader Downtown Eastside which they are part of) are in varying states of decay and restoration. Tourist spots and trendy bars sit just a couple of blocks from streetfront drug deals and hip new condos look over what is called Canada's poorest postal code.

The Gastown of today has all the appearances of mass-market tourism and can generate a bit of a love/hate feeling. It's a popular spot for the tour buses and the tacky souvenir shops know it... there's a new one every few storefronts. But the wide sidewalks, street level patios and old brick and stone buildings lend a charm and almost give it a European feel. Water Street has many of the tourist shops and restaurants while Cordova Street is more run-down (particularly east of Cambie St) and has a number of shops selling vintage items.

Chinatown, the second largest in area in North America, is further from the tourist path and feels rougher around the edges than Gastown. It has the usual tea shops and ducks hanging in the windows, but there are also beautiful gardens and an active night market in the summer.

Gastown and Chinatown

In between these neighbourhoods (Hastings Street) and east of them is the Downtown Eastside, an area known for its drug use, prostitution and homelessness. It's certainly walkable during the day, but some people may feel uncomfortable and it can be a dangerous area at night if you are not familiar with it. Other than cheap accommodation, there is little to attract the visitor so touring this area is not recommended.

Get in

Gastown begins outside of Waterfront Station (on Cordova St), so the easiest way is to walk in. Water Street, its main drag, will be the first street on the left.

Chinatown is also easily accessible on foot, just head east on Pender Street. The Millennium Gate, at Pender and Taylor, marks the entrance to Chinatown but most of the action is a few blocks further east and along Keefer Street, one block south. Another option is to take the SkyTrain and get off at the Stadium-Chinatown stop. Head north and just past the T&T will be Pender Street. The Millennium Gate is one block east.

A number of bus routes run through Gastown-Chinatown on their way to and from Commercial Drive and the Hasting Park area. Routes 10 and 16 head out Hastings Street towards the PNE, Route 20 heads out Hastings Street and then down Commercial Drive and Route 3 heads down Main Street through Mount Pleasant and South Main.

If travelling by car, Hastings Street is the major east-west street and connects with the Trans-Canada Highway.


The Man, The Legend, The Statue

Gastown is reputed to have got its name from one "Gassy" Jack Deighton, a steamboat operator, storyteller and the first proprietor of a saloon in Vancouver. Story has it that Jack rowed to the sawmill that had been built in present day Gastown, and in exchange for free whiskey, had the sawmill workers build a saloon within 24 hours of arriving. Business took off and the early townsite came to be known as Gastown. Jack passed away eight years later, but a statue stands today near the spot of his original saloon to commemorate his thirst-quenching contributions to Vancouver's development.

Both Gastown and Chinatown are interesting places to wander around in and of themselves. Some of the oldest buildings in the city are located here and Gastown has been refreshed with distinctive lamps and paving stone streets. Perhaps not authentic, but a nice contrast to the glass and steel towers just a couple of blocks away.


The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen gardens in Chinatown



This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including a drink but not a starter:
Budget $12 and under
Mid-range $13 - 25
Splurge over $25





Maple Square in Gastown


Accommodation in Gastown and Chinatown is of the budget variety, primarily hostels. If you are planning to stay in a hostel, it is probably better to ensure it is located west of Main Street and caters mainly to backpackers (tourists on a budget). If you are planning to find a cheap (significantly less than $90) hotel in this area, it is likely to be located in the "East Side", infamous for its prostitution and drug problems.


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