"Gassy" Jack Deighton
“Gassy” Jack Deighton

The year was 1867, and Vancouver was but a mere settlement. At the centre of industry was the Hastings Mill, founded by Captain Edward Stamp to produce lumber for the rapidly growing Pacific Northwest.

Down the street from the mill, an entrepreneurial steamboat captain and barkeep, Mr. “Gassy” Jack Deighton, known for his absurd and outgoing stories, saw an opportunity and jumped on it, opening the first saloon in the Burrard inlet.  Legend has it all he had to his name was some old furniture, a dog, and $6.

Deighton, being an outgoing opportunist, managed to convince idle sawmill workers to build his bar, in exchange for all the whiskey they could drink — in one sitting. The closest bar was 40 kilometres away so the workers figured it a good trade. With this exchange of “goods” the first saloon was built, and “Gastown” was born and rapidly became an economic hot spot for all the trade and commerce occurring in British Columbia.

Vancouver after the Great Fire
Vancouver after the Great Fire

Not long after, in June of 1886, a land clearing brush fire got out of hand and, because all the buildings were made of wood, cleared a swath from Main street east, sparing only one stone building in the West End, the Hastings Mill Store, and a few structures on the banks of False Creek.   One day after the fire, Vancouver City Hall was sited at 1 Alexander Street.  Observed alderman L.A. Hamilton, “I don’t suppose in history that a city hall was built as rapidly as this one – a tent – I erected it in five minutes the morning after the fire… I got a can of paint and a brush and labeled it ‘City Hall’”.

The Fastest City Hall Ever Built
City Hall at 1 Alexander Street, the day after the Great Fire

In the photo, the mayor is seated fourth from the left, with alderman Thomas Dunn, the owner of the property, standing third from the left. The tenacious city of Vancouver learned a valuable lesson and within four days of the fire, construction began, this time everything being made of brick and stone.

Two years after the devastating fire, Thomas Dunn hired architect N.S. Hoffar to build the now famous, 1 Alexander Street building for his ship chandlery and hardware business. The massive building was built to the highest standards of the day and featured large floor plates, granite pillars, stone-block arched windows and a low ceiled attic floor with arched windows. This impressive building is indicative of how successful a business man Thomas Dunn was, and also of the success the wholesale trade was seeing during this period.

After the Klondike Gold Rush crashed Dunn was forced to sell the building. The buyer was Boyd, Burns and Co., a leading engineering and mill supply company. In 1907, a four-storey addition was built to the east of the building and can be seen, virtually unchanged, today.  The building has housed many different tenants over the past 117 years, and is now considered one of the most historically rich buildings in Vancouver.

Low Tide Properties is the newest owner of the building, and we have every intention of maintaining the character and entrepreneurial spirit that 1 Alexander represents. Today, 1 Alexander Street houses the popular and independent gastrolounge, Chill Winston, with a large patio in the summer spilling into Maple Tree Square. In the basement Guilt and Co. is one of the few places in the city offering live music and large pints, that would have made Mr. Gassy Jack Deighton Proud.

References

  • McDonald, R. A. (1996). Making Vancouver: Class, status and social boundaries, 1863-1913. Vancouver, BC, Canada: UBC Press, p 7.
  • Greg Middleton. “Vancouver Crime”. The Greater Vancouver Book.
  • Gastown Business Improvement Society – Western Economic Diversification Canada – Plaque