Maple Tree Square in Gastown

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016 — 11:09am PDT
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Maple Tree Square sits at one of the most photographed, and most historic, intersections in Vancouver where Water, Powell, Alexander, and Carrall streets meet.

Byrnes Block Building, Gastown

It dates back to the time when Vancouver was called Granville Townsite, and when John “Gassy Jack” Deighton opened the area’s first saloon in 1867. Deighton had paddled over from New Westminster and and told mill workers that they could have all the whiskey they could drink if they helped him build a saloon. Within 24 hours “The Globe” was up and running.

1880 . “Gassy Jack’s Tree”. Photograph attributed to Joseph Davis. Archives# Dist P11.1.

An early Maple Tree Square timeline via Heart of the City:

January 1886, as the New Year began, maple trees, towering cedars, skunk cabbage and swamp surround Granville Townsite; salmon entered the streams of False Creek. Residents assemble on the shell midden under Gastown’s old maple tree for town meetings and performances. Most of the sawmill workers and longshoremen are Native, Metis, Hawaiian; the rest come from the four corners of the globe. Chinook is as common as English.

April 1886, newly arrived immigrant workers hold a strike at Hastings Mill for a 10-hour workday: Burrard Inlet’s first official labour dispute. Mill manager Alexander holds a conciliation committee meeting under the Maple Tree.

June 1886, the new police chief tears out the benches around Maple Tree Square to discourage loitering.

The area quickly became the young city’s centre of trade and commerce, and drinking. Over the next 40 years, 300 bars popped up within a 12 block radius.

1886. Maple Tree Square. Archives# Str P83.

Maple Tree Square

Maple Tree Square today features a statue of Gassy Jack, after whom the Gastown area was named; the Hotel Europe, which was built in 1909; the old Alahambra Hotel (Byrnes Block) building, built in 1887; along with offices, shops, services, and restaurants.

1907. Looking north on Carrall, toward Water. Photographer: Philip Timms. Archives# CVA 677-577.

Modern day Google Street View image of Maple Tree Square, with the Bynes Block on the left.

The Alhambra Hotel is part of the Byrnes Block, one of the oldest buildings in Vancouver that it still standing today. Many other structures from the early years around Maple Tree Square went up in flames during the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886.

Gastown has been through many changes over the years, including a restoration in the 1970s to pull it back from retrofits and renovations that suited the disco era. Among the changes, to preserve its distinctive and historic architecture, cobblestone streets replaced paved asphalt, and Maple Tree Square was assembled brick by brick to create a small plaza. A Steam Clock was also installed just up the street.

1968. Before reconstruction began. Archives item# CVA 780-690.

1972. Constructing the Maple Tree Square plaza in Gastown. Archives# CVA 780-726.

There was a push to have Gastown declared a historic site in 1971 but it wasn’t actually officially designated as a National Historic Site until 2009.

Gassy Jack

Today, you can enjoy a pint on the patio at Six Acres or Chill Winston, or enjoy an award-winning meal at L’Abattoir, as you look out at this historic meeting place, where the City of Vancouver began.

For more history about the area, check out Forbidden Vancouver’s Lost Souls of Gastown walking tour. The vintage photos in this post are all sourced from the City of Vancouver Archives.

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One comment

  1. Simon Jeffery says:

    Love that area of Vancouver. Interesting article about Gastown.

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