Gastown Streets May Lose their Cobblestones

Photo credit: kk+ | Flickr

As world cities go, Vancouver – incorporated just 126 years ago in 1886 – is a young whipper-snapper.  But if there’s one place in the city that truly feels rich with history, it’s Gastown.

It was in Gastown, after all, where “Gassy” Jack Deighton opened the city’s first saloon back in 1867.  Many of the brick Victorian buildings in the neighbourhood today are originals – dating from the 1890s.   Strolling Gastown’s cobblestone streets, under its old-fashioned street lights, feels like stepping back in time.

At least for the moment.  A recent Vancouver Sun article reports that the days of Gastown’s cobblestones may be numbered.  Apparently, the stones are cracked and wearing out.  They’ve been patched and repatched over the years with asphalt.  They just can’t stand up to the traffic and the tour buses.  So, the city is considering whether it’s time for them to finally go.

Before you start a “Save the Cobblestones” petition, however, there is one quirky fact to be aware of.

The “historic” stones aren’t really that historic at all.  They actually date to 1974-1975, when Gastown underwent a wave of beautification to make it more tourist friendly.  The cobblestones look old, but they’re not.

Photo credit: billy416 | Flickr

So does this mean Gastown’s quaint and charming (if not exactly historic) streets are doomed to boring old asphalt in the near future?  Not quite.  City engineers are exploring options that preserve the character of the neighbourhood.  Brand-new, vintage-style cobblestones may well be in the cards.

The other good news is that the city is considering replacing the garish, fluorescent bulbs that illuminate Gastown’s streets at night.  Although the ornate old lampposts themselves are in keeping with the character of the district, the gray-green office-style lighting certainly is not.

All of these changes will take time.  The city isn’t expected to issue a definitive decision on the pesky cobblestones for about a year.  In the meantime, you can still admire the cracked and faded old pavers while waiting for the steam clock to blow its top.

Are cobblestone streets important to Gastown’s character?  Please weigh in below. 

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9 Responses to Gastown Streets May Lose their Cobblestones

  1. Brittany

    I really think that they should be kept. They are beautiful and truly add to the character of gastown. I am getting married in gastown next year, and a large part of our decision to marry there was to showcase it to our family coming from alberta. It is such a magnificent part of town and I do think that the cobblestone does contribute to that.

  2. They should absolutely be kept – in some form or another. Sure tottering over them in stilettos is less than ideal but they contribute so much to the texture and character of the neighbourhood.

    That being said, replacing them with newer vintage cobblestones sounds neat. And I’d love to see what the designers dream up for the streetlighting in this neighbourhood too.

  3. Daniel

    The Cobblestones (or bricks) should just be replaced, there are many places in the world that sell this kind of brickwork…. i dont even see why this is an issue… order them and replace them…

  4. cedric

    Vancouver is not the only town in the world with cobblestones. There is no reason to remove them. I lived in Paris and now in the north of France, we have a lot of cobblestones streets where buses and cars pass on. And there is no problem. It would be a shame if the city removes them. I think it’s only a matter of money and it’s a pity

    • Linda MacDonald

      Keeping cobbles part of history pass on the our future generation as history very important how far we have come.

  5. Gem

    As a resident I would be truly sad to see the uniqiueties of the area dissapear.

    Replacing the cobblestones & lighting are great ideas that I hope the city moves forward with. If they do plan for asphalt… I will be the first to sign the petition!

  6. Richard Toporoski

    Perhaps because I am a quintessential traditionalist, I have no attachment to the cobblestones in Gastown and see no reason for them to be kept or replaced — unless they are more economical than standard asphalt. The cobblestones that should be preserved are the truly original ones on the steep hills of Kitsilano. The stones in Gastown are not original, and their placing there in the 1970s certainly does not make them historic (just like the steam clock). I suppose the statue of John Deighton must now be kept (somewhere), but if I were to join any campaign, it would be to restore the fountain (and put the plaque now on Gassy Jack’s barrel plinth back on the fountain) that used to stand at that spot.

  7. Monte

    I like the cobblestones, but the road construction was done so poorly that the streets are hideous to drive on.

    They should keep the cobblestones, but build the road properly, starting by making an effective, well compacted road base.

    Perhaps hire a contractor from a colder province that knows how to build a road.

  8. It would be a sham to see the cobblestones removed. Even though they ar not historical, the provide a separation to this great historical area; I posted a short Gastown history here: http://angelvancouver.com/2013/02/22/a-short-history-of-gastown-the-birth-of-vancouver-canada/

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