The Magic of Gastown at Night – Acrylic on Canvas


Dimensions 30 × 40 in


When Christine and I were operating our art school and art gallery at 6th and Granville on Gallery Row in Vancouver we often went dancing at Guilt and Company in Gastown. The Club was down a stairway into the basement of building over 100 years old. You could tell by the massive timbers from the old growth forest. It was an interesting mix of people a lot of the worked in the movie industry hoping to win the lottery and become a movie star. Waitressing or bartending hustling tips paid the bills in expensive Vancouver.

In this composition I have two prominant Gastown monuments in the foreground. On the left is the bronze statue of Gassy Jack Deighton the founder of Gastown and on the right is the steam clock. Gastown is the original settlement that became the core of the city of Vancouver. The 1870 townsite boundaries are Water Street and the CPR track, Carrall Street Hasting Street and Cambie Street. The old Woodwards building and Dominion Building are included in the original townsite.

Gassy Jack was a Yorkshire seaman, steam boat captain, bartender who arrived in 1867 to open the first saloon. He was famous for talking at great length therefore the nickname, Gassy. His saloon came to be known as Gassy’s town shortened to Gastown. The town prospered as a result of the Hastings sawmill and a center for trade and commerce. Loggers, fisherman as well as crews and captains from sailing ships that came to the area. Moodyville or Port Moody had banned sale of alcohol making Gassy Jack’s saloon popular.

In the 1960’s Gastown, Chinatown and the historical Strathcona District were scheduled to be demolished for the new freeway. Fortunately the area was designated a historical site and protected from developers. Exposition art gallery opened flourished and attracted other businesses and the tourist and locals followed. A bicycle race takes place on the cobble stones in the summer as well the Vancouver Jazz Festival.

When I attended the Vancouver School of Art we had our painting studios in a rented historical building in Gastown with bay windows looking across to the North Shore Mountains. Our favourite watering hole was the Europe Hotel, in the Dominion building one of the original 19th century brick structures. Arguments would rage. Was painting dead, it had been around for 500 years since the Italian Renaissance invented oil painting. I remember an incident where an instructor a very conservative oil painter fueled by alcohol at a Friday Happy Hour literally got into a fight with a Dutch painter who looked like Van Gogh and was devout abstract expressionist. The Dutchman’s abstract works had almost an inch of oil paint applied with brush and palette knife. Fortunately his day job was driving truck for the main post office in downtown Vancouver so he could afford the extravagant use of oil paint. I loved his work and he offered me one for $125 however it was huge and would not fit in my Kraut Can, a 1963 VW Bug.

My first studio after graduating with honours in painting was in an old building at Columbia and Hastings. It was condemned and we had to hide out when the Fire Marshall did his inspection. I realized how the Jews felt in Nazi Germany. It was $50 per month for a space. Since the wiring didn’t work I had to buy a long extension cord from Army and Navy store, run it down three flights of stairs to where the electricity still functioned. We wore lots of cloths to stay warm.
Hastings street from 4 stories up was interesting. On the north side were the sex workers or hookers we called them in those day. Wearing their mini skirts, flashing the beaver to get the boys excited or sucking on a popsicle or banana in a suggestive way. On the southside of the street in the shadows were the junkies on the nod or drunks sleeping it off. Those were the days of Whistling Smith a sympathetic Vancouver policeman who went out of his to help these unfortunates. He whistled a happy tune as he patrolled his beat.

Fortunately I got lucky I was chosen by Canada Mining Cooperation to do oil paintings of their mining operations in the Northwest Territories. I did 53 oil paintings in 4 months all plein air with my portable, stand right easel which I still have. Then I finally got an art teaching job at North Island College and with the commission money had the down payment on my first house in Cumberland, an old mining town. Several years later I built my studio with a lot of Sweat equity on Hornby Island. It was a mecca for artists such as Jack Shadbolt. At the time Hornby Island had per capita more government grants per capita than anywhere in Canada. Art was everywhere on the Island. The government money was well spent.