[by Glenn Tkach]
The Hastings Mill was the site of the earliest settlement in what would eventually become Vancouver. Originally, the mill had a different name. Captain Edward Stamp named it after himself when he opened it in 1867. But after his abrupt retirement in 1870, a company from San Francisco purchased Stamp’s Mill and it became the Hastings Sawmill Company. The photo above shows the Labour Day Parade, departing from the Hastings Mill, in 1898.
The men who worked at the mill, out on the edge of this vast continent, also lived there. And some of these men had their families with them. So this commercial enterprise grew into a small community, complete with a school and a general store. The store carried a range of groceries, tobacco, pipes, scented hair oil, and other odds and ends.
It sold red and blue underwear – two kinds! People believed red underwear was a cure for rheumatism, so it outsold the blue. The store also sold several patent medicines. One of the early shopkeepers, Calvert Simson, described how two of these medicines, “…being 75 per cent alcohol, were in much demand in the camps.”
Hastings Mill was a dry mill. No alcohol was allowed on site for consumption. If you wanted a drink at the end of a hard week’s work, you only had one option. (Aside from a drink of Pain’s Celery Compound, that is.) If patent medicine wasn’t enough to shake your thirst, then you had a ten-mile walk ahead of you. The closest saloon was located in New Westminster.
That was until 1867, when a man known as Gassy Jack Deighton approached some of the men living at the Hastings Mill with an idea. He offered to build a saloon one short mile away – just outside of the mill’s jurisdiction.
You can guess how the men responded. They built the resulting saloon on the spot of what is now called Maple Tree Square. A statue of Gassy Jack now marks the spot. This saloon was the beginning of what townsfolk would soon call “Gassy’s Town.”, or as we now know it, Gastown. Gastown, of course, is still home to many popular drinking establishments and is a favourite spot for Vancouverites and tourists alike.
The Hastings Mill General Store still remains to this day. It survived the Great Fire of 1886, and it is the oldest building in Vancouver. The mill itself is no longer there. And the store is no longer where it originally stood, at the foot of Dunlevy Avenue. A barge moved the entire structure to Point Grey in 1931. It is now the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum, full of strange relics and curiosities from a bygone era.
To find out more about the earliest days of Vancouver, and Gassy Jack Deighton himself, join us on The Lost Souls of Gastown Tour.