VHF Railtown Walking Tour

The Walking Tour season for Vancouver Heritage Foundation has just finished.  If you would like to go on these tours, contact the Foundation or check their website some time next year to see what tours they have in store for us in 2014.

This time our Railtown walking tour actually started in or at the edge of Gastown.  I guess it depends who you talk to.  The Railtown moniker is quite young and not well defined.  I only heard the name a year or two ago.  We started right a the Gassy Jack Statue in the midst of some nasty traffic snarl.  That offered me a chance to take some nice photos of the colourful Juice Truck stuck in the middle of the Alexander/Powell/Carrall/Water intersection.

We walked down Alexander Street.  You often wouldn’t notice, but the railroad tracks are just on the other side of the buildings along Alexander Street.  If you look closely at the buildings, there look to be places where cornices run along the middle of the building.  Many of these buildings were actually added onto.  In order to keep the heritage building, the City of Vancouver would allow developers to add floors on top of the existing building.  A pretty neat feature on some of the buildings along Alexander Street

You can obviously tell that people live in many of these buildings.  Our ever-entertaining guide, Maurice Guibord, asked us if any of us would want to live next to the railway tracks.  A few in the group raised their hands.  I’m not sure I would like to hear the clanking of railway cars connecting and the sound of the locomotive engine rolling past my window.

We walked in a block to Powell Street because Maurice wanted to show us a old converted brick warehouse.  It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but this is Bryan Adams’ Vancouver studio.  How cool is it that Bryan Adams has his studio on the edges of the Downtown Eastside, Gastown, and Railtown?  And is that a rooftop patio I spy with my little eye?

We went back to Alexander and Columbia.  On the north side of Alexander Street sits the Columbia Street Pump Station.  What’s neat about this pump station is that it’s not just a simple pump station; it’s part interpretative centre and has information on the pumps and some First Nations info.

Then we walked to Main Street next.  I didn’t realize I could walk so quickly from Gastown to Main Street.  To be honest I had never walked between Carrall Street and Main Street, but it’s really, really close.  At the foot of Main Street is the overpass to get over the railroad tracks.  It offered a wonderful view of downtown and Burrard Inlet.  It’s a very little known part of the city that has a great view of the city and harbour.

Again, we returned to Alexander Street and we came to a non-descript, industrial building.  Maurice knocked on the door and rang the doorbell.  Was somebody expecting us?  We thought nobody was home until I caught a glimpse of somebody on the other side of the window.  This was Ironworks Studio. It’s a very secluded and little known venue for entertaining guests.  What a great space!  It was a real treat to go inside and take a peek.

After about 5 minutes taking in the great interior of Ironworks Studio, we were back onto Alexander Street.  Maurice took us up to a small 100+ year wood-sided Japanese Rooming House called Ross House.  The name comes from Charles Haynes’ son, Ross.  Haynes’ lost his son to a heroin overdose in 2000.  He then subsequently poured his heart into helping those on the Downtown Eastside.  Haynes has been slowing restoring and renovating the home since 2006.  These are the beautiful stories that hide behind some of these simple buildings in our own city.

Near Ross House, Alexander Street is actually no longer right next to the railroad tracks.  Starting from Gore Avenue, there is Railway Street that is now next to the rails.  We walked past a collection of new businesses in the area.  It was a mix of Information Technology, fashion, interior decoration, and design firms.  I guess this neighbourhood would fit well into Richard Florida’s Creative Class.

Just on the other side of the rails, we couldn’t walk over to it, but there was an old blue house.  This is the Flying Angels’ Seafarers Club.  It is owned by the Mission to Seafarers.  It’s actually housed in an old showhome from 1906 that was once owned by BC Mills Timber and Trading Co.  We couldn’t get a good view of it from where we were.

We managed to peak our heads into another place in Railtown.  We traipsed into the Union Wood & Supply Company’s storefront and workshop.  They were busy preparing for the Industrial Design Show West that was coming up soon at the time.

Right next to Union Wood Company is what I’ll call Fashion Warehouse Central.  I can’t figure out the official name at this time.  This warehouse is home to a lot of fashion headquarters like Aritzia.

Back up on Alexander Street, we came across the new home for single mothers in the Downtown Eastside.  It’s not just any home, though.  It’s a new home built of old shipping containers.  The Vancouver Sun says it cost about $82,500 per unit.  Usual costs with concrete construction would have been around $220,000.  The City of Vancouver kicked in about $92,000 for the whole project.  When I had posted the story on my Facebook way back in August, one of my FB friends said it was a waste of money.  I think any money spent to get somebody off the street and with a roof over the head is worth it.  The money to support a person living on the street (costs to law enforcement and the health system) is probably more than the cost of housing them.  That’s my 2 cents.

So like all tours, it must come to an end.  We ended ours this day at the Vancouver Urban Winery.  This is a neat place.  They take wine from some of the big wineries in BC and put them into stainless steel kegs for wine-on-tap.  They even ship wine in these kegs to local wine bars.  No time for wine this time, but it would be worth a re-visit to the Vancouver Urban Winery.

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