Gastown, a Vancouver neighbourhood beloved by many for the restaurants, bars and pubs. But to connoisseurs of history, Gastown stands out as the foundation stone of the city.
Everything here is dipped in heritage: the cobbled roads, the lamps that light up its nightlife and the buildings. For this series of articles, the focus will mainly be on the latter – the many beautiful heritage buildings of Gastown.
In this issue, the focus is on Hotel Europe.
In all its glory
Vancouver’s very own flat iron building stands tall at 43 Powell Street, across from the statue of Gassy Jack in the Gastown neighbourhood. Before Hotel Europe stood on these grounds, it was the site of a restaurant called the Tivoli Saloon. It is said that they advertised for a free lunch with the purchase of a schooner of beer for a mere 5 cents. A police raid in the year 1886 left the Tivoli infamous when a whopping $10.75 was seized from an illegal gambling game. The building was then purchased by hotelier Angelo B. Calori.
Calori, an immigrant who came to British Columbia as an unskilled labourer, soon rose to fame for being one of the only Italian-immigrant entrepreneurs to be successful in the city before the depression of 1930. He commissioned the construction of this building to the city’s most prolific architect duo at the time: James Edmeston Parr and Thomas Arthur Fee. Parr and Fee went on to complete this structure in the year 1909. As of today, Hotel Europe is now 110 years old. It was the first of its kind to be built with concrete frames, which made it one of the first ever fireproof hotels built in western Canada.
At its prime, Hotel Europe was one of the city’s finest, in terms of luxury, architecture and location. It was close to the steamship docks at the foot of Columbia Street and attracted many that came into the city just as it would have today. However, it is now a government subsidized housing that is not open to the public anymore. Towards the end, it is said that the hotel became disrepute as a brothel.
Many things remain untouched in this heritage building: the marble flooring, the tile work in the lobby and the glasswork in the entranceway. And finally, small glass tiles you may have seen on the floor, on Alexander Street. These glass tiles provided light to an underground parlour, known as an areaway, during the hotel’s functional days.
Something fascinating that surrounds old, heritage buildings are the rumours that we may never be able to confirm. One such rumour is that the Europe Hotel is haunted.
The first supernatural encounter in the hotel was experienced by a contractor, in the 1980s, who was working in one of the underground cellars. He heard scratches on the brick walls behind him and is said to have felt a ‘bad presence’ around him. These scratching noises can apparently be heard even today.
A second account from the early 2000s is that of someone having sighted an apparition of a tall man wearing a black coat and a flat cap. He appears in the poster shop in the bottommost level of the building and has been seen more than once. Whether the scratching sounds are that of mice or spirits, and whether the apparition is of a spirit or a fragment of one’s imagination, we will never completely know.
The beauty of heritage buildings are the reminders of the years that have gone by. And in those years, many things have changed. There may have been wars, natural and man-made disasters. But these buildings have stood through it all, knowing the city the longest and telling the most interesting stories through their doorways, columns and walls.