John Deighton was born in the port town of Hull, England, in 1830, though he spent his early years at sea. A voracious storyteller and lusty talker, the barrel-chested Deighton was given the nickname “Gassy Jack.”
Gassy Jack worked on a clipper going to San Francisco during the Gold Rush, then spent time in Hong Kong and in England before returning to North America for good. After a fruitless search for gold, he ended up heading north to New Caledonia (now British Columbia). He had no luck there either, but spent time piloting river steamships and dreaming of owning a bar.
In 1867, Gassy Jack opened the Globe Saloon to satisfy the thirsty workers of a mill, cleverly persuading them to build the shack in return for a sort of “happy hour” of free whiskey. Despite setbacks, Deighton was sure that the Burrard Inlet would become a harbor in time. So, with family and whiskey barrels in hand, he became the patriarch of the community that slowly built up here.
The area became known as Gastown after him, though it was officially named Grainville in 1870. The town’s official status meant Gassy Jack now had no formal land agreement for his bar, which wound up getting demolished. He then built the Deighton Hotel, a grand, two-story affair with a billiard room and large bar.
Plagued by poor health from a young age, Deighton died aged just 44 in 1875. He lay in an unmarked grave for nearly a century before he was located at Fraserview Cemetery. Gassy Jack’s bronze statue stands in Maple Tree Square close to the former site of his beloved earlier saloon. It was sculpted from bronze by artist Vern Simpson following a drawing by Fritz Jacobson, and was completed in 1970. It’s an imposing six feet, six inches tall, though that’s partly because Jack is standing on a whisky barrel and a wide brick plinth.
Today, Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood is a thriving area of stores, art galleries, restaurants, and of course, bars. It’s a favorite for tourists too, in part due to the whistling Steam Clock and Victorian architecture.
Update: The statue was taken down during a protest in February 2022.
Know Before You Go
There’s a second, slightly different and slightly shorter, bronze Gassy Jack II statue in the Herschel Supply Co store here. Simpson was commissioned Simpson to create another in 2018, though this time Gassy wears a certain backpack...