October 29

The Dark and Ugly Side of Vancouver

Don’t be fooled: despite its splendid architecture, window covered skyscrapers, clever layout and close relationship with nature (just look at the parks, the canals or the trees you’ll find atop so many buildings) there’s a not-so-pretty side to this otherwise very well known metropolis. No, I’m not going to write about its Eastside neighborhood, but rather a tour review of a fantastic tour run by Forbidden Vancouver in which participants learn how Vancouver  is actually an expansion of Gastown, currently a very visited and popular area that later became Granville Townsite, a violent frontier town of hustlers and thieves, vagabonds and bawdy girls.

dark side of vancouver
Sarah, our time traveling guide who showed and explained what Gastown was all about.

The Lost Souls of Gastown

Starting at 8pm, Cathedral Square in Vancouver seemed to me an ideal place where to begin this tour which, among teaching and being entertaining, also likes to give the creeps when possible, and rightfully so. By the time I got there a few of the other participants were already chatting with Tiffany Anderson, our guide and story teller who would make this one of my favorite tours ever. You see, this is not the typical tour where a guide walks around a city pointing at places while speaking and participants stare and listen; it’s far from that. I prefer to think of it as as a theater performance where the city itself becomes the stage. Tiffany plays the role of Sarah Bray, a well intentioned young female who’s faced with the harsh reality of living in a frontier town during its early years, having to make a living by taking jobs one would rather avoid, and winning and loosing friends along the way.

As we followed Sarah along back alleys in Gastown into old hotels and across buildings, we learned about how Gassy Jack (who was eventually murdered ) founded this city by building a saloon in a day, how the city was burned to ashes and came back in full force, how the threat of plague shaped the lives of families Sarah, and saw real pictures of what some locations were like by then and some still hold on to date.

It’s Not Your Typical Tour

Not even close. I consider this tour to be a superb performance by a skilled actress who’s able to modulate her voice and accent while wearing a costume that immediately takes you back in time. Perhaps you should know that I dislike group tours profoundly, and much prefer exploring on my own taking pictures at my own pace. But “The lost souls of Gastown” is very far from being such a tour, though I do have to say that taking good pictures is not easy because of the lack of light.


“The lost souls of Gastown” may well be my favorite tour ever. Sarah’s role is excellently played, the tour itself is very well thought out and the 90 minutes it lasts fly by. Make sure you show up with an umbrella if you think it’s going to rain, comfortable walking shoes, and you’re set. The tour ends on Maple Square, a great place from which to walk to one of the many nearby restaurants and bars to grab a bite or a drink if you don’t have to wake up early the following morning.


Website: http://www.forbiddenvancouver.ca


My participation on this tour was complimentary, however all opinions shared in this post are genuine and entirely my own. In case you’re wondering, this is not the first tour I’m invited to. Or second. Or third.



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  1. Love it when a tour isn’t just a tour, but provides great entertainment value as well. Sounds like fun, I hope you tipped your fabulous guide well!

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