Debt list for Gassy Jack Deighton, one of Vancouver’s founders, goes up for auction

Click to play video: 'Debt letters of legendary Vancouver pioneer Gassy Jack up for auction'
Debt letters of legendary Vancouver pioneer Gassy Jack up for auction
WATCH: Letters showing the debts left behind by Vancouver pioneer "Gassy Jack" are up for auction. Ted Field takes a look at the fascinating artifacts of Vancouver's sometimes sketchy past – Mar 7, 2019

For many people walking through Gastown, Gassy Jack Deighton is just the name on a weird statue standing on top of what looks like a beer keg.

But he was a trailblazer.

In the 1860s, a sawmill opened on the shores of Burrard Inlet and he saw a business opportunity.

Vancouver civic historian John Atkin says the recipe was simple for Deighton.

“Men [were] sitting on a coastline with nothing to do so everyone, the wife, the mother — they all moved to Burrard Inlet and started a saloon,” Atkin said.

Other people started moving to “Gassy’s Town” and eventually Gastown was given the more formal name, “Vancouver.”

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A view of what would be known as Gastown on the shores of the Burrard Inlet in the 1860s. Global News

But it seems even “way back when” Vancouver was a pricey place to live.

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When Gassy Jack died he left behind $5,000 in debt — sort of a 19th century line of credit.

“John Irving was one guy who Gassy Jack sent a letter to saying, ‘I owe you $500,’ but died before he could make good on that debt,” Brian Grant Duff with All Nations Stamp and Coin said.

The I.O.U. list for one of the city’s founders is up for auction this weekend.

“Everyone owed each other money, and promissory notes were the coin of the realm so to speak,” Duff said.

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Gassy Jack lived the life — chasing gold, operating as a riverboat man — but the hotel and saloon made him famous.

“The money to be made in the gold rush was not the hard work of digging it out of the ground, but parting miners from their gold,” Duff said.

After the debts were paid, there was $300 left, and it went to his mother.

The statue of Gassy Jack in Gastown. Global News

The idea of having a piece of history has its allure — maybe you could hang it in a Gastown condo.

“Absolutely,” Duff said, “as long as you frame it in such a way that the ink doesn’t fade.”

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