Visit Gastown and see this unique fixture that adds a nostalgic bit of novelty to the historic area with delights for three senses.
Vancouver’s Steam Clock resembles a large grandfather clock that someone has left out on the street. Ponder its odd shrouding of “white smoke” at the top. Listen to its machinery working busily inside and you will hear its Westminster-style whistle every 15 minutes with a toot on the hour. As its name suggests, the clock is partially powered by steam and is one of just a few in the world.
The clock is not only significant because of its uniqueness, but it also marks the western boundary of this portion of the city known as Gastown. It represents an earlier time when the byproduct of hot water was a source of energy. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this was a major industrial area. Businesses relied on steam to power machinery. Stand in the clock’s vicinity and realize that steam lines run below your feet to power the timepiece.
Read the plaques at the clock’s base and you’ll discover that a number of modern businesses and a Canadian airline are sponsors, meaning the clock can’t be as old as it looks. It was actually put in place in 1977. The clock’s works are only partially run by steam, with three electric motors making sure it keeps running on time.
The clock’s symbolism draws attention to an area that had a seedy past and was threatened with being replaced by a freeway in the 1960s. The community fought back and the next decade was a time for resurrection, restoration and a clock. Look around at the fine old buildings that surround the clock to realize how history can prevail, even if the centrally located timepiece is newer. Be watchful for the clock’s maker, Raymond Saunders, who checks on the clock twice a week and let’s people activate the whistle.
Visit the Steam Clock by journeying to the end of Water Street in the Gastown district. Travel by public transit that serves this area frequently from all parts of the city.