Updated: Feb 20, 2019
On a summer’s day you might see close to a hundred tourists standing on the corner of Water and Cambie Street; They have come to see the Steam clock.
Gastown’s beloved clock goes off every fifteen minutes, but saves its biggest show of steam for the top of the hour. The song it plays is the Westminster chimes. Rumour has it, the main whistle on the top of the clock is from a tugboat that used to service Burrard Inlet.
But what about the steam? Does it actually power the clock?
Yes, the steam does in fact power the clock. The steam drives a piston, which in turn powers the internal mechanisms needed for the clock to run. Truth be told, there are three additional electrical motors that assist the clock, but the majority of the machinery is powered by the steam line.
But where does the steam come from?
Well, the steam is produced across town at Creative Energy, a central heat distribution centre. Creative Energy provides steam to over 200 buildings in Vancouver on a 14 km steam line. This line was introduced in 1968 and uses natural gas boilers. Most of the buildings in Gastown are connected to this line.
The largest steam line in the world is in New York City. Their system provides steam to over 2,000 buildings with a network of pipes over 170 km long. Unfortunately for New York, their line is missing a steam clock.