Gastown’s most famous (though nowhere near oldest) landmark is the steam-powered clock on the corner of Cambie and Water Street. Built to cover a steam grate, part of Vancouver’s distributed steam-heating system, the clock was built as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather. Its original design was faulty and it had to be powered by electricity after a breakdown.
The steam mechanism was completely restored with the financial support of local businesses as it had become a major tourist attraction, and is promoted as a heritage feature although it is of modern invention. The steam used is low pressure downtown-wide steam heating network (from a plant adjacent to the Georgia Viaduct) that powers a miniature steam engine in its base, in turn driving a chain lift.
The chain lift moves steel balls upward, where they are unloaded and roll to a descending chain. The weight of the balls on the descending chain drives a conventional pendulum clock escapement, geared to the hands on the four faces. The steam also powers the clock’s sound production as whistles are used instead of bells to produce the Westminster “chime” and to signal the time.