It's one of Vancouver's most iconic landmarks.
Gastown's famous steam clock was built as a tourist attraction in 1977 by renowned local horologist (clockmaker) Raymond Saunders. Nestled at the corner of Cambie and Water streets, it's one of only a handful of working steam clocks in the world.
The price tag at the time of installation was $58,000. It was paid for by the city, local businesses, and private donors.
The clock was originally constructed to cover a steam grate that was part of the city's steam-heating distribution system.
The clock's steam engine was manufactured in England and is a type usually used by hobbyists to power large model boats. The clock mechanism was inspired by an 1875 British clock tower design.
Despite its name, the old timekeeper is only partially steam-powered.
"Steam and the reliability of that proved to be a problem. They actually ran it, when it was unveiled, with an auxiliary electric motor and that's what's happened ever since," explains civic historian John Atkin.
A facility near the Georgia Viaduct provides steam underground that is channelled into the base of the clock and pressurized by a series of valves. A tiny auxiliary electric motor inside the clock also works in tandem with a gravity-fed chain drive that uses steel balls to move the clock's hands.
The steam is also responsible for the clock’s distinctive noise, which produces the Westminster chime melody (the same as London's Big Ben) on five brass whistles every quarter-hour.
Gastown's clock design was Victorian-inspired as a way to preserve the historic feel of the neighbourhood. Its bronze base weighs roughly 2,200 pounds.
Over the years it's been damaged by cars and was temporarily taken down for some much-needed repairs to the timing mechanism several years ago. The chime volume has also been gradually lowered, as it used to rattle nearby windows.
There's even a near-replica of Vancouver's clock in Otaru, Japan, also made by Raymond Saunders.
The Gastown Steam Clock remains a fixture in the city and continues to draw onlookers from all over the world.
"It is one of the most successful tourist landmarks and probably, outside of the totem poles in Stanley Park, the most photographed object in Vancouver," remarks Atkin.