Gastown Steamclock Saga

Monday, July 16th, 2007 — 12:45pm PDT
Comments 11

Every single workday I walk through hoards of tourists all crowded around the steamclock in Gastown. On the 15’s, 30’s and 45’s it lets out a little toot and on the hour it plays its little steamy whistles for about a minute. Now, I’ve unveiled the “true” steamclock in a previous post and I for one know of at least a dozen locals who can’t stand the sight of the thing:

I enjoy the coffee, I enjoy the coffee often. In order to get to my green logo’d dealer I must bob and weave through this sadly miss led crowd of photographers whom appear to be awaiting a press conference from the next alleged father of Anna Nicole’s baby. Does it anger me, well…yes! After all I’m Jonesing for my caffeine fix and tripods and the likes slow me up which increases my withdrawal headache to the point of having irrational thoughts about loading up a golf cart up with screechers and bottle rockets and driving it through the clock to put and end to the madness. Daddy needs to feed the addiction, damn it!
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This weekend Keira and I decided to be tourists in our own town, checking out all the tacky tourist shops along Water Street. We got out alive although we narrowly averted purchasing some maple syrup in a can. We decided a pretty fun thing to do would be to take our picture with the locally-despised clock on the corner of Cambie and Water. As we stood there, posing like so many visitors to our city do every second of every day, we giggled. Many times have we walked by this cursed landmark from the days of disco and scoffed at those taking photos, and now here we are, posing all cheeky-like and doing the same.

Photo credit: Keira on Flickr

I think the best part was, while we were posing facetiously a couple walked by us and snidely remarked, “… Seems like everyone is taking photos of that clock pfffft!” I had to laugh because they did what we do pretty much every day. Oh well, it was a good time to hang out and be silly in Gastown and our photo is, as Keira fittingly deemed it, dedicated to Merle and all those who just can’t comprehend why a faux-steam clock would attract so much attention in this fair city.

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  1. So we live in one of the most beautiful and envied cities in the world. We truck in thousands upon thousands of tourists and the best we give them is … a fake clock, that wouldn’t even be interesting if it were real!

    Don’t get me wrong I am a huge admirer of things horological but this is not, nor has it ever been one of the highlights (pick something like a 300 year old clock made entirely of wood that requires no oil (John Harrison), just as an example!). To me the clock is no better than those big bears / moose (the fake stuffed ones that is!) you see in places like Whistler.

    It’s somewhere to take your picture, but if you were a Tourist, where would be the best place to take your picture with a Vancouver back-drop? A theme for Duane’s photo series?

  2. Rebecca says:

    Definitely, that’s an awesome idea!

  3. Loxy says:

    The sound of those chimes are forever etched in my mind.

    (And just outside of your picture, the Oilers bar of Vancouver – the black frog)

  4. MJ Ankenman says:

    Back in university, I wrote an essay on the need for Tourists to document their travels with photographs, in order to prove that they were there. Memory is not enough, visual proof is necessary. “See….there I am in front of the Grand Canyon…I was there”. Being a student of photography, I felt above this “common” need and refused to have myself in any of my photos. My photos were of a higher form. Ha!

    As the years went by I realized I had so few photos of myself that I decided to start smiling and put myself in photos. Those photos are now the ones that bring back a lot of memories of the time and make me smile, again. Now I shot “tourist” pictures all the time.

    I like the photo of you and your friend with the clock in the background. It sets the scene and its fun …like the angle as well.

    Although I must say I’m a bit dismayed by the fact that the Gastown Clock is not a real steam clock, I think it’s pretty and its fun to hear it go off. I always clap when I go by and its tooting. So I say, tourists shot away and enjoy.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I must admit, I take photos of strange things when I’m on vacation too… just off the top of my head when my family was driving across Canada in 1990 we kept seeing these signs in Manitoba that read: “10 seconds to orbit!” About 10 seconds later along the road there were these little round, space-pod-looking things that turned out to be garbage cans. We thought that was the cutest thing so I have a pic of my brother, sister and I all standing around the “orbit”/garbage can. :-p

  6. David says:

    I’m nearing my last week of working just across the street from the clock. After 2 or so years, I have to say that I’m going to miss those toots on the quarter hours and the throngs of silly tourists waiting expectantly for the Westminster Chimes performed in Willy-Wonka-ish gears and steam. Many a meeting in the conference room (at the front of the building) featured those periodic whistles, to the point where we all ignore them.

    Ah, there it goes again, faintly on the half hour.

    As for it not being a ‘real’ steam clock, London Bridge is not really London Bridge (Tower Bridge is the one people want to see), and I’m pretty sure that the Eiffel Tower was supposed to be a temporary structure for the Paris Exposition.

    My favourite ‘fake’ tourist attraction is at the campus of Cambridge University. There was a special bridge there called the ‘Mathematical Bridge’ that was originally built without a single nail, using complex geometric rules of balance and stress. The Victorians took it apart to see how it worked, and couldn’t put it back together again without including a huge metal nail every 5 centimeters or so (!). They still call it the Mathematical Bridge, but now it just looks odd, for no practical reason. I think of the Steam Clock as something like that; an echo of a bit of cleverness that we admire, even if we can’t see the original.

  7. Keira-Anne says:

    I had so much fun with you doing so, but I’ll not lie – I felt like the biggest knob standing there looking like a tourist. Hehehe…

  8. I have to defend London Bridge – to my mind, the only people who thought it was ‘Tower Bridge’ was the Americans who purchased it. More seriously, in the UK I remember seeing the occasional folly (as Wikipedia says ‘an extravagant, frivolous or fanciful building, designed more for artistic expression than for practicality’) and I’ve seen some great trompe-l’Å“il. The ‘steam’ clock however, is more in keeping with the tat you find in ‘souvenir’ shops. It does the city a dis-service but you know something, the photo WAS fun. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant about it again!

  9. […] wonder if the Steamclock is in there anywhere. Good on Ms Stibbard, but I swear anyone can make up awards of distinction […]

  10. […] been blogging about my discovery of the neighbourhood ever since. Where to get lunch, what to see and do, and where to get a great sammich. Well yesterday our company moved out of our cramped, […]

  11. […] (and their Nabob Coffee) at the turn of the last century. From there we continued down water to the infamous steamclock. I admit, I had my camera out for the entire trip but already looking like a tourist I wasn’t […]

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