The Gastown Steam Clock
The Gastown Steam Clock located at the northwest corner of Water and Cambie Streets is practically impossible to miss. The highly ornate clock weighs over two tons, has four illuminated clock faces for easy viewing at night, and blasts steam into the air from its top every fifteen minutes. Its chimes play the same tune as the Big Ben chimes of London’s Westminster. Even more obvious is the crowd of tourists that surround the clock every 15 minutes as they wait for the chimes to play. The clock may appear old, but it was constructed in 1977 by Ray Saunders, a local clock maker. The design is based o n a 1875 design. The steam for the clock is a byproduct of underground pipes that supply heat to several downtown buildings. Usually the excess steam escapes through grates in the sidewalk. Sometimes the city puts planters above these vents to add a more decorative element. In this case, the city choose to use this unique clock that has become a must-see for Vancouver tourists.
Located on the souther n bank of False Creek at the foot of the Granville Street Bridge, Granville Island is a very popular tourist attraction. It began its existence as a 8-hectare or 20-acre shallow sandbar that was a favorite location for the local Squamish tribe to place their fish nets during their winter camping along False Creek. With the destruction of Vancouver from the Great Fire of 1886, many homeless white settlers moved to a squatter’s camp in this general area. The next great amount of interest shown to the large sandbar was with the opening of the Granville Street Bridge on January 4, 1889. This bridge not only linked the two sides of False Creek but also created a new industrial section of the city. A group of businessmen lead by Hugh Keefer decided that the sandbar would make a perfect place for a new sawmill if it could just be filled in, which they immediately began to do without getting permission from the city. Vancouver’s harbor master ordered them to stop driving pilings into the sandbar immediately. His order only resulted in the pilings being driven faster with crews working on it day and night. Where the city failed to stop the piling work, the city’s largest landowner, the Canadian Pacific Railway, also known as CPR, succeeded by convincing a judge that the sandbar was their property and the men were trespassing. Keefer attempted to buy the property from the CPR but was turned down. The CPR felt it had plenty land in Vancouver already without creating an island.
Canada Place, located at the end of Burrard Street and extending into the Vancouver Harbor, was originally a pier. It was converted into the Canada pavilion for Expo 86, the last World’s Fair in North America,. The theme of the Expo was “Transportation and Communication: World in Motion – World in Touch” and was to highlight how Vancouver had evolved into one of the world’s major port and transportation hubs. The architecture of the Canada pavilion was to make the facility appear to be a gleaming ship with full white sails that might set sail at any moment. After the Expo, the Canadian pavilion was renamed “Canada Place” and was converted to a multi-use facility that includes a convention center, a hotel with restaurant and spa, and an IMAX theater. Canada Place is used as a docking point for cruise ships, especially in the busy summer travel season.
If you are visiting Canada Place at noon, you will get to hear the Heritage Bells. The Heritage Bells are actually air horns that are mounted to the roof of the Pan Pacific Hotel at Canada Place. The tune played is the first notes to “Oh Canada”, Canada’s national anthem. The Heritage Bells were originally designed in 1967 as part of the BC Hydro’s contribution to the Canadian Centennial, the 100 year anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, when the first Canadian territories combined to form the Dominion of Canada.
The first thing that you notice at the Center is not the Center itself but the elaborately carved white marble Chinese gate before the Center on Pender Street. The posts and the structure of the gate are from the original Chinese gate from Expo 86, Vancouver’s World’s Fair. The white marble panels at the top of the gate are a gift from from Vancouver’s sister city of Guangzhou. The carvings on the panels incorporate the principles of Yin and Yang, or opposites. The front of the center panels show the opposites of male and female, of sun and moon, of the earth and heaven, and of active and passive. The two side panels show four supernatural creatures, which each represent a quarter of the heavenly vault in Chinese mythology. The two creatures on the side panel on the right front are the phoenix and the dragon. The dragon in Chinese mythology is considered a very powerful and benevolent creature. The dragon not only brings rain from the heavens but also is associated with the male principle of Yang. Chinese emperors also used the dragon as the symbol of their supreme authority. The phoenix is female counterpart or Yin to the Yang of the male dragon. The phoenix represents “the sweet nectar of the gods” that descends from heaven to earth and is symbolic of the sacred doctrine of Buddhism. The phoenix represents purity and is a symbol of the Chinese Empress. The two creatures on the panels to the left are the White Tiger and the Black Tortoise, once again Yin-Yang opposites.
Christ Church Cathedral
The modern downtown skyscrapers tower over the small Christ Church Cathedral at the corner of Georgia and Burrard Street, but the Church still seems to retain its quiet dignity. This church building was an idea in the building committee of the Christ Church congregation as early as 1888, but the stone church would not be completed until 1895 due to the lack of money. However, once the money was acquired, the construction was completed in only 6 months. During most of this long construction period, the only portion of the building that was completed was the basement. A roof was placed over the basement, and services were held there. Because of this the unfinished church was given the undignified nickname of the “Root Cellar.”