A familiar site in downtown London years ago was steam rising from manholes lids and grates. Many pedestrians may have simply thought that vapours from sanitary or storm water sewers were just steaming in cooler air at street level. This may be partially correct but steam would still be visible during warm summer days as well. In fact, minor leaks from miles of underground piping was the direct cause.
A centralized heating system began operating in downtown London in 1880 and may very well have been the first in Canada. Centralized steam plants where boilers provided steam to nearby commercial buildings were very popular in most major North American cities at the turn of the century.
The popularity of such a system was due to the economics of steam plant owners buying bulk fuel (coal) at a discount which was not available to individual building owners in downtown London. With the introduction of relatively inexpensive natural gas, Clients started to move towards retrofitting to their own individual gas-fired heating systems.
Cities Heating, located near Queen's Ave West and was the company which distributed steam heat in downtown London. The company, just like many other business entities evolved over the decades. The old steam supply facility outgrew its usefullness and closed down quite some time ago. A company known as Trigen replaced the function of Cities Heating in 1996 and began planning a new service facility. It is now known as - London District Energy with new modern facilites located at the corner of Bathurst and Colborne. London District Energy currently supplies environmentally considerate heating and cooling to more than a dozen large downtown buildings including London Free Press, Galleria London, City Hall, Federal Buildings, Court House and the Public Library.
Althought the old Cities Heating Building sat derelict for years, the London Ontario Live Arts Festival did use the massive wall of the building as a large artist's canvass in 2007. Visual artist Michelle Gay projected animated images within the building's windows.
The building is currently being converted into apartments.