Draining most of downtown Hamilton is a small and very interesting brick sewer, built in 1922/1923. Piecing together verbal clues and using maps proved an effective method for finding entry to this coveted and prized drain. First known exploration was by Michael Cook, although many others have conquered what has been referred to as Ontario's dirtiest drain. I myself found this drain to be rather clean in contrast to some of the others in the area, although the wastes in this drain should not be draining into the harbour.
Accompanied by Bryce and Stefan, we ventured towards our entry point, only to find a group of people standing too close for us to enter without arousing suspicion. We decided to kill some time at a nearby Tim Hortons. Heading back to the manhole, we found the loiterers to have vacated, leaving us free to enter. I was last to go in, and just before stepping onto the first rung, a lady on a motorized cart scooted by, glancing over but not seeming terribly interested.
The ladder was quite old and crusty, and a few rungs were almost completely rusted out. At the bottom of the ladder, we were met with a nice big concrete arch, and the warm humid climate of a typical drain. Opting to travel West towards the downtown core, our first feature encounter was a short slide branching up into a room. There was a rope laid out, however it seems the only thing holding it in place was the flow through a sanitary line at the top of the slide. This small chamber served as an overflow for the sanitary line, should this line find itself over-capacity. At 9pm on a Saturday, this line was at capacity. At 6am or 6pm, shower time and dish washing time respectively, I imagine this line would double its flow and most probably overflow into the main storm drain, effectively dumping sanitary waste directly into Hamilton harbour. These overflows were designed to handle flows of decades past, however they do not seem sufficient enough to meet todays demands.
Past this overflow room, we came upon the next feature. Underneath John St, a branch goes North at one of the nicest brick junctions I've ever seen. Conveniently, there are handrails installed to help pedestrian traffic up the slippery slide into the next sections. They don't make drains like they used to!
Following the junction is a mostly uneventful stretch of brick pipe that eventually leads to a plunge pool junction where 2 other pipes drop their flow into the main trunk. The flow was too much to cross comfortably, and given that it lead to 2 crouching pipes, we decided to turn around and head back. Left to explore for another time is towards the lake, where the pipe expands into a double barreled RCB that dumps straight into the lake.
In my opinion, this system should be intercepted by storage tanks and sent directly to the WWTP. The amount of sanitary waste flowing untreated into the lake is staggering.
Last Saturday, Melanie and myself ventured into Toronto to meet Jeremy. Our destination, a recently discovered but very old and most likely abandoned CSO tank system underneath High Park. Discovered by the Angels of the Underground last spring, this drain was named Humble Howard after John George Howard, the original owner of the land on which High Park was designated. Donating his land to the City of Toronto with very simple caveats attached in 1873, High Park became quite the landmark for Toronto citizens.
Entering through a manhole marked 1910, the drain system found beneath High Park is remarkably close to the surface. Upstream from the entry point is a large diversion weir, pushing a considerable amount of flow at high velocity down into a smaller pipe, presumably taking it over to the Mid-Toronto Interceptor. The smell was certainly quite fresh, given the time of day was perfect for washing dishes. We left this area for further exploration at a later date.
Down stream from the entry point, there is a metre high drop to a level that wraps around a portion of one of the tanks. Inside the tanks was a rather high level of sediment, with small sprouts growing from the top! With no light down here at all, these poor little plants didn't have much of a chance to grow much bigger.
Outside of the tanks, there is a North end connection to another drain, cheekily given the moniker High There. This connection is mostly abandoned and very full of sediment. South of the tanks is a gorgeous brick outlet, almost 3 metres high. Again, this tunnel is mostly dry, with hardly a trickle in the middle. A short jaunt down this tunnel and you find an overflow tunnel that leads to the South connection to High There. We will explore High There on some future date, when illness and energy is not a factor.
Following the brick tunnel for 1.5 km South leads to a boarded up outlet, and a very deep pit leading out to another famed Toronto drain, and eventually the West Beach Storage Tunnels.
The amazing thing about this drain is the number of connections to other systems in the area, and the number of different features and areas that are photo-worthy. Watching a community of drainers research and explore this system was certainly an uplifting and humbling experience.
With my D50 on vacation in Florida, I pulled out an old Konica film SLR, snapped on a lens, and headed out to Burlington to revisit one of the cleanest storm drains I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. Having done most of our explorations in the past at night, this was a rare treat to have natural light as our companion. Also a noteworthy treat, were the ice formations. Simply amazing. I did not get a decent shot with my film camera, but Melanie snapped a few awesome pictures, which you can view here.
It was great to revisit my old stompin grounds of downtown Burlington again. It was also nice to shoot film, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the pictures turned out. I certainly will shoot film again, and again.
3 stories below the feet of those walking along any given street in the Locke St. neighbourhood, lies an intricate sewer system of brick, RCP, arched concrete, and overflow rooms. As of yet, no infalls have been discovered, but among it's walkable lengths of tributaries and collectors, there is certainly no shortage of influence from street level catch basins and house hold wastes. Entrance was through a manhole that is a walkable distance from my home. Accompanied by Rob and Mel, we shoved said manhole aside, and climbed down the 3 stories of ladder to the arched concrete tunnel. The smell of sewerfresh graced our olfactories as we marched down the tunnel towards the Main/King CSO tanks.
I must take a second here to point out why we entered from this end. The CSO tanks are influenced by a pair of inlets as seen here c/o Bryce Corkins. On previous visits, the room where this picture was taken from was insanely flooded with a very deep, and very muddy water. Even on Mel's last visit, there was considerable flooding in the bottom pipe. On this visit, a considerable amount had been pumped out, leaving a nice tell-tale line of material deposit on the walls. Even still, access to the pump room was barred by a pretty heavy flow coming from the top inlet. As such, access to this portion of the system was not possible through the pump room, and we popped a manhole a good distance away.
A little ways in from the manhole, we found a very short tunnel. A decent crouch was needed to get through this tunnel, but we were driven forth by the rushing sound of water at the end. After what felt like 2km of crouching, we emerged from the dry tunnel into a small room, about 3 metres wide by 6 long. Above a weir trough was a considerable flow of grey water coming in on the South end of the room, and exiting on the North. There was a slide coming down at a 35 degree angle from the West. Testing the flow and traction, we hopped up into the trough to investigate. Mel ventured down into the inlet and outlet, and I climbed up the slide a bit. At the top, I could see an egg shaped tunnel, most likely too small to consider walking. I may venture up and see where it leads before long however. The flow coming down was fast, but only an inch deep. It was flowing around a bend, causing centrifugal force to make the outside edge deeper. The ceiling was just about shoulder height, so I had to cram my back in, and keep my footing to the inner wall. One step into that flow meant spray, and I almost soaked myself above the waders a few times. Fun fun! We will return to figure out where this flow ends up.
Back out into the main overflow, we ventured down the concrete arches until we reached a section in dire need of repair. Judging by the turns and distance, I am pretty sure that this section of pipe lies directly under the train tracks, a suspicion that is shared by others who have seen this section of pipe. As we continued, a sidepipe caught up on the East side, and the arches turned slowly into a round brick pipe. The brick was quite pleasant, although surprisingly slippery. During one section, there was so much water dripping from the ceiling that it was almost raining. This somewhat suggested to me that another sewer or drain perhaps ran above this section, and was probably leaking through the brick. The brick section was short, but certainly nice to see. It was followed directly by another concrete section, which had a very strange looking dam. It was built out of what looked like old trim and a few 2x4s. There was also a PVC tube running into an empty instant coffee container, with a cable running out of the top, up to the manhole. More than likely a flow meter. This whole contraption, along with the dam, looked incredibly adhoc and kluged. Onwards we went.
We reached a room where the pipe made a very sharp turn to the right and became an RCP. The roar of something could be heard up ahead. As we came around the corner, we reached both the pump room, and the end of our journey. The path into the pump room was blocked by the roar of a combined sewer dumping from above. The flow was too intense to pass, and almost too intense to photograph. The mist in the air made most of my pictures come out blurry, although, it added a nice sort of fresh misty vignette to some of my photos. At this point, we were spent. We climbed a ladder about 3-4 stories up and popped a known safe manhole.
Once inside the tanks from this end, we will have conquered all of the known areas of the Main / King CSO tanks. Left to explore are the bricked sections, which I don't believe will hold much interest, save for a couple more rooms and weirs.
Finally in. After many years, many attempts, much research, and many hours talking (nay, raving) about it, I finally got into the tanks at Cathedral Park. Entrance to this location was no easy task, and over the years I've inched my way further and further in, accompanied by various groups. Each step along the way presents a new challenge, whereby you may have to purchase a new tool, think of a new strategy, or spend some time doing research. Finally, with rope, a ladder, waders, blueprints, and a pretty accurate knowledge of What Lay Beneath, I set out tonight accompanied by Mel and Rob.
As noted, MUCH research was performed before this venture. Knowing how these tanks operate, how the cells fill up, where the water goes, how it comes in, and how it gets out is far more important than I can stress. This tank can fill up in ONE HOUR. It takes up to 40 hours to empty through a force main into the West Hamilton Interceptor. 1 to 3 times each year, this tank fills up to the brim, and has to overflow into a catch trough, where it is sent out, over the cleverly named Wall of Anguish. If that's not enough to scare you, read Bryce Corkins' account about his discovery of the pump room. We found a hatch down into the pump room, but did not venture far, as the room was half flooded with a nasty mess of fast moving water. Having not rained in a few days, this influent suggested a considerable amount of water in the local area CSO collectors.
We were lucky to find the tank considerably empty, save for the trench in the middle that catches runoff. In addition, someone was kind enough to leave the lights on for us!