Here is that info on the storm sewer, its quite interesting but not reccomended as an activity. By the way please dont get the impression that I only explore human constructions, I am most passionate about the natural world and the tunnels that occur therein.
THE ILLUSIVE CHEDOKE CREEK
As cities go, Hamilton is unquestionably amongst the most bizarre in southern Ontario. It is both old and decaying, elegant and wretched, a rust-streaked remnant of North America’s industrial heartland. It embodies the history of the region, the triumphs and failures of capitalism, smeared beneath the grimy veneer of decay. The city has thrived in that sheltered strip of land between Lake Ontario’s western shores and the imposing inner rim of the Niagara escarpment. Poverty, for the most part clusters along the edge of the industrial shoreline, east of Barton Road. The affluence that grew from the sweat of the working man is seen in the palatial dwellings of the precipitous escarpment incline. Scenic Road winds along the lip and where it nears the drop-off curving around a bowl shaped chasm, there is an amazing view of this battered and oily sprawl.
In mid winter where otherwise the snow is pure and white, the trees being hung with icicles and caps of frosty powder, Hamilton is a sodden muddy wasteland. It is most depressing to see and on a grey day in mid Janurary the gloomy atmosphere is further accentuated by the salty, discoloured slush.
I parked my car and strolled to the concrete guard rail above the Scenic Road Chasm. Several wreaths, indicative of some recent tradgedy, adorned the barrier and the mist that rose from far below, muted sound and softened hard edges, imparting an air of sepulchural melancholy. Beneath I could hear the roar of water, it appeared to pour from the clifface, a fleecy torrent arcing out over a sixty foot dropoff. It is the first appearance of one of Chedoke Creek’s tributaries and I was left wondering as to its source and its mysterious disappearance amongst the industry below. I resolved there and then to learn more.
According to “The Vanishing Point”, Ontario’s premier draining resource, this is the outfall of the Fennell Road sewer system. In the 1950’s when the expanding city crept up the sides of the escarpment and onto the mountain, the surrounding streams were covered over but not filled in. Planners converted the old channels to storm sewer trunks and where the streams flowed over the edges of the escarpment, those waterfalls became the sewer’s outfalls. Hamilton has just over 900 kilometers of storm sewer tunnel though in the older parts of the city, that is, in this particular area, the underground tunnels serve the combined purpose of removing sanitary waste and storm waters. From beneath, Chedoke Falls can be approached by wading up stream in ankle to knee deep water. The creek topples through a thick layer of Whirlpool Sandstone from there washing in a rippling sheet across flat slabs of maroon Queenston Shale. Beneath the waterfall you stand in a cylindrical amphitheatre, the cascade toppling into a deep azure pool. Today it is a muddy froth though it is surrounded by a collar of cliff side icicles.
Hamilton is somewhat of an underground draining Mecca in southern Ontario and drainers are quirky sportspersons who enjoy exploring underground urban architecture. I remember seeing a river that flowed out from under Christ Church college in Oxford, it was deep and narrow, a smooth glassy ribbon washing from a gloomy subterranean tunnel. It was known as Trill Mill Stream, possibly a tributary of the Thames which loops around the core of that aged habitation. The river was somewhat exposed in the 1800’s but the city authorities blamed its waters for a cholera outbreak and much of its surface flow was soon buried and walled in. In the 1920’s, some brave adventurers swam upstream toward the source. They discovered a rotting punt wedged part way along and two moldering, victorian skeletons heaped within. Since hearing that I have become infatuated by sewers and old buried river systems. Hamilton has some amazing underground architecture, unique and spectacular for Ontario. The city is old and has the added advantage of being located across the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, this results in underground waterfalls, cascades running down underground stairs and of course incredibly fast growing soda straws and stalactites; their pendulous orange and white growths being composed of calcite, rust and bacteria.
In Ontario’s older cities, sanitary and storm sewer systems are often interconnected. In Hamilton, the overflow from the sanitary system frequently connects to the storm sewers. This is common in the Chedoke Creek and Red hill River Systems. In a nuewer town such as Burlington, that would be a rare occurance. A sure sign of a sanitary sewer is that its flow is pretty regular, a storm sewer will flow according to the present drainage needs, its volume ebbing with decreased rainfall or snowmelt.
Shortly after WW2, development began in ernest on top of the mountain, all the creeks were covered over. A huge sanitary trunk line was blasted along beneath Fennel Avenue. Several companies began at intermittent points and tunnelled toward each other until the various projects were connected in a 12 foot wide shaft, several kilometres in length. Today the sewer is mostly for storm water but there are some illegal sanitary hookup’s within. After a rainstorm the tunnels are clean but in the dry weather they become foul, the stench making them unexplorable to some. This is the first drain to have been explored and recorded by local enthusiasts. The credit goes mainly to Kowalki, Ineo and Speedboy, who have compiled an extensive resume of Ontario explorations. They say that the upper part of the Chedoke Creek system is possibly one of the more spectacular drain systems in Southern Ontario. It consists of the Chedoke Falls Drain, The Stairway to Paradise Drain and the wall of Anguish drain.
One of Chedoke Creek’s tributaries slides from a gloomy rectangular tunnel on a burr infested hillside. It is a highly visible location and the explorer needs to exercise some discretion as to draw excessive attention upon oneself is simply foolhardy. Is draining illegal you might ask ? Well it depends where you are and who catches you. In Australia it is definitely illegal but drainers here view an open drain as an extention of a public waterway, that said it is best to not push that theory upon someone who is not feeling all that receptive to your reasoning.
Mid Janurary can be brutally cold and short of rubber boots, neoprene hip waders and a parker you are ill equipped to venture underground. The incessant orange glare of the artificial twilight that hangs over the 403 soon diminishes to a small rectangle behind and explorers trudge along the slippery tunnel through shin deep water to the bottom of a roaring stairway. The sound can be heard from without and it increases in volume until you feel as though a train was bearing down upon you. The noise is amplified to a great extent within the concrete walls and it is not hard to feel just a little paranoid, thinking that maybe you have a wall of water bearing down upon just around the next corner.
The stairs are amazing, they are set upon a slight curve in the tunnel and they cut upwards beneath the neglected lower end of Aberdeen road. Those brave souls who venture further must be careful as this obstacle is very slippery though more so just along the outer edge of the stream at the lip of each stair. Several techniques have been known to solve this problem. Firstly walk carefully, the roof is low so you can brace your hands against the ceiling above and this increases your stability. If you are wearing neoprene, it is possible to walk right up close to the middle of the stairway. The water is deepest here as each stair sags toward the middle though, the deeper you go, the stronger the current and the higher the water sprays up in front. In no time at all the bottom edge of your parker is soaked and a silvery fan of icy liquid leaps up quite regularly to lick your waist.
At the top of the stairway, the rectangular tunnel style, known as RCB – “reinforced concrete box” makes the transition to RCP, “reinforced concrete pipe” It is about 12 feet in diameter and much more difficult to traverse. The pipe zig zag’s along on an ever upwards incline. The water just pounds down the slope and if it were much deeper it would not be possible to continue due to freezing spray, strong current and slipperyness. There is an odd sort of spread legged waddle that most eventually adopt where the upper less washed edges of the pipe’s circumfrence are the most easily negotiated surfaces and so with legs spread as wide as possible you stagger up the pipe.
Despite the hardship the underground tourist would be well amazed to see the incredible calcite deposits. They trickle from the roof in curtains several inches thick and pure crimson in hue. There are ochre sheets that ooze from the walls, they are etched by a spidery web of prominent red arteries, it’s real creepy, a gaudy horror show of urban flowstone. Against the wall of the RCB a well developed network of laquer-red rimstone dams has formed. Within the pools the water is grey and a sulferous whiff assails the nostrils. One of the orange smears up the side of the walls leads up to an opening from which gushes a roaring plume of water, a little further on sparkling drops hang from deep orange, garnet coloured straws. Thin, reedy pipettes, an anemic white colour and up to two feet in length hang in rows along cracks and up along the edges of the tunnel segments. Be careful, there are some deeper ruts in the passage along the joints. Carl, a bizarre-o-phile from Toronto quips to “Explorer X” that the soda straws are for the benefit of those above, used for sampling the contents of the pipes beneath the ground. Hmmm, I wonder what type of putrid cocktail is being served up in Hamilton?
Steel staples in the tunnel walls lead up through shafts toward the surface far above, You are about 50 feet underground, somewhere beneath the Chedoke Golf course. Kowlowski suggests that surface reconnaissance and investigation of the drain’s source will add significantly to your appreciation of the drain and even add to your, “Draining empathy.” More importantly, if you understand your drain system you will know what to expect and how to get out in a hurry if necessary.
By ladders and grill platforms you can ascend to the underside of a frosty rusted man hole cover. Jeff suggests that a person might be able to trace their underground progress by pushing markers up through the holes. Light streams down through a toonie sized hole in one such cover, it looks like it might be in a road or something, the faint sound of cars can be heard. I have the urge to push my finger out the hole to test the temperature above, we are sweating heavily below. I recall the Pink Panther movie when Inspector Cousteau did that, not a good idea. What would a pedestrian think seeing somebody’s finger popping out from a hole in the middle of the road. It is just the time you would expect a bus to come rolling by and stop over your finger while it takes on the confused passengers, no doubt discounting the appearance of your finger just before the bus parked there as an imaginary phantasm.
At the appearance of the second, far longer stairway the tunnel again becomes rectangular in shape. There is a tunnel in Toronto with three flights of stairs, they funnel the water of the Yellow Creek down towards Craigleigh Gardens. Kowlowski calls that drain, “21 golden steps”, named for the golden flecks in the water as seen when illuminated with his sun gun. Those stairs have a handrail and most I imagine would be wishing for one about now while ascending this grand underground promenade. Kowlowski calls this drain, “Stairway to Paradise”, he speculates that the stairway constructions are designed to move an underground stream downhill but avert the erosion that would normally follow, he also considers the possibility that the sunken groove in the middle of each stair might be natural wear as opposed to purposeful construction.
You have now travelled about a kilometre and a half underground and your journey is likely to have taken about 40 minutes. The air becomes fresher above the second set of stairs and soon after that the appearance of a skylight far above preceeds the appearance of a gigantic metallic cage. Rotting leaves plug the view to a distance of about 10 feet up the side of the cage though attention is most immediately drawn to the massive “I” beams that soar overhead. At night, illuminated from within by the discrete glow of a small flashlight the explorer is left with the impression of a weird sort of new age cathedral. You can smell the smoke of woodfires from the wealthy houses up above and the lower rim of the cage is a skirt of ice. You are at this point in the valley just over 300 meters from the pool at the bottom of Chedoke Falls. The water tumbles from there down several low cataracts into this monumental infall.
The trip back down to Chedoke Creek goes a little faster than the ascent. If the water were a few inches higher it would be possible to make the journey by inner tube. I make a mental note to remember that for the spring. I mean who else could say they went tubing under Hamilton. I wonder how the stairs would feel, Jeff seems alarmingly keen to find out. Down beyond the outfall of “Stairway to Paradise”, there are several other highly reguarded drains, chief amongst those, “The Wall of Anguish”, so named for an almost unclimbable wall. That obstacle is an impediment to casual exploration of the system. There are also supposedly huge schools of carp that are flopping around in the tunnels. Kowlowski speculates that they feed on chemicals and sanitary waste and are evolving into a mutant, CHUD strain.