Category Archives: exploring

Union Station, Home to some Unique Features

Toronto’s Union Stations is easily one of the most recognisable structures in the city. Upwards of 95% of GO transit’s 65+ million yearly rides are to and from this massive railway hub downtown. For many commuters, passing through Union station is a daily ritual. Union’s exterior and Great Hall are a homage to Beaux-Arts executed on a grand scale. Physically, the station and it’s train shed span 17 acres of land – 5 more than the SkyDome/Rogers Centre.

This huge, sprawling complex of railway tracks, platforms, tunnels, halls, and office space is a mishmash of new an old. Just walking from entrance to a platform, a casual observer cannot help but to notice pathways between grades, stairways that zigzag far too often, and a jumble of different architectural styles. In addition to its architecture and public areas the station also is home to some unique features that make it an interesting urban exploration location. Since much of Union is under ground level, it isn’t a surprise to learn that many of its service tunnels share connections to electrical, water and transit (think subway + streetcar) infrastructure as well. This article from Infiltration magazine is an interesting read about these utility tunnels.

Nevertheless I was surprised when I ended up stumbling into one of these paths, entirely by accident and with it entirely in plain sight! I had missed my train one night, and had about 30 minutes to pass waiting for the next one to arrive. I spent the time walking around Union. On the Bay Street side of Union, there is a small glassed-in enclosure with stairs leading down to what I presumed was the garage level. Boy was I wrong. Dimly lit and with beer bottles, dirt, and partly-cut boards laying about, it was a (slight!) departure from the usual state of affairs at Union. It was only upon walking down 3 flights of stairs and seeing a dead-end at a metal door that I began to think this staircase wasn’t to the garage….

…And that’s when I heard the subway honk!-honk! and pass by beyond the door. I had heard that there were tunnels that lead directly to the TTC subway station through Union, but I had not expected this. Although the entrance to this stairwell was in a public area, with no markings on it and without any kind of locks – I decided I had better not risk going further, lest I really find myself facing a subway train. I hurriedly removed myself from the area and made my way to the train platform bound for home. Where in the Union subway station that door opened to I don’t think I’ll ever know for certain.

Union station is currently undergoing its 2nd major renovation (the 1st being the addition of the GO concourse in the 80s), and will almost double in size by adding a second concourse level underneath the current one. I can only wonder what kind of odd stories the engineers working under station have dug up!

Explorations: Panel Lamp

The University of Toronto is home to some pretty unique buildings. Many of the buildings – for one reason or another – retain much of their original fixtures. A great example of this are the old, open-bodied service elevators found around Front Campus. Walking into Gerstein Library, this gem of a panel lamp glowed to life upon visiting the old journal stacks’ elevator:


Housed in its red opal glass enclosure, it really did look like a little gemstone. However, upon closer inspection the side-spiralled filament caught my eye. This is an odd arrangement that you don’t seen any more – manufactures traded this in for shorter, more robust filament coils decades ago. Considering this elevator isn’t used much (maybe 2-3 dozen times per day at most), and that panel lamps last 10K+ hours,  I suspect this little indicator bulb is at least 4-5 decades old!

It’s neat to see something that has not been touched in ages still working as if it were just installed.

Warm Breakfast … Cold Adventures

Happy New Years everyone! A bit late, yes, but better late than never. Now school is getting busy – exams come in a month, and many final project on the way. But, before all this business started, I managed a few more ice-capades during the last bit of the holidays.  Woke up, and made the best darn breakfast you could hope for – eggs a la over-easy, a few strips of my special cheese-filled pork strips, and an improvised hash-brown-like-thing (involving a few fried onions, potatoes, carrots, and a mushroom or two for good measure). Mmm.

It tasted much better than it looks

I needed a good load of carbs for the day, if I was to be out, so I complemented the protein from the eggs, cheese and meat with a few slices of toast. Can’t be the smell of toast and fried eggs in the morning. Met up with my pal and we biked out to the lake, finding a bay partly frozen. Knowing it wasn’t (too) deep, we ventured out on the ice-floes to see what it was like. Not deep enough to make it over the head, but one could be very uncomfortably wet until they get back home.

On the ice. 
Chris, steadying himself for the jump

Then came ice-bowling.

It’s actually more like curling. With the object being…
…just to even knock the other person’s rocks.
Sunset/ Stormy

The Guild Inn is full of interesting sights… it is essentially an abandoned place, and good for some UEing. But I wouldn’t enter the actual hotel part (well, what’s left) as they supposedly have a silent alarm to alert the police.

The abandoned green house.
My snow-covered steed. O’Malley
prefers an MTB.

We next went cycling a bit west to explore the lake front near Rosetta McClain Gardens. My camera’s battery died, but I would have loved to take a picture of the homeless camp down there. Why? Exactly. Why is there a homeless campout here of all places? I wouldn’t have expected. Well, it looked like it may have been abandoned, but we didn’t want to disturb if it wasn’t.

This ride more than confirmed the unsuitability of the waterfront trail. Kingston road took 15 minutes on the uphill return, but the waterfront trail path took 45 minutes on the downhill to get to Rosetta McClain gardens. However, I was almost sideswiped by a truck on K-town Rd…. frightening, when you have to deal with ice already.

Bulldozers and the Bluffs

Last post involved the path down at the base of the bluffs, and how it would make a great bike path (read the dedicated “Commuting, a Trail Proposal” page). However, construction efforts have been stupendously slow. Almost no actually progress has been made since two summers ago; dump trucks are only piling up the fill at the one end of the path.

The red circle is where the current construction is ongoing. 

Upon closer inspection of the site, a bulldozer and an excavator can be seen – these have served only to force the dumped loads into mounds. In the future (who knows how long), the rubble will be pushed into the water to construct the remaining section between Gates Gully and this path situated below the Guild Inn.

The red line indicates the path being built now – about 240 meters. This is less than 1/17 of the amount of the path needed to be newly constructed (including breakwater trails), and has taken a full year to get only the building materials collected. It’ll be another 20 years to get the thing finished! Oh, well. With some motivation, we may just be able to get city council to push the project up on their “To Do” list.

It may be interesting for you to know that the heavy equipment they use is not kept under lock-and-key at all; it is simply abandoned at the end of a working day:

The unlocked bulldozer
Is it considered “breaking in” when there was
no breaking involved?
My buddy, for relative size
Operating the control levers, but with
no great success.

Note the metal paneling over the windows and door: it
may be easily removed with only a wrench.

The ‘dozer was left completely accessible, minus the operating keys, but it still had enough hydraulic pressure to lift and lower the bucket, twice! While I don’t recommend it, one only needs a wrench, and they can get in and fully operate the excavator – the workers leave the keys inside, but slide on metal coverings over the door, and keep them in place with only a few bolts!

They are still around the end of the path, for anybody interested, as of Dec. 27th, and don’t look as if they are moving anytime soon. Just watch for the workers between 10 AM and 6 PM once the holidays are over. Cheers.

A Winter’s Outing

Went for a few hours’ ride today – the first full test of the ‘new’ tyres; they are actually 16-year-old ‘Dual Sport’ (i.e., wide as a mountain tire!) Chen Shins which came with the bicycle. They did a real swell job, once I let some air out to run them at ~45 psi, handling the snow, road, gravel and even some ice without slipping.

 My GT has lots of extra room for an
even wider tire, despite already having
on 42mm ones.
 The steep hill down to the buffs is
 salted and in use by dump trucks

I headed down to Guild Inn to access the bluffs’ lakeside trail, and enjoyed a pleasant photographing and sight-seeing session. The bluffs change so much from their summer appearance!

 The bluffs look even more awesome in person. Sadly,
they are predicted to gradually turn into steep hills,
some as soon as 15 years from now.

Even in the winter, dump-trucks laden with dry-fill keep on tipping their loads to complete this soon-to-be Waterfront Trail section, which will eventually connect the beaches all the way out to pickering, without interruption; it will be all path without any streets/roads. Most of the path is already done, with only a few connecting portions missings. With the rate at which construction has increased over this past summer, I expect it to be done in under 5 years, but we’ll see if the project ever gets finished when Rob Ford starts slashing Toronto’s expenditures.
The lonely trail in the winter.

For one strange reason or another, a good lot of car parts have accumulated at the base of the bluffs. Maybe someone drove them over the edge a long time ago?

My favorite photo depicting the car parts down by the lake. This one really
 shows the density of the car parts strewn about.

Most of the parts seem like late 1950s to early 70s vintage – a lot of old OHV V8s are hanging out amongst the engine blocks. Dating them is also made easier by the drum brakes; they were replaced by discs on most performance vehicles by the 80s. Most parts seem to be Ford from the bits of writing I was able to make out on some axles and brake drums.

Not a car – but found down by the bluffs anywho.


I think this is a Ford V8.

I once found an entire crushed Ford Bronco II! If I ever get that roll of film developed, that picture will most surely be put in a future post. That’s it for now – I’ve some homework to finish before the holidays begin.

See more of my photos at:

2010 in Review: A Blog Series

This is the first post of what I like to call “2010 in Review” – a review of all the notable events and achievements of the past year.

1. Started to do some real UEing (that is to say, urban exploring) this year. What an experience, I didn’t know what I was missing! I particularly like draining:

Trying my hand at ‘light painting’ – look it up. Taken in “O’Malley’s Lair”

# Drains explored: 5
# Building explored: Really, none, but that’s cuz there are no abandones in my area! (There are, however, lots of little tunnely-drain things!)

Map of some recently found or explored drain systems. 

I’ve never done really technical drains, only the fairly linear systems. A good few to check out are “Beefy McFistpunch’s Tunnel” (nick-named after my burly friend who showed me it) and “O’Malley’s Lair” (another friend’s nickname – we like Irish nicknames). Nothing dangerous in these – the first is actually a cira 1900 stone culvert under the bridge on Scarborough Golf Club Road, and the second is a small storm drain serving about 25 homes, opening onto a ravine. See the map above for details.

Warning: The author holds no responsibility for your safety – you are solely responsible for your actions. The author does not condone this type of exploration, especially where signage indicates that it is prohibited.

Whoow. Just had to spew out that legal mumbo-jumbo. Who knows where I could end up if I don’t? The legality of drains is kinda sketchy at best – it technically should be legal to access these public works, if there is no “Do not enter” kind of signage. But try explaining that to El Policia. Best not to get caught, period.

You can find out much more here:
Its Canadian-based, lots of Urban Exploring stuff, from abandoned homes to factory complexes to drains.

As a note to anyone who wants to try draining, take a look in the UER  forums for tips and tricks – it’ll keep you at least a bit safer. And always remeber: No Drains when it Rains; check the weather first.

Keep on exploring this big city of ours – Cheers!