Infiltration: 2002 Journal

World Youth Day (July 2002): World Youth Day's organizers walked a delicate line: the wanted Toronto taxpayers to host and pay for their party and potential fundraiser, but they didn't want Toronto taxpayers (many of whom don't even go to church) to interfere with the vibe of the all-Catholic lovefest. Constructing the programs listing the various World Youth Day events was a delicate proposition. What's a polite way to say, "Paying Catholics only"?
       The solution the event organizers went with was to not say anything at all. In the various brochures widely available throughout the city, certain events were marked as "Open To the Public" while others weren't marked with anything at all.
       I did what I could to take advantage of this unwillingness to say "Public Not Welcome" by visiting a few dozen Catholic churches that were more open than usual, joining in on an event called the "Franciscan Fest", and trying my hardest to meet the Pope. While I completely failed in this last endeavour, I had fun trying.


Gooderham and Worts Distillery (July 2002): Lisa, Sean and Jackie invited me to come with them to an antique show at the long-abandoned Gooderham and Worts distillery. She-ra and others had told me it was really worth checking out, so I decided to put up with the antique crap in the hope of getting inside some antique buildings.
       The whole lot was fenced off with a security guard manning the gate, but once inside the compound, we were more or less allowed to wander freely. I'd always imagined the distillery as being one big old abandoned building, but there are actually dozens and dozens of buildings on the site, two or three of which stand out as being the most interesting. Almost all of them are accessible -- or would be, if not for the people nearby.
       Nothing but a plastic barrier was keeping me away from one cool building. I tried a favourite trick of mine, which involves pushing aside the barrier on trip one, stalling for a while, and then strolling past the now-removed barrier on trip two, so that the odds of anyone seeing me push open the barrier and walk through it are greatly reduced. Unfortunately, when I came back for my second run, the barrier had been neatly shoved back into place. I assumed security was on duty.
       Travelling around to one of the smaller buildings with Sean and Jackie, I saw a middle aged man and an old woman peeking in the windows longingly. "Have you found a way in yet?" I asked the guy. "No," he said, "just looking." I wanted a closer look, so I hopped onto a ledge and hoisted myself through a window onto a staircase and climbed up to the second storey. Unfortunately, Jackie couldn't come up, since he's a baby, and Sean felt obliged to hang around with Jackie, but there was little to see aside from some scaffolding, benches and toolboxes. After I'd been looking around for a couple of minutes, the middle-aged man who'd been "just looking" climbed through the window and joined me, and we explored a little together.
       Outside, I managed to poke around in a few of the other smaller buildings and then decided to make an attempt on one of the larger buildings in back, but a security guard spotted me just as I wandered off the beaten path and told me no one was allowed back there, adding "that's where we dump all the nasty stuff".


Toronto General Hospital (July 2002): Toronto General Hospital was closing -- yes, CLOSING -- in honour of the World Youth Day parade, which was to take place next door. No one was to be permitted on the site without a pass. This level of precaution struck me as not only unreasonable but very difficult to enforce, so I decided to go visit the hospital anyhow and see how tough it would be to snipe the crowds below, if I was interested in doing that sort of thing.
       The main front entrance to the hospital was closed entirely. Heading to the main back entrance, I joined a single-file line of people being admitted through a single narrow doorway. Two guards wearing "security" vests were controlling the flow of the line. When I got to the front, one ordered "I need to see you hospital staff pass or official visitor pass." I then began to relate a long, wearying story about how I had to have a test done, and no one had warned me that the hospital would be closed, and I had come such a long way and the subway was so crowded with Catholics, and so on. The line behind me began to build, and it had begun to pour, so the guard just sort of nodded me through wordlessly.
       I proceeded to the clinic I'd mentioned to the guard, only to find it was closed. Most things were closed -- I'd never seen TGH so empty. Suspecting that another guard would be in front of the passenger elevators, I took the nearest service elevator to a floor I knew to be insecure. As I strolled past the floor's reception desk, I smiled and waved at a wall behind the people manning the desk, so they'd assume I had someone's okay and ignore me. They did. I continued down the hall towards the stairs, which I scaled to the top of the building.
       To my joyous surprise, the door at the top of the building was open, so I strolled out into the pouring rain, 17 storeys above the road where the Catholic procession would soon be taking place. Squeezing myself through the one missing panel in the aluminum fence that separates one side of the roof from the other, I was able to get nice pictures of the road below and the construction of the new wing of the hospital.
       As I mentioned, it was pouring this entire time, and by the time I stepped back inside I was dripping wet. Realizing that I'd be very suspicious if any employee saw me in this state, I decided to stick to the stairwell, which no one but me ever uses since the doors to the staircase are alarmed on most floors. As I got down to about the 10th floor, however, I heard jingly footsteps coming down about three storeys above me. My soaking shoes were squeaking fiercely, so I tried to walk down the stairs both as quickly and as quietly as possible, hoping that the jingly fellow behind me wouldn't notice that I was in the stairwell below him. But the guy was coming strong, taking stairs way faster than most people would and quickly closing the gap between the two of us to between one and two storeys -- it felt, to me, like he was chasing me. I soon gave up on the idea of stealth and just went for speed, racing down the stairs as fast as I possibly could, holding onto the handrail so I could safely jump down the final few steps on each flight.
       Luckily, I was faster than the guy, and was a full three storeys ahead of him by the time I returned to the second level and hopped back out into the briarpatch of doors and passageways that I probably knew better than my pursuer. Not wanting to risk going out the way I came in, I headed for a side exit I knew of. When I got there, I was surprised to see that it was manned by two guards who immediately looked up at me, clearly surprised to see me.
       It was time to come up with something brilliant, some completely suave justification for the fact that I was emerging, pass-less, drenched and out-of-breath, from an out-of-use wing of the hospital on this day when the hospital was closed to the public.
       "Hi," I said, smiling.
       "Hi," they said, smiling.
       I went home.


Bathurst Street Church (June 2002): After accidentally locking myself out of my home one night (yes, there are places I can't get into), I decided to kill time by randomly wandering around back alleys of the city. While doing so, I came across a building I see all the time from a different angle and realized that, although it's currently in use as a theatre, what it really is is a church, and thus I had duty to explore it.
       The door to the lovely old building was open and several different dance classes were operating in different studios of the church. Starting in the basement, I gradually worked my way up until I came across what appeared to be a closet containing a very steep wooden staircase (almost a ladder, really) leading up. Although the closet was totally unlit and I didn't have a flashlight with me, I couldn't pass up the opportunity, so I did my best in the dark. I imagine I'll wind up telling the full story in some future issue of Infiltration so I won't give all the details here, but after a very slow and difficult ascent I was finally able to make it up into the rafters and out onto the roof before quickly retreating from the building.


Doors Open Toronto (25-26 May 2002): I eagerly anticipated this year's Doors Open Toronto, the city's annual festival of urban exploration for the masses, hoping that it would present all sorts of fantastic exploration opportunities. In the end I was disappointed, as I suppose I knew I would be, but I did manage to see a few interesting spots.
       After a very late and poorly planned start on Saturday, Liz and I first explored Massey Hall, which was wide open in terms of unlocked doors but patrolled by quite a few people who were eager to help us get to what they thought to be the real highlight of their exhibition -- some black and white pictures of dead people near their snackbar. When we happened to wander through an open door (like the name of the event, almost) to peek at some staircases, some employees quickly rushed over and told us we weren't allowed to be there. Things didn't get any better after that, so we left.
       On Sunday morning we met up with some members of Urban Exploration Canada who were in town for the event, and we all hopped aboard the ferry to check out the Toronto Island Airport. There were some nice vehicles and things to poke around in there, but unfortunately there really wasn't anything to explore. The island airport isn't anything more romantic than a few trailers and a big parking lot.
       After quick looks at Union Station and the Royal York, at both of which we concluded we'd already seen everything on offer, we headed to the Canada Life Building (that is, the building with the big light thermometer on top of it), where we were shown a video featuring a segment where the camera follows a maintenance worker up through the building and onto the rooftop to change a lightbulb. Hoping to emulate him, Liz and I took the elevator up to the observation room and saw the staircase one would need to take to get to the roof, but it was guarded by a friendly guy who didn't mind holding the door open for a picture but who wouldn't let anyone through.
       Next up we visited the churches of St. Matthias and St. Anne, where we finally had a bit of luck in finding secret areas. As Liz used the washroom in the basement, I checked a few doors and found one that opened into some very promising darkness, but quickly shut it when the pastor wandered by, making it clear that I was just standing around waiting for my girlfriend. When said girlfriend arrived, I quickly whispered to her to go through the door and look around and that I'd join her when I could. I then continued to wait outside the women's washroom until the area was clear, and then went through the door to join Liz.
       The vast, unlit area on the other side was a thing of beauty -- it was somewhere between a crawlspace and a subbasement, and stretched the entire length and width of the enormous, ancient church. Most of the floor consisted of plain sand, although there were a few stone paths set in various places, and several small stone rooms that looked to us like like they'd once been used as stables (I've never heard of underground stables, but that's certainly what these looked like). There were many pipes, ducts and grates to avoid, and at one point I accidentally shon my flashlight up before quickly realizing the the beam was projecting up into the main hall of the church! Luckily, no one seemed to notice that, and Liz and I were able to leave unmolested; we explored some other underground rooms in another part of the church, and Liz managed to sneak up some off-limits stairs briefly before they kicked everyone out at the end of the day.


University of Toronto (Spring 2002): Although I've poked around the University of Toronto campus in search of steam tunnels before, I've never really paid that much attention to all the other wonderful nooks the school has to offer. Lately I've been trying to visit at least one of the 100+ buildings on UofT property every week and having a lot of fun doing it. Abandoned areas, employee areas, construction areas, weird science projects, tunnels -- truly a smorgasbord of exploratory opportunity.


(Please excuse this gap; most of what I was up to in early spring is covered in Infiltration 18.)


St. Mike's Hospital (March 2002): After touring various downtown buildings to collect pictures for the "Where Are They Now?" issue, Liz and I headed to St. Mike's to check out the new wing and some of the other renovations. We were delighted to stumble upon several abandoned floors in what is now the Queen and Bond Wings of the hospital. Presumably, all the patients that used to be stored down here have now been moved to the new levels. We checked out many abandoned administration areas, patient rooms, baby viewing rooms and, eerily, the circumcision room. All the beds and valuables are gone but many other mementoes and other hints as to what each room was used for remain.


Union Station - D6 (March 2002): Union Station sure is changin' these days. After peeking at some mezzanine-level construction, Liz and I headed down to the lower levels of the station to see what was new. Hertz is gradually annexing larger and larger chunks of the garages, so the place is much more yellow than it used to be. Some of the ramps have been repaved. Along one of those ramps, Liz and I stumbled upon a door set halfway up the wall, beyond which we cold see a large, dark cavern.
       Leaping in and wedging the door shut behind us, Liz and I looked around the cavern, which was dimly lit by a few bare lightbulbs hanging from wires. The floor was dirt, and there were piles of dirt and trenches cut into the dirt all around. There was an impressive gallery of abandoned toilets from decades past. I crawled through a small tunnel set into the ground and wound up in a large ventilation shaft which was also set into the dirt. It's amazing how primitive this whole area is; too bad there isn't more to it.


A gallery of abandoned toilets, and a tunnel carved into the dirt and crumbling brick.

After exiting D6, Liz and I went to take a peek at the area that used to connect Union Station to the Air Canada Centre. A large wooden garage door was shut over the old entrance. Liz and I were conjecturing about how that door might be raised to allow cars to drive into the weird Hall of Fords showcase that connects public areas of Union Station and the Air Canada Centre when A VIA employee strolled up to us and told us we weren't allowed in the employee area. Liz quizzed him about the Hall of Fords while he ushered us out. (Liz's pictures of this trip are at Viewing Hole Gallery.)



University of Toronto - Best Institute and the Eye Bank (February 2002): As the city began to thaw, Liz and I were feeling explorey again. We began by exploring at Toronto General Hospital, this time successfully navigating our way onto the very attractive roof of the College Wing (the oldest and most interesting part of the hospital). We also plunged down into the lower levels of the hospital, and Liz wrote up the following account of our exploits:

Back on ground level, we decided to check out a tunnel we'd visited before that shoots off of the first floor College wing. This tunnel is marked by a set of green doors on either end, but the first time we tried them, the doors were locked on the far end. This time they were not. We entered a building we had not explored before a startling bright green and black-and-white place with all kinds of neat woodwork and strange extinct medical-style equipment. We headed up a few storeys and found bizarre mechanical rooms and abandoned filing cabinets naming diseases we'd never heard of. Boxes of slides with urine specimens lay atop cabinets in seemingly-abandoned hallways. What a strange part of the hospital, we thought.
        Up on the top level, we found a few signs of life animal testing facilities with keycarded doors and unfriendly signs. One level further up Ninj found a nice ladder to an elevator room, but I was too hot to do any more climbing. (It is a universal rule of institutions that on the first warm day of the year, they will not adjust their thermostats from the "hot as can be" setting, even if it means the whole building is 342347999991 degrees).
        On our way back down to ground level, we paused to look out a window in one of the stairwells.
        "Hey," I said, "Where exactly are we?"
        Ninj joined me in looking outside, both of us perplexed as to why the street we were looking at was none of the four that border Toronto General Hospital.
        "Uh...I think we crossed the street," Ninj said. We had. That tunnel at the beginning? It led under College street over to the University of Toronto. We weren't in the hospital at all! No wonder we'd never explored this wing. Oops.
       On our way back home from the hospital, we decided after many years of ignorance that we ought to know what was inside One Spadina Crescent. This building, owned by the University of Toronto, is the large, looming structure that sits in the middle of Spadina roughly between College and Bloor streets. While our friend Kate had previously advised us that this building was "creepy" and contained some sort of medical eye laboratory, we were quickly distracted by the shoddy interior and wide-open doors to just about anywhere.
       We speedily found our way to a large room marked "storage". This room, at the north end of the building, contained numerous bizarre, brightly coloured machines, and three storeys of barrels. Walking up a metal staircase to take a closer look at this barrel paradise, we noticed massive cobwebs I guess the barrel-watchman isn't on duty more than once a year. I was having fun looking around and taking pictures when I realized many of the barrels (all unmarked) were uncovered and seemed to contain differing stages of mysterious and disgusting slime. I suggested it was time to go rather than keep hanging out with the toxic waste, and so we headed out, just about bumping into a security guard the minute we left the room. Only he wasn't a security guard. He just worked for the parking authority. But it seemed like a close one at the time.
       What I didn't find out until later is that 1 Spadina Crescent actually houses a massive eye bank that's right, a repository for hundreds if not thousands of disembodied eyeballs. It was also the site of the murder of U of T Art History professor David Buller last year. Buller was stabbed to death in his office in the middle of a weekday the killer remains at large. It was speculated at the time that the building was an unsafe place to spend time, as there were so many hiding places for crazed homeless psycho killers. (While it seems more likely that Buller was killed for being a controversial gay artist, the building is still disturbing by its own rights.)
(Liz has these and other Toronto General/University of Toronto expeditions online at Viewing Hole Gallery.)


Sheppard Subway - Bayview Station (February 2002): After having no luck at the intersection of Yonge and Sheppard one night, Liz and I headed to the next stop-to-be to the east. Bayview Station has come up in the world since I first visited it a couple years ago then it was just a muddy pit with a ladder to the surface, now it's attached to actual subway tracks, lined with colourful tiles and they've even installed stairs to the surface. They haven't yet installed turnstiles or ticket booths, and they aren't quite done the "art", but otherwise this place is almost ready to open for business.
       There was no security whatsoever, but parts of the floor and stairs were still setting and we didn't want to cause any damage, so we took off.


Crowne Plaza Hotel (February 2002): Liz and I stopped in at North York's Crowne Plaza Hotel for a little break in the middle of a roadtrip, and had a pretty decent time touring its conference rooms, storage rooms and employee areas. Fairly enticing spreads of food and drink were there for the taking. The Crowne Plaza is kind enough to put little peepholes in almost every door so that an explorer can peak inside each room and make sure the coast is clear before entering extremely considerate.
       Unfortunately the pool was completely closed, to paying guests as well as non-paying guests.


Toronto General Hospital (January 2002): I had occasion to spend a few weeks as a patient at Toronto General Hospital. While there, the nurses encouraged me to get lots of exercise, so Liz and I decided to do a little exploring.
       For our first trick, we grabbed a service elevator down to the hospital basements and toured some of the lovely service corridors. We'd visited some stretches of these corridors before, and even taken them to some of the other hospitals that are connected to TGH by tunnel, but we saw some nice new bits on this occasion. We visited an old, bordering-on-abandoned section of the hospital basement, where we found a small stretch steam tunnels that unfortunately ended at a locked door just when things were getting interesting. We then took an elevator four storeys up to the top of the hospital's College Wing, which also appeared to be pretty much abandoned. Much of it was devoted to storing garbage or old computer and telephony equipment in large piles on bathroom floors, bathtubs and shower stalls. Nice. (Liz took the nice picture here, and has a few others at Viewing Hole Gallery.)


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