Monday, December 27, 2010

place of quiet?

Walking along the Ginger Valley trail my 15-year-old daughter commented that she can't remember ever walking on a trail where she couldn't hear traffic.

Roads bisect and disrupt the natural areas we have, fragmenting both habitat, and the experience of habitat. Even when out of sight, traffic interferes with the enjoyment of nature, and has become the background soundtrack to our lives.

The ironic thing is, to escape, we must get in cars and drive hours away, and even then, must work to get away from vehicular noise.

Is there a place locally that defies the constant hum or drone of motor vehicles?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

small is...not big and stupid

Thoreau once suggested that "most men appear never to have considered what a house is..."
Some giant homes, built for two people to inhabit, offend the natural sentiment of neighbours. Well, how about considering the other extreme - small dwellings that take up very little space?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

video from the valley

Christmas will end hunt in Valley

It appears that process was the first casualty in the deer hunt in Dundas Valley, resulting in a renegotiated deadline to end the hunt which has closed the Headwaters Trail. The trail will be re-opened December 25. 

A long term agreement on use of these lands by hunters from the Haudenosaunee needs to be established (or perhaps an agreement that has hunting take place in areas other than HCA lands with established trails) if there are to be continued good relations, based on trust and mutual respect. It sounds like the HCA was involved in this type of process, so it seems only fair for the process to be respected by all.

Here's the latest from the local daily:

Native hunters asked to leave Dundas Valley
The Hamilton Conservation Authority says confederacy members from Six Nations have agreed to make Dec. 24 the final day of their hunt.
DEER HUNT The Hamilton Conservation Authority says confederacy members from Six Nations have agreed to make Dec. 24 the final day of their hunt.
Ron Albertson/The Hamilton Spectator
ANCASTER The Hamilton Conservation Authority has asked Haudenosaunee Six Nations hunters to end their two-week deer hunt on Dundas Valley conservation lands by Dec. 25.
“They have consented to reduce the length of the closure to have the trails open Christmas Day, and that there would be no further hunting for the remainder of the year,” HCA chief administrative officer Steve Miazga said Tuesday.
The move comes after an early-morning conference between HCA chair of the board Chris Firth-Eagland and Miazga, who then contacted members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and asked them to leave the western part of the conservation area near Paddy Green Road where they set up a deer hunt site on the weekend.
The Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy members, who say they have treaty rights to hunt in the area, began hunting deer with bows on Sunday and had planned to remain there until the end of the year.
“In order to have a relationship with the Hamilton Conservation Authority, if they ever hope to be partner stewards with the citizens of Hamilton, through the city of Hamilton and the Hamilton Conservation Authority, then they must lead in this instance and show support for the work we’ve been doing in looking at Iroquoia Heights (deer management) and get their people out of the Dundas Valley,” Firth-Eagland said Tuesday morning.
THE CONSERVATION AUTHORITY WAS HOPING FOR “A GRACEFUL WITHDRAWAL get out within the next several days – and tell us you are coming back to the table with us at the Deer Management Advisory Committee to help us understand the issues and work together in the long term,” Firth-Eagland said.
“I asked Steve Miazga this morning to go back to the Haudenosaunee as quickly as possible with their own words, with their own notion. I urged him to look at the minutes of when they came and made their presentation, and their reference that they are thinking seven generations to the future, that they must plan for the health and welfare of the natural environment.” 

Monday, December 20, 2010

limits of tolerance?

Refreshing to see treaty rights being considered, and not rejected outright as is often the case.  The trail effected by the temporary closure is limited to the western section of the Headwaters Trail, and does not include the Hamilton to Brantford Rail trail. As the article notes, not everyone will be happy with this decision, but if we accept the premise that deer are overpopulated (i.e. surpassing natural limits) in this region, then this method seems to be an interesting way of dealing with it.  The Spectator article is reprinted below; the HCA notice from their web site is here:

Dundas Valley is not a happy hunting ground
the Hamilton Spectator

Part of the Dundas Valley Conservation Area in Ancaster is closed to the public for the rest of December to allow deer hunting by natives from the Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
The decision to close a three-square kilometre chunk of the conservation area near Jerseyville Road and the Morgan Firestone Arena was made with no public fanfare by the Hamilton Conservation Authority.
At the entrance to one trail at the bottom of Martin’s Road, a couple of small paper safety notices, with an accompanying map, are posted to trees, announcing that the trails are closed until December 31.
The decision to close the section from Martin’s Road to Paddy Greene Road, between Power Line and Jerseyville roads, was made last week, according to Steve Miazga, chief administrative officer of the conservation authority, “at the request of the Haudenosaunee, who informed us that they would be harvesting in that area which is the far west end of Dundas Valley.
“We have played it low-key because we don’t wish to attract any further attention in terms of poachers to our situation and we do know that we have poachers in the Dundas Valley,” added Miazga.
Miazga said an agreement was reached to respect the treaty rights of the Haudenosaunee, who will cull the deer both for food and because deer are an important part of mid-winter ceremonies that will take place in early January.
“Quite frankly, they’ve been very forthright with us and have informed us of when and where they will be conducting their harvest in terms of their food-gathering and their ceremonies,” said Miazga. “We respect their treaty rights and therefore we have decided that we have to post those trails.”

View Dundas Valley Hunting zone in a larger map

Paul Williams, a member of the committee working on hunting issues on behalf of the Haudenosaunee, said the arrangement balances treaty rights and public safety.
“We’re having to reconcile social issues, legal issues on both sides, conservation issues and certainly we work with the conservation authority to identify the places where the deer can be taken with the greatest safety, the greatest benefit in terms of conservation and the least possibility of inconvenience to the public,” said Williams.
Williams also noted that there was no need for public fanfare because the issue of treaty rights and hunting is well-established for the Haudenosaunee.
“We do what we can to avoid conflict, but this isn’t something new,” said Williams.
“This is something we’ve done with other agencies before. It’s not secretive.”
Both Miazga and Williams refused to speculate if members of the confederacy would have proceeded with the deer hunt if an agreement with the HCA hadn’t been reached.
Williams also wouldn’t speculate on the number of Six Nations hunters who might participate in the hunt.
“It’s not as if hundreds of people are descending on the valley,” he added.
The two sides have studied the deer population in the area and concluded that there is an overabundance of deer. The HCA’s study conducted in 2009, based on standards set by the Ministry of Natural Resources, suggests the west end of the Dundas Valley area has three times the appropriate number of deer.
Only bow and crossbow hunting will be allowed on the HCA land until Dec. 31, and both the MNR and Hamilton police have been informed about the hunting decision.
The decision to close the trail was not greeted happily by some Ancaster residents out walking their dogs Sunday morning in the conservation area.
“I’m disgusted with it,” said one man, who declined to identify himself. “They have no business being here, as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s like a turkey shoot for them.”
Joanne and John Renaud, who have enjoyed the area for about two decades, worried about their safety.
“I don’t like the idea,” said Joanne.
“You wonder, ‘Am I going to be mistaken for an animal?’” added John.
Rob Martin, who has used the trail for about 10 years, said he was very surprised when he noticed the warning signs.
“That’s way too dangerous,” said Martin. “If they see my dogs walking along, are they going to take a shot?
“I have to assume they’re not that stupid.”
Miazga acknowledged he expects the conservation authority’s decision will be met by some anger.
“I can appreciate their concern but nevertheless we, as the HCA, have to weigh the issue of public safety and treaty rights and in consideration of both, it’s only prudent that we close those trails,” said Miazga.
Williams said he also expects some people will react angrily.
“What we’ve found is there are some people who will be unhappy, no matter how human beings take deer,” said Williams.
“They’re also unhappy about people eating cows.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

walk on the wild side

Coyotes have been hunting deer in Dundas, apparently right along the busy rail trail, according to this article in the Hamilton Spectator. Some advice: 1. Do Not Feed Wildlife. 2. Keep your dogs leashed 3. Don't panic! Coyotes live in the area, and are generally shy of people. Attacks on humans are very rare. We have coyotes in our neighbourhood near Cootes Paradise, and I've only seen one up close once, as it ran ahead of my daughter and I on a trail. I was thrilled to see it, but it did make me a little nervous for a while. But you are far more likely to get in a car accident than be attacked by a coyote. 

Dundas neighbours worry about coyotes

A partially eaten deer carcass on the rail trail in Dundas lies just metres from a childrens' playground.
COYOTE KILL A partially eaten deer carcass on the rail trail in Dundas lies just metres from a childrens' playground.
Ron Albertson/The Hamilton Spectator

Twyla Murray is increasingly worried about the growing number of coyotes boldly prowling her southwest Dundas neighbourhood.

Murray and her husband, Brian, live just steps away from the Dundas rail trail and the nearby Dundas Valley ravine running behind Little John Road. They rattle off stories of close sightings of coyotes.

On one occasion, there was a coyote standing outside their back door in broad daylight. On another, Brian came within feet of a coyote while walking their schnauzer-poodle, Bailey, who froze in fear.

They say neighbours have been confronted by three coyotes walking down the street and the animals have been spotted in an open area beside playground equipment.

“We’ve been worried because they’re very close and don’t seem to be afraid,” said Twyla.

“We go out on the trail a lot and we see moms with strollers and little kids running far ahead … It scares me. I don’t think people realize.”

The couple thinks there should be warning signs along the rail trail and ravine paths to make users aware.

Little John resident and Spectator photographer Ron Albertson snapped a photo of the latest deer victim of coyotes this week. He and his wife have come across three carcasses in the last few months along the Dundas rail trail, adjacent to a popular playground and in the shadow of Dundana public school.

He’s also concerned that rail trail users aren’t prepared to happen upon a coyote.

A number of people walking the trail Wednesday said they weren’t aware that coyotes are hunting deer in the area. One woman walking her large dog said the news makes her wonder if she should be out on the trail alone.

“I run the trail down in the ravine. Maybe I won’t do that any more,” she said.

Coyote attacks on humans are exceedingly rare but not unheard of. A 19-year-old Toronto woman was killed by two coyotes in Cape Breton in October 2009.

Brazen coyotes have become an issue in several parts of Hamilton, including along the Beach Strip last year when they were going into back yards searching for food. Experts say coyotes are one of the few animals in Canada whose range is growing. That brings them into more urban and suburban environments.

Coyotes den in fields, tree stumps or burrows, and typically hunt singly or in pairs. They will kill or eat carrion.

The Murrays say they now see far fewer deer and rabbits than when they moved into the area five years ago. Deer had become something of a nuisance but Twyla worries that the coyotes don’t have any natural predators locally.

Sue O’Dwyer, acting manager of Hamilton Animal Control, says the agency has received 12 calls since January about coyotes in Dundas. She said people are mostly reporting the animals in fields and back yards.

O’Dwyer says if coyotes become a public safety issue, animal control will contact the Ministry of Natural Resources, which would decide whether to trap and euthanize problem animals.

She says those walking in or close to natural areas should carry bells or an air horn and always keep dogs on a leash. Anyone who comes across a coyote should make lots of noise and throw something in its direction, she said. They shouldn’t turn and run but stand their ground and make eye contact with the animal.

Confrontations with an aggressive coyote should be reported to animal control or even the police.

O’Dwyer is particularly concerned about reports of people feeding coyotes, either from their hands or by leaving out food in their back yards. That changes their behaviour from nocturnal, timid creatures, she says, into entitled beggars.

“If people feed them, they will show up in the day and get bold and they become too familiar with people.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

monsters in the valley

Yes, there are people out there who feel the need to build BIG, BIG houses where there once was a wee cottage. There are arguments against such giant impositions on the landscape, especially in the lovely remains of the valley, but it's almost a morally embarrassing voyeuristic thing to watch. But rich people don't know how we feel anyway.

So maybe you should check out an online petition against the enormous chateau here.

(image from the Hamilton Spectator web site)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

work party

The latest info courtesy of the Cootes Paradise Club; here is their latest communique:
The club is looking for 10+ Cootes explorers to assist for 1 hour next Monday between 10am and 2pm. The more people help the faster it will be and the more fun too! We'll be meeting at the Brandon Hall entrance at the hour or half-hour that you sign up. There will be snacks and gloves provided but do dress warm! This is a great way to show to the RBG that we students care about the forest conditions and we are willing to play a role in helping improve the environment.
So if you are in the area of Chegwin Trail, lend the Royal Botanical Gardens a hand!

Salmon Run

Regular walkers along Spencer Creek in Dundas will be familiar with this sight in the fall.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chegwin Bridge

A McMaster University student club devoted to Cootes e-mailed out this bit of info with their weekly events listing:
Monday, Nov. 29th! On this day, the Royal Botanical Gardens will be coming to the Chegwin Trail to remove the old wooden boardwalk that is near the cattails. It's the one with the railings and curves and we walked on it during the September full moon night hike. They have asked for our help in removing the wood. There will be more details to come, but it would be great our club could supply some help for about an hour or two. Gloves and snack will be provided. I'll give you all more details about this event next week. If you want to play a direct role in revitalizing Cootes by working on a project that will be beneficial to the community, this is it! Plus, you can meet all the great people that work with the RBG!
Does this mean they are removing the footbridge? or replacing it? Check back here for answers soon!

ANSWERED! Tys Theysmeyer, Head of Conservation, Aquatic Ecologist at the Royal Botanical Gardens has confirmed that the bridge along the south shore of Cootes Paradise will be upgraded over the next couple months, with a possibility of a raised platform to enable viewers to see over the cattails in the marsh. Volunteers will be able to help with getting the old bridge out. Watch for updates on this blog for ways you can help.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Walking to Dundas Town Hall

Environment Hamilton's Dundas Eco Motion Project invites you to join us for the:

Dundas Eco-Motion Project Town Hall Meeting

When: THURSDAY, December 2nd @ 7pm
Where: Dundas Town Hall

Environment Hamilton will provide an explanation of the findings from the Dundas Eco Motion Project. Project goals and achievements will be addressed, along with an overview of the community concerns received throughout the project. There will also be a discussion on how to move forward with the findings from this project.

Any questions should be directed to our offices by calling:

Thank you for your continued support, and we hope to see you there!

Alessandra Gage
Project Coordinator

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

sunset on Cootes

Posted by Picasa

Stuck without my camera on the bridge over Cootes Drive tonight, I happened to meet a very agreeable young man who shared his photos of the spectacular sunset with me: thanks to Jason Yuen for the kind and prompt favour!

Friday, October 15, 2010

walk think

I love how science keeps kicking out proof of what we suspect about the benefits of walking. This latest study found the seniors who walk about "10 kilometres per week suffer less brain shrinkage, which may help stave off dementia."

So, walking can stave off the aging of the brain that can cause memory difficulty in older adults.

The CBC reports that,

"In the study, 299 volunteers in Pittsburgh with an average age of 78 who were free of dementia recorded the number of blocks they walked in one week. Then nine weeks later, scientists took brain scans of the participants to measure their brain size.

After four more years, researchers tested the subjects to see if they had developed dementia or other memory problems.

Study author Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh and his co-authors found that people who walked at least 72 blocks per week — 10-14 kilometres — showed greater grey matter volume in their brain compared with people who didn't walk as much.

"Our results are in line with data that aerobic activity induces a host of cellular cascades that could conceivably increase grey matter volume," the study's authors wrote.

Trekking more than 72 blocks did not seem to offer any further increases in grey matter volume, the researchers found.

The findings held true regardless of other risk factors such as family history.

Erickson's team called for more studies on the effects of exercise on dementia, but noted that in the absence of effective treatments for Alzheimer's that walking could help.

"If regular exercise in midlife could improve brain health and improve thinking and memory in later life, it would be one more reason to make regular exercise in people of all ages a public health imperative," Erickson said.

The study appears in this week's online issue of the journal Neurology.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
So, what are we to do? Well, continue to create walkable communities, which means rejecting road widening schemes, like those proposed in the Downtown Dundas Transportation Master Plan.  Wide, fast roads discourage walking and cycling, and make conditions more dangerous for those who dare try it. 
Let's get more traffic calming, more cycling lanes, wider sidewalks, and we will have a healthier population of all ages.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dundas In Eco-Motion!

Alessandra Gage coordinated this summer's Dundas Eco-Motion Project for Environment Hamilton; she took some time from her busy school schedule at McMaster to debrief on her experience for Dundas Walks.

Q1) Briefly describe the idea of the project: what are you hoping to accomplish?
The purpose of the Dundas Eco-Motion Project is two-fold. First and foremost, it is meant to cultivate an appreciation for sustainable methods of transportation and a healthy lifestyle. By engaging community members through special events (bike rides, walkabouts, waterfall hikes, and historical tours), we are attempting to reduce our dependency on car-culture. The second goal of the project is to voice community concerns to public officials and address issues of transportation.

Q2) Why Dundas?
Dundas was chosen for a few reasons. The town has been host to a number of Environment Hamilton projects over the years, and funding was offered to run another project in the area. Similar, successful projects pertaining to sustainability were run in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood and near Concession Street, and Dundas seemed like an appropriate candidate for the Eco-Motion Project in light of the heightened community concern regarding transportation issues following a number of traffic-related incidents earlier this year.

Q3) What needs are not being met for people interested in getting around without a car?
Most of the identified needs that are not presently being met fall into one or more of the following categories: connections, safety, and speed. Although Dundas has been improving over the years, residents are still looking for better connections between living areas and different modes of transportation. For instance, many citizens have requested that the sidewalk along Ogilvie be extended from Creekside Dr. to Governer's Road. This connection is particularly important for individuals with mobility issues, because it can be both tedious and dangerous for a resident to walk the longer distance (walking back up to Hatt, crossing to the Metro-side of Ogilvie, and crossing back over at Governer's) to reach the bus stop on Ogilvie at Governer's. Another pressing need was for wider sidewalks, and a more pedestrian-friendly intersection at Governers & Ogilvie. The sidewalks are currently being worked on, but it's important for people to keep discussion about improvements ongoing and active so that positive changes can continue. One of the safety/speed concerns that has frequently been mentioned, is the hazardous stretch of Hatt Street, and Creekside Drive (connecting both Ogilvie and Hatt). Residents have asked for wider sidewalks, smaller lanes, and more stop-signs. Some have requested speed-bumps along Creekside to help deter drivers from using the road to avoid the lights at Hatt & Ogilvie. While there are plenty more requests made to address needs of individuals travelling without a car, one of the last ones that I will mention is that of connecting modes of transportation. In order to have a comprehensive system of transportation, it's important to have good links as modes of transportation change. For instance, providing bike racks alongside bus stops, so that travellers can lock their bikes up before the next stretch of their trip; or having sidewalks, bike lanes, and bus routes all connect so that you can travel continuously from one place to another, while using various methods of sustainable transport. All of these needs must be met if residents of Dundas desire to move away from today's car-culture and towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle.  

Q4) What are some suggestions you've heard from people?
Some of the suggestions I've heard from people include the following:
  • wider sidewalks
  • re-painting crosswalks
  • more stop-lights
  • higher frequency of HSR buses through Dundas
  • pedestrian-friendly intersections (clear crosswalks, railings for pedestrian islands)
  • more bike lanes
  • grass/flowerbed buffer-zone (mini-boulevard) between Hatt Street & the sidewalk to provide more protection & distance from traffic
  • closing off King Street completely to make a pedestrian-only street
  • continuous sidewalk leading from Creekside Dr. to Governer's along Ogilvie.
This list of suggestions is not exhaustive, and the suggestions have come from a wide variety of residents. Not everyone supports the idea of turning King St. into a permanent pedestrian-only street, but it's a bold suggestion that is important to consider - especially because it prompts us to consider the idea of pedestrian-only streets in general.
Q5) Describe an interesting or surprising moment you experienced.
I was having troubles thinking of a surprising moment, since most of the suggestions I heard were ones that I figured might arise after reviewing the Dundas area, but one that pops into mind was when I spoke with the Creekside residents. Most individuals had expressed dissatisfaction with the HSR bus frequency and service, but there were a few people from Creekside that felt the bus service was running quite well, and that they didn't have many complaints. They also explained some of the benefits of having the buses run as they do through the town. The perspective was nice to hear, since it's always helpful to hear arguments from both sides and from multiple perspectives.

Q6) What happens now that the project is over? Is there a legacy?
Now that the project has been completed, we are working to ensure that the information is passed on to community groups (like Dundas in Transition), who can then continue our efforts. Ideally, we will receive funding for another year in Dundas and we can continue to work on the Eco-Motion Project. While our initial 6-week blitz was helpful in to jump-starting the project, it is imperative that we continue our efforts through self-sustaining means. This means ensuring that the information is not lost, but is utilized by local groups & remains alive in discussion. The Dundas Eco-Motion Project isn't just an Environment Hamilton initiative; it's a project for the people of Dundas, about the people of Dundas, and by the people of Dundas. It's about ensuring that the community's diverse voices are heard and taken into consideration during decision making processes & policy forming.
Thanks Alessandra for your insights and your dedication to Dundas' sustainability! 

For those wishing to stay involved, contact some of the organizations and resources listed on the Dundas Eco Motion web site (copied below):

Helpful Links:

Check us out on facebook! - Dundas Eco-Motion Project Facebook Group
Open Streets Hamilton - Open Streets Hamilton
Transportation for Liveable Communities - TLC
Dundas Walks - Dundas Walks Blogspot
Dundas In Transition - DIT
Dundas Ontario in Transition - Let's DOiT
City Councillor Russ Powers -

Important Documents:

Downtown Dundas Transportation Master Plan - DDTMP
Hatt Street Study (2005) - Hatt Street Study
Cycling Master Plan (2009) - Cycling Master Plan
International Charter for Walking - Charter for Walking
Canadian Walks Master Class: Case Study, Hamilton 2009 - Hamilton Report
Urban Braille System - Principles & Guidelines

Monday, September 20, 2010


This is a friendly invitation to one of the last special event's being held for Environment Hamilton's Dundas Eco Motion Project. We would love for all interested individuals to come and attend the:
Cross/Melville Walking Tour:
Heritage Buildings & Trees
(previously listed as "Dundas Heritage District Historical Tour")

Ann Gillespie, built heritage consultant and member of the Dundas Valley Tree Keepers, will be guiding participants on a wonderful tour of the Cross/Melville area. This walk will be done at a leisurely stroll with stops at a number of locations; however, there will be an optional, brisker walk around the Dundas Driving Park for those wanting a bit more exercise.

Date: Tuesday, September 21st*Time: 6:30pm-7:30pm - NOTE TIME CHANGE!!
Meeting Location: Parking lot of St. Paul's United Church (corner of Cross St. & Park St.)

*In the case of rain, this event will be moved. If the event is moved, the new date/time will be posted on the website, or you can call/email for the more information.

For more information, please direct all inquiries to:
Alessandra Gage

Monday, September 13, 2010

noboby wants dogs in the park?

Plans to close Warren Park to off-leash dogs (welcomed by this blog!) have been delayed, and now, the alternative site of Delottinville Park is being opposed by neighbours.

Is this a classic case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)?

The concerns with Warren Park focused on the environmentally sensitive nature of the area, and its integration with the Hamilton Conservation Area trails, where dogs are supposed to be leashed. The area was not fenced, which meant unwelcome encounters between loose-running dogs and hikers, sometimes leading to threatening behaviour by dogs, and sometimes between owners and hikers.

The replacement park, which is in the midst of the newly completed sprawl development at the western reached of Dundas, north of Governor's Road, would be fenced, and have parking, as well as being close to the dog-owners living in the subdivision.

Clearly, dog-owners want a place to take their dogs off leash. The city is looking at providing this service using best-practices to ensure environmental and safety concerns are met.

As the Dundas Star reports:
the two-acre area would be enclosed by a four foot high fence with double-gated access, it is located outside environmentally significant areas and the site does not conflict with any proposed sports facility.

As letter writers have declared:
We love nature and that is why we moved to Dundas in the first place. The thought of our peaceful neighborhood being converted into a busy, noisy dog sanctuary is unbearable.
After all, Dundas Valley is identified as an environmentally sensitive area in the Hamilton-Wentworth Region official plan
They might want to consider that the landscape where their new home sits was not long ago a meadow with footpaths; a stream was placed into a pipe and buried, the hill leveled to a flatness suitable for subdivisions, while access to the Conservation Area trail was fenced off.

Now that houses stand on the former natural area with their roads, paved driveways, and suburban accoutrement like lawn mowers, leaf-blowers etc. it seems selfish to take such an environmental stance against a low-intensity fenced leash free area.

The Hill Street leash free area is in Hamilton is close to houses and part of a children's park and functions very well in the community.

People in support of a leash free park in Hamilton had better speak up and let Councillor Powers know your views (, since, as the staff report states, there are no real options other than this location.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Creekside Walk Croaks?

Well, my daughter and I were walking the trail to Burlington through Hendry Valley along Grindstone Creek and we were surprised to find this sign (above) - well, "not recommended" for hiking isn't saying "closed to hiking" - plus the fineprint saying repairs would not happen "until summer when the creek and grounds are it its driest" led us to continue on our trek, it being mid August and all.

Yet we quickly realized that not many others are ignoring the posted warning, since the trail was very narrowed by the overgrowth of life as it goes on in the woods - and we had to brush past a constant supply of greenery, some of which we found was likely poison ivy, so we wait now to see how our bodies deal with it.

We made it through and the path was much better as we approaced Unsworth drive and on into Hidden Valley. Funny thing was, I was just checking out the Royal Botanical Gardens own mapping of their trails, including this one, earlier today. Maybe the mapping site could include updates when there are problems with the trail.

I'm itching to tell them...
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Warren Park Loses Leash Free

The local daily reports that Warren Park's leash-free status is gone by the end of the year.
City council decided to revoke the Dundas park's designation as a leash-free park and instead convert a developing area north of Governor's Road into a leash-free zone.
The park near Tally Ho Drive, which is on-leash during the summer, will cease to be a leash-free area in about four months once its replacement, Delottinville Park, is ready, said the city's director of environmental services, Craig Murdoch.
The opposing sides in this tug-of-war over the use of the park for free-running dogs has not always been polite.

To me, it has always made sense to have this park protected since it is in an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) with hiking trails linked to the Dundas Valley Conservation Area where dogs are to be on-leash.

As city staff reported, "Through the action of the dogs, the park is in a degraded state and the natural environment has been impaired." 

It also makes sense to me to have leash-free parks with fences to segregate the dogs from the rest of park users who may not be comfortable with unknown dogs of all sizes approaching them at any speed.

I also suspect that there will always be a minority of dog-owners who ignore the rules, and operate on the assumption that their dog would never cause a problem. However, as any dog behaviourist will tell you, there are no guarantees and any dog is capable of causing harm.

But I also suspect that most dog-owners will respect the new by-law and work to ensure proper amenities for their pets.Hikers in the area will be more secure in their walks knowing that they will not be accosted by dogs whose owners are not in proximity to control them.

View Leash Free Dog Park Issues, Dundas ON in a larger map

Two other parks in Dundas (Chegwin and Littlejohn) are up for review, neither of which has fencing, and one (Chegwin) next to a creek that feeds into Spencer Creek, and a paved trail linking to the Spencer Creek Trail and to Governor's Road, so a review seems to be in order.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

talking shit

 A correspondent to this blog is getting annoyed at what he sees at an abundance of horse manure being left on the Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail in Dundas Valley:
Basically we have private horse riding private businesses making use of public space, churning up the path with their hoofs, leaving potholes and shit all over the place, and basically taking over the public space, while making money off of it.  This does not include the one bicycle rack that was ripped out of its moorings at the Trail Centre by a wild horse.

When I get to the Brant county section of the trail, I notice that they have scoop signs, which are sort of ambiguous, but at least it is something.  I get this shit in my mountain (bike) tires and have to clean it out with water.

The shit sometimes is deposited between the two barriers at the crossings, so one would only have about four square feet to work your trick bike.

 Well, on my ride out there last Saturday I found two piles of horse droppings on the trail, about a kilometre in each direction from the Trail Centre. I will admit, I was a bit shy about taking pictures of poop, but, all in a day's blogging. I have a photo of the second pile, but I hope this one will suffice as a a sort of synecdoche of shit.

A little further on down the trail, just east of the Trail Centre I found this scat, which I will guess is perhaps Coyote poop, which would make leaving it behind a bit more legitimate, being wild and all.

The correspondent (I'll call him CCRider) took my advice and called to complain at the Hamilton Conservation Authority, but he was not pleased with the response. The administrator, according to CCRider
implied that horse riders are the most important clients of the trail, and the real problem is dogs, not horses
I am not sure where to go from here: I do enjoy seeing the horses, though they can be skittish, therefore potentially dangerous around other trail users. I wish the riders would, as I seem to recall was required from an earlier trail etiquette brochure (i failed to find it on the new HCA web site),  push the poop to the side of the trail at least.

What do you think? Is horse poop a problem on the Dundas Trails? Use the comment section to have your say.

Friday, July 30, 2010

walking environment

Walk-abouts are back in Dundas! These walking tours give people a chance to see just how walkable the community is, while allowing people to review and suggest where improvements can be made.  Transportation for Liveable Communities did the first walk-about in May 2005, and another one with funding from Safe Kids Canada on Governor's Road in May 2008, and now Environment Hamilton has funding to take the project of sustainable mobility another step forward with Eco-Motion.

 Some Eco-Motion events are scheduled, with more to come:

  • Dundas Walkabout #1 - Saturday, July 31st @ 2pm, meet in front of Dundas Library (18 Ogilvie Street) - approx. 1-2 hours
  • Dundas Walkabout #2 - Saturday, August 7th @ 2pm, meet in front of Dundas Library (18 Ogilvie Street) - approx. 1-2 hours
  • Downtown Dundas Historical Tour (1 hour, led by Stan Nowak) - Tuesday, August 24th @ 7pm, meeting location TBD
  • Dundas Heritage District Historical Tour (1 hour, led by Stan Nowak) - Tuesday, September 21st @ 7pm, meeting location TBD

As TLC has noted elsewhere, Dundas is ripe for improvements to its sustainable transportation network, improvements that would encourage more people to walk and/or cycle as part of their Dundas experience. Dundas Walks wishes Alessandra Gage of Eco-Motion all the success in moving toward sustainability in the Valley Town! 

Read what the Dundas Star has to say on the matter: 

Eco-Motion Project underway

Environment Hamilton once again blitzing Dundas for info

Published on Jul 22, 2010
Environment Hamilton is back in Dundas for a six-week blitz.
The local non-governmental agency will spearhead a sustainability project that focuses on reducing our carbon footprint, promoting sustainability and voicing neighbourhood concerns about transportation and walkability.
Student intern Alessandra Gage is working closely with Councillor Russ Powers and a number of local community groups to put the project in motion.
The Dundas Eco-Motion Project (DEMP) has been initiated to build awareness and ensure that Dundas offers effective forms of sustainable transportation, addressing any current issues with walkability/eco-friendly transportation.
In addition to gathering community feedback, there will be special walking tours, bike hikes, and information sessions held throughout the summer.
"Working to improve the use of sustainable transportation is important for the community, not only because it reduces our carbon emissions, but because it offers important health benefits as well" explains Alessandra Gage.
By working closely with community groups and city councillors, the DEMP also hopes to maximize the efficiency and efficacy of pre-existing and current initiatives. Most importantly, Alessandra stressed the project looks at improving sustainable transportation for everyone, regardless of age and ability.
"It's important to have accessible, eco-friendly transportation that can meet the needs of the diverse individuals living in Dundas -not just one niche," she said.
Meetings to finalize the project details and event dates will be held this upcoming week, but individuals are invited to keep up to date by following the project website at
The Dundas Eco-Motion Project is closely related to the Kirkendall Walks and Concession Street Walks projects run by Environment Hamilton in previous summers.
For more information, contact Alessandra at 905-549-0900.

Friday, June 18, 2010

propping up the banks

Some work has been done to stabilize the Spencer Creek banks just north of Edwards Park in Dundas. There are new trees and shrubs planted along the top, which will help retore this shady spot to its former beauty. Gone is the tree on the near bank that once held a rope swing used by young and old alike to play in the water.

The Spencer Creek Trail provides the most potential to develop a pleasant and scenic walk through the centre of Dundas; after all, a walk is made more invigorating and restorative if it is in the midst of natural beauty.

The existing east-west trail would benefit from improvements to the creek environment, especially the removing of concrete channels that straighten the creek and destroy fish habitat (more on this subject later).

A more natural creek setting would do much to enhance Dundas's image as a scenic and restful place, where quality of life means more than the fastest car commute. Spencer Creek is perhaps the former Town's most important natural asset, and as such, needs some tender loving care to restore it to it's former glory.
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

on the RBG's Geotrail

RBG walk? There's an app for that

, The Hamilton Spectator, (Jun 9, 2010) 

Lush walking trails, waterfalls and rarely seen turtles can all be found in Hamilton's back yard -- and at your digital fingertips.
Hikers, bird watchers and outdoor lovers now have Geotrail, a new high-tech interactive tool to help them map out routes on the Royal Botanical Gardens' 27 kilometres of walking trails.
"There's this growing ability to use online mapping to do all sorts of things," said Geotrail co-founder Paul Shaker. "One niche that we saw could be improved was the outdoor experience and outdoor education."
The Hamilton company created the web service that allows people to plan walking routes based on distance, difficulty level, scenery and duration. It's part of a growing wave of handheld technology applications, or apps, that connect users with the Internet anywhere they go, even the woods.
"This whole area is picking up steam," Shaker said. "It's making the computer more human friendly. It goes where you want to go."
Since Geotrail was launched at the RBG on May 21, the website has received more than 1,000 hits and is getting linked on Facebook pages, he said. Shaker said he has also received interest from other provinces about creating trail maps, and even urban trails in cities with historical landmarks.
Many people have responded positively about the educational aspect of the site, he said.
"You don't just have a dot on a map," Shaker said. "To be able to compare (nature walks) in real time before you head out, you really get a sense of knowledge."
Geotrail also promotes local trails and natural land that don't get much recognition, Shaker added.
That's partly what attracted the RBG to the project because it's much more well-known for its rose and tulip gardens, said Lee Oliver, RBG communications manager.
When Geotrail's Shaker and business partner Gallisedo Bae approached the RBG about the project a couple months ago, "we jumped on it," he said.
"We've been talking about ... how can we better promote the trails to people," Oliver said.
"There's so much amazing technology out there. We're definitely going down that route."
Check out Geotrail on the RBG's website:

Friday, June 4, 2010

SATURDAY JUNE 5: International Trails Day

Well, this should be an easy one to Celebrate in Dundas - some of the most scenic sections of the Bruce Trail are found here in Dundas Valley and the Spencer Gorge; The Royal Botanical gardens footpaths through Cootes and Hendrie Valley, the nearby Waterfront Trail along the Hamilton Bay and Lake Ontario, and of course, the Trans Canada trail sections that are entwined along these routes. It's hard to be but a few minutes travel to a great trail in this area, and most of them will pay dividends by taking you to or past glorious waterfalls.
Send me a photo of your hike so I can post it on this blog. Now lace up your boots and get moving!
Celebrate International Trails Day on the Trans Canada Trail       
The Trail offers endless oppotunities for 
discovery and adventureJUNE 5 is International Trails Day, a world-wide celebration of recreational trails. Trails promote healthy living, preserve our natural heritage, generate local economic development and inspire endless journeys of learning and discovery.  
Join us on the world's longest Trail on June 5. Events and activities are planned from coast to coast to coast.  With geo-caching on NB's Fundy Trail, an adventure hike-a-thon on MB's Centennial Trail,  the grand opening of Central Alberta's Blindman River Bridge, along with a horseback ride on BC's Haller Trail, a Trail Opening in Midland ON and a Magical Historical Sites cycle tour in Victoria, a great day awaits you on the Trans Canada Trail. Click here for details and a full list of events. 

Monday, May 31, 2010

do you move yourself?

Help local researchers figure out why you choose to move your body! 
(click on image to get larger view)

Friday, May 28, 2010

doctors doing it

How to exercise without "exercising": walk places you need to go! I would add only that to walk for utilitarian purposes is made better if there are decent places to walk (traffic-calmed streets, shade trees, trails, etc.). Walking on Main Street though downtown Hamilton does not qualify.


Local physicians walk the talk

Special to The Hamilton Spectator

(May 28, 2010)
Docs who walk: Doctors are well-known for working long, unpredictable hours under stressful conditions.
So how can doctors -- who are in the business of promoting good health -- find time for regular exercise?
One solution is to build exercise into everyday activities, say Hamilton Health Sciences physicians who walk to stay physically active.
Diabetes specialist Hertzel Gerstein conducts meetings with colleagues while walking.
Cardiologist Greg Curnew organized a lunchtime walking group called the Million Step Club.
And cancer specialist Richard Tozer walks to work every day, year-round. Tozer's daily trek includes climbing the escarpment stairs.
Pedometers: "Many people will spend the day doing essentially no activity," says Gerstein, who wears a pedometer every day to track his steps.
This small device is worn near the hip to count and record the number of steps taken. There are many types of pedometers on the market.
"The really cheap ones are not that reliable," warns Gerstein, who recommends spending at least $25 for a dependable model.
It's recommended that people take at least 10,000 steps a day -- the equivalent of walking eight kilometres. Yet the average Canadian takes only 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day.
"It's very informative for people to wear a pedometer to see what they're actually doing," says Gerstein, who aims for 13,000 to 14,000 steps a day.
Wearing one could be a wake-up call for people with desk jobs.
"You may find at the end of the day you've walked 1,000 steps -- which is almost nothing."
Studies have shown that the pedometer should be worn as close as possible to the top point of the hip bone for maximum accuracy, says Curnew. Wearing it closer to the centre of the body gives inaccurate readings.
Talk and walk: "If I have meetings with people in my office, we often do strolling meetings where we can talk and walk at the same time," says Gerstein, who works at the McMaster University Medical Centre.
"There's no reason why two people have to sit across a desk to have a meeting."
When Gerstein has documents to read or notes to dictate, he'll do this while walking the halls, as long as it doesn't involve confidential information.
Healthy choices: Being physically active can help prevent disease -- including diabetes, adds Gerstein.
"Studies have shown very clearly that if you do an average of about 30 minutes of brisk walking at least five days a week, combined with very modest dietary changes, it reduces your risk of diabetes by 50 to 60 per cent."
Physical activity is also one of the best ways to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, adds Curnew, who wears a pedometer and aims for 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day.
When you're active 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week, you can dramatically lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
Regular activity also helps prevent and control risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. Adding more activity to your daily life may also reduce stress levels, increase energy and improve sleep and digestion.
"We're trying to get people to be active," says Curnew, who encourages his patients to wear a pedometer and join his Million Step Club.
"If you do 10,000 steps a day, it takes roughly three months (to walk one million steps)."
Curnew has also organized group walks from his office. They will start in June and take place every Thursday during the lunch hour.
In addition to walking at least 10,000 steps a day, Curnew recommends aiming for seven hours of sporting activity per week as a way to improve cardiovascular fitness. His sport of choice is squash.
Weight loss: If weight loss is your goal, physical activity alone won't be enough, says Gerstein. "You need to combine dietary changes with physical activity."
For many people, all it takes is a small reduction in what they're eating each day.
"If you can cut 200 calories a day out of your diet, that can add up to a 10-pound weight loss over a year," says Gerstein.
Tozer, an oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, lost 40 pounds by walking to work every day and following the Weight Watchers program where all foods are assigned a point value based on the calorie, fat and fibre content.
Tozer doesn't wear a pedometer. Instead, he walks at a very brisk pace over set time periods. It takes him 40 minutes to walk from his home to the Juravinski Cancer Centre on Hamilton Mountain. He walks home whenever possible, and also goes for regular evening walks lasting 90 minutes.
"I basically traded in my briefcase for my knapsack, and I've never looked back," says Tozer. He credits walking with helping him to trim down and improve his stamina.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, up to 35 per cent of all cancers can be prevented by being active, eating well and maintaining a healthy body weight.
After not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the best things people can do to reduce their risk of getting cancer.
Walk with the doc
What & Who: Free midday group walks with Dr. Greg Curnew are open to anyone.
When: noon Thursdays starting in June. Contact number below for exact date.
Where: Meet at Dr. Curnew's office, 414 Victoria Ave. N.
Contact: 905-667-0783

- - -
photo: Ron Albertson, the Hamilton Spectator

Monday, May 17, 2010

racing past discussion

Check out this move - with no real planning or community discussion, the group wanting to build a Pan Am Velodrome decided to forgo the synergy of having the track built along with the Pan Am stadium and somehow selected Dundas; with the local councillor's approval. How can these decisions be made with no input from the community?

As advocates for hiking and walking in the Dundas area, we need to know if the hasty plans have been thorough, or as it appears, knee jerk. Unless hikers want elite mountain bike racers speeding past them on the nearby footpaths...

"The NCCH believes the Dundas site would best serve three of the four cycling disciplines as it is close to road cycling routes and mountain biking trails."

What trails are they referring to? RBG trails? Bruce Trail? Neither of which are open for cycling, being footpaths in naturally sensitive areas? Or do they consider Dundas Valley trails close? How well thought out is this plan?

RESTORE COOTES: footpath or cycle path?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Good Fences Make Good Dog Neighbours

Council considers first fenced leash-free dog area in west end"
Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News Staff

Published on May 06, 2010

As a city staff review of a controversial Dundas leash-free dog running area enters its fifth month, city councillors will consider placing a fence around another leash-free park for the first time.

A notice of motion was given at this week’s public works committee meeting. The motion, if approved at the committee’s May 31 meeting, would direct city staff to install a fence around a leash free park in Hamilton’s west end. This would be the first fenced leash-free or free-running area operated by the city. Three unfenced free-running areas are located in Dundas, plus one in Ancaster.

According to the motion, there have been an increasing number of “dangerous interactions” between off-leash dogs and children or families using a playground in the same park. “…effectively fencing off the leash-free and playground uses of the park will provide a workable solution for all users,” the motion states.

As previously reported by the Dundas Star News, most municipalities with leash free areas within parks enclose the free running areas with fences – particularly when there is any chance of interaction with other park users, or to keep dogs away from conservation or environmentally significant areas.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals supports leash free areas that are fenced, for the protection of the dogs who use them.

In Hamilton, leash free dogs are not permitted in environmentally significant areas or conservation areas. Warren Park, which is home to an unfenced free running area, is frequented by people using various trails, is located within an ESA and surrounded by Hamilton Conservation Authority property.

Change the rules

A group of dog owners who allow their pets to run at large in Warren Park has asked the city to change the rules for leash free areas to allow the use to continue. Another group has requested the leash-free designation be eliminated.

A staff report and recommendation on Warren Park’s leash-free status is expected by August.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Leash or Leash Free Decision Held Back

As someone who uses the trail through Warren park as part of the hiking trail system in this valley, having a leash-free area creates a great deal of fear and potential danger for people.
We don't know that your dog, barreling toward us and our young children, is friendly or attacking.

I have seen dogs disobey orders, I have heard "he's never done THAT before" after the dog has growled at us, or started aggressively barking at us; there are just so many potential conflicts that the owners are unable to address that having the two uses i.e. hiking and leash-free, are incompatible.
After years of reading meters for Hydro, I know very well that dogs can be unpredictable, yes, even yours. The owner's verbal assurances aren't worth the paper they are written on when it comes to our safety and comfort.
Of course I will never forget the shock and horror of the time a free-running dog attacked and killed our dog (in Burlington): the dog's owner was unable to first control, then unable to get his dog off ours until it was too late: he ended up chasing after his dog into the dark, while we were left to pick up the remains of our family pet.
I see leash free areas in neighbouring Burlington, fenced in, and not in Environmentally Sensitive Areas, so I certainly hope the staff report reflects concerns above and beyond convenience or a sense of "right" of dog owners.
Dundas decision on dog leashes will have to wait

The Hamilton Spectator

(Apr 20, 2010)

A decision on the freedom of dogs in Dundas's Warren Park won't come until late summer.

The city's public works committee heard from many passionate delegates on both sides of the leash-free debate yesterday before Dundas Councillor Russ Powers moved that the matter go to staff for a report due back in August. He asked staff to come up with alternative locations for a leash-free area in Dundas.

Dog lovers said the park has been leash-free for 23 years and Hamilton already has a shortage of areas to legally walk dogs off-leash. Brian Hinkley, representing the Friends of Warren Park, said users ensure the area is clean and safe and that a volunteer committee can address the concerns of the park's neighbours.

But nearby residents say the use of the park has skyrocketed in the past few years and neighbours are subjected to noise, clogged streets and unruly dogs.

The park abuts the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. Dogs must be leashed in those areas and the Hamilton Conservation Authority has said it's going to step up enforcement after receiving complaints.

A group called Warren Park for Everyone urged the city to make it leash-only because it is within a designated environmentally sensitive area and is near walking trails.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

so many reasons

Spring is making her presence felt in so many magical ways. If you were needing a prompt to lace up your boots and hit the trails, just the chorus of frogs singing could be enough to justify a trip to the woods in search of the small ponds and marshes.

Or perhaps the lure of the early spring flowers will drag you away from your busy life: one of my favourites - trout lilies - are colouring the forest floor with subtle intensity. And of course the Mayapple, pictured, finding room to spread out beneath the hickory, oaks and the black cherry trees.

Love is in the air, so get out and enjoy it! (Remember, leave the plants and the wildlife alone i.e no picking flowers, if for no other reason than that others may also enjoy)
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Friday, April 9, 2010

human powered trails please!

I go to the woods to get away from the 'hustle and bustle', which for me is an euphemism for 'motor vehicles.' The trails offer quiet and safe surroundings to relax and enjoy nature.
But it seems recreation for some people means simply changing what and where they drive. The two uses (passive human powered locomotion: fast loud ATVs etc) in one area are incompatible. I hope they catch and fine some of the ATV, motorcycle riders, etc. for trespassing on Conservation Area trails and can find ways to keep them out. The damage they cause to sensitive natural areas is too great to ignore.

Motorized vehicles not permitted on trails

Published on Apr 08, 2010, Dundas Star News

The Hamilton Conservation Authority has developed more than 140 kilometres of trails throughout the City of Hamilton in conservation areas and on regional trails, like the Dofasco Trail, Chippawa Trail, Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail and the Lafarge Trail.

The popular trails provide areas for passive enjoyment by hikers and bicyclists throughout the region. HCA also provides Hamilton with first-class hiking and outdoor recreation facilities.

The high value of these trails to the physical and mental well-being of citizens in the community is well recognized, said HCA operations manager Bruce Mackenzie.

“The Conservation Authority asks all members of the community to enjoy the trails for their intended uses,” he said. “However, we request that no one uses these trails with motorized vehicles.”

Mackenzie said the use of these trails by all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and motorcycles seriously erodes the value of these trails for the community.

“Plus HCA is spending thousands of dollars trying to keep motorized vehicles off of the trails,” he said, pointing out gates are being destroyed and barriers removed, while legitimate users of these trails are intimidated by fast-moving motorized vehicles.

HCA hopes thousands will enjoy its trails in the way they were intended to be used. To help ensure public safety and decrease property damage, HCA staff will be assigned to patrol areas frequented by ATVs and other motorized vehicles.

Mackenzie said violators could face charges and fines under the Trespass to Property Act and/or the Conservation Authority Act of Ontario.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hike a "Draining" Experience

I have been a fan of for years, not only for the fact that these urban explorers go where most dare not (sewers), but as much for the ethereal photos of this often stunning underground world of architecture they produce.

For a local perspective, you must view the Drains of the Hammer

In the preamble to the Hamilton page, the author supports Hamilton's latest tourism wonder:
Hamilton has more waterfalls within its urban limits than any other city in the world, and this has coloured our experience of its drains, offering a particularly majestic, if no less conflicted, intersection of nature and cement.
Unfortunately, the author/explorer - Michael Cook (Kowalski) - has been arrested for pursuing his pastime in Toronto, along another sewer that replaced a creek (the majority of Hamilton's original creeks are buried and now serve as combined sewer overflows) .

In a way, they are explorers of natural history, taking a former natural waterway, and tracing its path, now reformed in concrete and buried. Should they be punished for their work? Check out their web site and then decide.

Here's an article from the Toronto Star:

Two men arrested for late-night foray into sewers

April 05, 2010, Katie Daubs, Toronto Star


While many urban explorers publish under aliases, Cook and Emond have always revealed their identities.MICHAEL COOK/VANISHINGPOINT.CA

When two men were arrested for taking a stroll in the sewers on Sunday, police were flummoxed.

“That’s not normal, people going down into the sewers,” said Det. Dan Murphy at 14 Division. “Why are they going down into the sewers?”

Well, it really doesn’t smell that bad, according to one of the men arrested.

“For the most part it isn’t toilet waste, which makes up a small part of the stream,” Andrew Emond told the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record last month. “It’s mostly water from showers, baths and dishwashers, which gives off a kind of soapy, organic smell, which isn’t unpleasant.”

Michael Cook, 27, of Toronto, and Andrew Emond, 35, of Montreal were arrested Sunday after a perplexed citizen saw them enter the sewer near Ossington Ave. and Dundas St. W. Both face charges of mischief to interfere with property.

“I don’t feel comfortable commenting on this event just yet until it’s been resolved in court,” Emond wrote in an email on Monday. Emails to Cook were not returned.

Both men are urban explorers and photographers. Cook runs, and Emond runs Both have explored drains for several years and most recently, the men were exploring the sewers that replaced Garrison Creek, in the western section of downtown.

Urban exploration is a hobby and subculture where people venture into drains, abandoned buildings and infrastructure to photograph the forgotten past and unseen workings of a city. Some ask permission, some don’t.

“It’s illegal what we do unfortunately” said a Toronto photographer acquaintance of Cook and Emond, who’s accompanied them twice to the sewers that don’t smell as bad as you’d think.

“We don’t do this to break the law,” said the fellow explorer who did not want his name used. “It’s about urban cartography, viewing the city that isn’t visualized through streets and other landmarks.”

He said they are usually outfitted with hip waders and goggles, and always listen to the weather forecast to make sure there’s no rain.

Urban exploration can be deadly. In 2009, a man lost his life after he was swept into the Mississippi River when the tunnel he was exploring in Minneapolis-St. Paul filled with rainwater. Another urban explorer on the same venture survived.

“We take every precaution necessary to keep ourselves safe,” the photographer said. “Every time it rains obviously those pipes are going to fill up and are potentially dangerous.”

In a 2007 interview with a U.S. blog, Cook said he once ran into trouble while navigating the “surge spillways” that “spiral downwards” at the Ontario Generating Station in the Niagara Region. Cook said he lost his footing and slid 60 metres to the bottom.

“I was very lucky to come away from that with just a few friction burns and a sprained thumb,” he told BLDGBLOG.

Although many urban explorers publish their photos under aliases, Cook and Emond have always been up front about their identities on their respective websites.

Emond has said he’s explored Montreal’s sewer and waste water system for three years without any repercussions.

“In fact, I’ve received positive responses from a wide range of people, including historians, engineers, architects, community planners, the media, artists and even local politicians,” he said.

Cook has said most urban explorers aren’t interested in “undergrounding” because it can be kilometres on end of “featureless pipe.”

Troy Paiva, a San Francisco photographer who wrote Night Vision: The Art of Urban Exploration, has other reasons to stay above ground.

“I don’t do functioning infrastructure. I find it’s too easy to get thrown in jail,” he said.

Paiva has run into police, property owners and people with shotguns, all telling him to scram. He’s never been charged.

“You have to learn how to talk to people and say you’re just a weirdo artist, not a vandal or a thief. I think most people think you’re in there to do drugs, break the place up or to tag it,” he said.

In his interview with BLDGBLOG, Cook acknowledged legal issues around sewer exploration are “pretty grey.”

“It’s not something that I’ve ever had a problem with — and definitely not something that requires me to go in the middle of the night,” he said. “The only thing that really dictates what time you can go is traffic conditions. If you have to use a streetside manhole, you generally don’t want to be doing that doing the day.”

Stanley Greenberg, who has photographed the infrastructure beneath New York City since the early ’90s, says urban explorers are like well-intentioned computer hackers.

“Part of the challenge is finding your way in. They’re not there to do any harm, these aren’t people who do graffiti,” he said. “Granted it’s occasionally dangerous, it can cause problems, but most of the time it’s pretty harmless.”

Greenberg, who published Invisible New York, has pestered officials for permission for most of his explorations, but there have been a few places he had to sneak into.

“So many places I’ve been to, I thought, ‘I almost don’t care if I make a good picture, I’m getting to see this incredible place, to be on the edge of the unrestored part of Ellis Island, it’s like you’re in a different century.’ ”

Cook and Emond’s acquaintance said he felt obliged to speak about urban exploration to dispel myths.

“A city like Toronto desperately needs more urban mythology. Instead of having crap like the CN Tower, the SkyDome represent the city, we present things that have been around much longer that most people aren’t even aware of.”

With files from John Goddard