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 www.vanishingpoint.ca, and Emond runs www.undermontreal.com. 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