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Journal: Defeat Under Union Station

The various unlit half-height tunnels scattered around the east end of the tunnels are generally not worth exploring.
Union Station Steam Tunnels (mid March 2003): When Jim Hollison and I last toured the underbelly of Union Station we'd made significant progress on following various tunnels to their end, leaving only one or two branches of the maze unchecked. On a recent evening, Harpocrates and I headed back to Union Station to finish the job.
        After spending a considerable amount of time touring the parking garages and the office areas and finding all regular entrances to the tunnels locked up, we took a complex route to an entrance Liz had discovered on a previous visit and plunged down into the middle of the steam tunnel system, where we spent a few solid minutes making sure we were alone before setting out to the lesser-known eastern tunnels.
       "What's the story if we're caught?" Harpocrates asked, peering over his shoulder.
       "No story... we run," I replied. "We can't really say we pried open an entrance, climbed down a ladder and prowled around in the steam tunnels for half an hour because we were looking for a bathroom."
East tunnel
The eastern tunnel took us under the Scotiabank offices and Bay Street, but didn't get us as far as the postal building next door.
       After heading through a few tunnels and rooms, climbing around in a few unlit half-height tunnels and peeking out to the street through vents once or twice, we headed on to the main eastern tunnel, crossing underneath the Scotiabank offices and Bay Street as we went. At the end of the tunnel, we came out into a tall room with a manhole set into the ceiling and a grey door four feet up the east wall. The pipes continued east through the wall to the postal building. I climbed up, warned Harpocrates to be ready to run if an alarm went off, and tried the door: alas, it was locked. There would be no further progress to the east.
        We headed back to the tunnel leading north from Union Station to the Royal York hotel, and were soon in the Royal York's half of the tunnel system, standing inside the entrance to the tunnel that Jim and I had given up on a few months earlier. We tucked our pant legs into our socks, turned on our flashlights and waded in.
Wading into the skinny tunnel, we pulled our socks up over our pant legs in the hope of keeping them dry.
       The tunnel, it seems to me, is engineered for maximum unpleasantness, and its creators have done a good job. The tunnel is perhaps a metre wide, but most of that space is occupied by large, rusty steam pipes — explorers only get the foot and a half or so that is left over, and are obliged to duck under large metal beams spaced every five feet or so. While the tunnel was lit once upon a time, those days are long past: not only is the switch wiring ripped out of the wall, but all the lightbulbs along the route are smashed, with some shards still jutting out of their sockets and the rest lying scattered on the floor.
       I say "floor", but perhaps "ground" would be more appropriate — whatever corrosive muck flows through the tunnel has eaten away the thin cement floor some time ago, so one is really wading through mud and rusty water. The pipes that have not yet been punctured are very hot, while those that have fill the tunnel with water and steam. The warm rusty water is high enough to quickly flood your shoes, while the scalding steam is almost a blessing, as it keeps the choking clouds of dust in check. Those were the hazards along the first 50 feet, anyhow. It soon got worse.
Defeat dam
The tunnel floor was extremely unpleasant.
       As we turned the first corner, we came to a point where several soggy mattresses had become stuck while trying to go around the corner, forming a dam that collected floating buckets, lightbulbs and chunks of styrofoam that had been trying to escape from the tunnel, and as we passed this our shoes sunk deeper into the mud and the foamy orange water came further up our ankles. A pipe overhead sprayed water out over the whole tunnel, gushing occasionally: after determining that the water wasn't hot, we timed our passing so that we got only a light shower as we passed beneath.

Defeat Defeat
Shortly after bypassing a leaky pipe, we came across a ladder blocking the tunnel.
       The flooding lessened after this point, but the tunnel became hotter and hotter and the air became staler and staler the further we got from the entrance and any possibility of air flow. This tunnel wasn't like a storm drain, where one can count on grates and manholes to let in some clean air every now and then: this place was sealed up tight. Every time we turned a corner it got muggier, and every time we had to climb over a pipe in the middle of the tunnel it got dustier. I soon began breathing through my shirt.
       "Have I ever told you I don't really like steam tunnels?" asked Harpocrates.
       "Oh," I said, thinking back to our trips to the Bell Centre, Toronto General and York University steam tunnels. "I thought you did."
       "How much farther do you think this goes?"
       "I'm really not sure," I said. "Hopefully to Bloor."
        While Harpocrates did not share my dream, I did want to press on at least until we came to an open manhole, a mechanical room or something that we could feel proud of having found, and which we could perhaps use as a starting point for further investigations. But we went quite a way further before we found the next interesting feature, and that was merely a new rusty pipe running along the ceiling, effectively lowering the height of the tunnel to four feet.
An ignominious retreat.
       After about 30 feet of crawling along in the hot, wet, dark, dusty and oxygenless tunnel, we were both near exhaustion, and climbing underneath a low pipe in the middle of the tunnel left me sweaty and winded. Harpocrates hung back while I scouted ahead around the next corner in search of anything interesting; I didn't see any end in sight, so we gave up and turned back. We did try to open a couple of solid-steel manhole covers engraved with a shape like the Mercedes logo that we found in the ceiling, but they wouldn't even budge. We were obliged to go back the long way, finally making it out to the relative oasis of the main steam tunnel after having spent around an hour looking into the tunnel I'll dub Defeat. We continued north to the engineering levels under the Royal York, where we headed out to the regular service areas and from there climbed the stairs up to the first unlocked level of the hotel, the Main Mezzanine, probably looking very muddy and out of place as we made our way out to the street.
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