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Journal: Stelco Canada Works

Stelco sign
This sign had rusted so much that it was hard to read, but I think it said "All Welcome, Love Stelco".
Stelco Canada Works (March 2004): In 1913, the Steel Company of Canada opened a mammoth new steel mill in what was then the township of Barton. Over the years, Barton was annexed by the growing city of Hamilton and the Steel Company of Canada changed its name to Stelco for ease of French translation. Stelco produced a heck of a lot of shells to help destroy German industry and a heck of a lot of ingots to help build up Canadian industry, but once those jobs were done, in 1984, Stelco ceased production at the mill. Over the next two years the mill's usable equipment was stripped away and sent to other Stelco properties; the place was fully abandoned in 1986.
       When I accompanied Pouch, Lost Flock and PotLAN on their second trip to the mill, I saw that the elements had not been kind to the building over the past 18 years. The huge rusting hulk, which spreads over several acres between a prison and a hospital, looks on the verge of collapse — except for a few bits, which have already collapsed. Fortunately, the security level is about what you'd expect for a neglected ruin, and we were easily able to slip inside.

Stelco interior
Inside the mill, large sections of the roof are missing, and nature has begun to make a comeback.
       Once inside, I was blown away by the size and beauty of the place, but also alarmed at all the noise. It sounded to me like the place was full of people having a noisy party, but it turned out the noise was just large flaps of corrugated plastic or sheet metal blowing freely in the wind and loudly slapping the building.

Stelco interior
Although most of the mill's useful machinery has been stripped out, a few older and bulkier toys have been left behind for explorers.
       The concrete floors we were walking on seemed stable enough, in spite of large cracks and random person-sized holes every now and then, but I couldn't vouch for the structural integrity of anything else, including the disintegrating brick walls, the wooden stairs, the rusty metal ladders, and the haphazard mismash of wood, shingles and tar that made up the roof. Large sections of the roof were missing, and everything was wet from recently melted ice and snow.

Stelco interior
This room is going for a sort of chaotic elegance.
       But the place was beautiful — truly decay at its finest. The gargantuan rooms were so large that it was hard to take them all in at once... and there were also multiple levels to tempt us. On the way to the mill, Lost Flock had bought a can of pop for himself for a "quick sugar rush". Those who know Flock know that he needs a sugar rush like Genghis Khan needs assertiveness training. Moments after we got inside he climbed up the wall to the second floor and then disappeared up into the rafters in search of the roof while Pouch and PotLAN showed me some of the spectacular sights they'd already seen on their last trip.

Stelco interior
Stelco interior
Deep within the flooded basement, Pouch tries his hand at the lightning machine. This proved to be a bad idea.
       Strangely enough, Flock made it back in one piece, and the four of us started seeking out unknown areas. Our first new find was a tough-to-access mint green building that smelled heavily of oil and had odd sink-like objects scattered all around the floor. We all turned on our flashlights as we headed down into the dark, flooded basement, where Pouch discovered a large, yellow, 13,000-volt machine that probably hadn't been functioning for decades. Finding that its switch was in the "on" position, Pouch decided to flip it to "off" for fun, but then, wanting to leave it as he found it, threw it back on. To everyone's immense surprise, a large, lightning-bolt-like blue spark shot through the machine accompanied by an impressive ZAP sound. For some weird reason, the thing had power, so we all felt very happy about still being alive as we carefully sloshed our way back out of the flooded basement. We then hauled a ladder into place and roofed the small building, but the view was nothing special.

Stelco interior
Sound advice.
       After visits to the burnt-out room, the peeling paint cave, the BJ room, and other tourist attractions, we headed down to the darkened basements, where we had to wade our way through a sea of boards and rusty nails that had fallen down from the floors above us.

Stelco interior
Stelco interior
Much of the first and second floor, and parts of the outer roof, had collapsed into the basement.
       After seeing what there was to see down here, we made our way up to the boiler room, where we climbed up a boiler tank, through a small hole in the ceiling into a square brick room, then up through a hole in the ceiling out to the roof — the real roof, the good one, with a great view of most of the mill and the area around it. We were fairly exposed, however, and some nearby graffiti commanded "don't fuck around", so we soon headed back down.

Stelco interior
Stelco interior
The untrustworthy roof and the untrustyworthy second floor (together again).
       Next we commenced our tour of what remained of the second floor. This was probably my least favourite part of the trip; it was certainly the riskiest. Although signs on the wall assured me the floors could handle loads of 15,000 pounds, gaping holes in the wooden floor, coupled with abundant evidence of past fires, floods, and collapses, made me think those signs might be overestimating things by 14,800 pounds or so. What remains of the second floor is going to collapse sometime in the next five years or so, and it's more likely to happen while someone's up there for a stroll than not. I was happy when we made our way over the skyway, down the stairs, and back to solid ground. We cheerfully made our way back out to civilization shortly afterwards.

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