On the Side of Caution
The sun was slow to rise this March morning; a storm was brewing nearby, casting Niagara in a steely gray light that was further obstructed by the plume of mist rising from the pounding water at Horseshoe Falls. I peered out the car window for my first glimpse at the falls, but couldn't see much at all... in just half a mile we were already at our destination. The Toronto Power Station looked like a massive stone crypt in the early light, standing majestic and alone beside the raging water. The ornate details carved into the stone edifice were incredible, but there was no time to admire it just yet...
Once inside the main generator hall, I started setting up my gear over an unassuming metal grate in the floor. Some debris on the grate fell through the square holes as I slid my backpack closer, perhaps a rock or rusty bolt; I snapped awake when I heard the ting at the bottom of the shaft - it was extremely delayed. Could it really be that deep? I grabbed another bolt laying around and listened... it took a good four or five seconds to hit something in the dripping blackness below. Apparently I was standing over a shaftway over the wheel pit... and promptly moved off the grate with a bit of a shudder. The thing was quite solid, but there was perfectly good concrete everywhere else!
I had a great time photographing most of the building, but that wheel pit was seated firmly in the back of my mind. What cavernous kinds of spaces could there be at the bottom of that seemingly endless shaft? I had no idea what a hydroelectric plant really consisted of, so it was all quite mysterious and intriguing. I soon found myself lurking in the first underground sub-level.
It was not looking good down there at all. Thirty-two years of permanent humidity and zero upkeep had rotted out the metal stairwells into spidery looking stretches of rust. My friend emerged from another passage and said he wouldn't trust any of the metal down there. We've both seen old steel I-beams crumble before our eyes, and with no rope there was no way out. Thick stone and brick walls blocked cell phone reception; even a rescue effort seemed daunting. I also had no idea what kind of water flow there would be at the bottom, and the thought of falling down 150 feet into who knows what wasn't pleasant either - so that was that. I don't regret my decision at all, but I would still really love to see what's down there.