Toronto's sewers and drains
Hamilton's drains and sewers
This was a creek—North York's Glendora Park hides a dark secret beneath those green lawns, a creek buried here forty years ago. Many other GTA creeks lie buried in pipes beneath parks and other unbuilt open spaces, waiting for us to commit to bringing them back to the surface.
The Lost Rivers documentary has rekindled Toronto residents' interest in the challenge of daylighting our buried creeks. We need to be moving aggressively to keep rainwater out of our sewer systems, holding it on the surface, infiltrating it into groundwater, and allowing it to work its way through revitalized creek and river systems, building ecological function and passive treatment facilities along the way. 'Daylighting' a creek can mean rebuilding a rainwater-fed surface watershed as an alternative to the trunk sewer, as was proposed for the Garrison Creek ravine in the 1990s, or it can mean the complete excavation of the buried waterway, as Yonkers NY has just done very successfully. This article profiles eight creek systems in the Greater Toronto Area where there is enough surviving open space that we could actually start by digging up the creek. Read More
The outfall of the Wilson Brook Storm Sewer, located deep in an almost impenetrable part of the Charles Sauriol Conservation Reserve on Toronto's East Don River.
At Toronto's Bermondsey works yard, we buried an anonymous creek in a ravine on the edge of the East Don Valley. This burial was so obscure that, today, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority maps of the Don river system continue to depict the creek as an intact surface waterway. Despite what their maps say, the creekbed, and the life it supported, is gone, replaced by an emergency snow dump that has come to serve double duty as a dump-of-convenience for Toronto's Solid Waste Management division. It happened in 1991, and by then we should have known better. Read More
One of two brick-floored slides beneath Glenlake Avenue, just east of Keele Street, in the Earlscourt Sewer.
This fall, I have been publishing articles about sewers in much lower profile areas of Toronto. Whether we look beneath that part of East Toronto that isn't quite the Beach(es), or below the modest homes and businesses along Rogers Road in the old Borough of York, we can find sewers that say a lot about how the communities above came into being, and about the places and challenges we face today. This article is probably the last in that immediate series. Another sewer system built to confront a looming sanitation crisis in an area of the city annexed in the first decade of the twentieth century, for me the Earlscourt and Junction Sewers are literally a little closer to home: the photograph above was taken beneath a street immediately around the corner from where I live. Read More

In the main overflow tunnel fo the East Toronto and Midway sewer complex, beneath Coxwell Avenue.

For a long time, the sewers in Toronto's west end were unchallenged in my mind as both the most fascinating old system in the city, and the one most in need of exploration. However, as a result of my colleagues' dogged determination, there is some serious competition on the eastern horizon: the East Toronto and Midway sewers, a network of pipes and conduits as complicated as the Garrison system but with fewer hazardous environments and impassable diversions, although we did have to boat across one chamber. Read More
Several kilometres up the former Borough of York's Central and Eastern Trunk Sewer, sixty feet beneath Rogers Road.
The Central and Eastern Trunk is a mess of a sewer, and I mean that with a certain amount of love. It's all finished in slightly horseshoe-shaped, arched concrete, and it has a few fantastically big access chambers that were left over from the excavation shafts that were used to bring men in and excavated material out while it was being built. However, it also has its share of tight, humid, fast-flowing passages, and its overflows have long been the bane of the lower stretch of the Black Creek. Read More
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Michael Cook is available to speak to your organization about infrastructure history, lost creeks, current conditions, and opportunities for change in our management of and communication about urban watersheds, and to work with teams proposing or implementing such change. Get in touch.