In the land of Etobicoke, there are two major creeks that guard the boundaries of the former city. Etobicoke Creek on the west and Mimico Creek on the east provided the built environment with two watersheds to service storm water and provide green landscapes like Centennial Park and West Dean Park.
What most people don't know is that there used to be a collection of smaller, less significant creeks along the shoreline that vanished during the process of urban development. When the built environment takes over these natural waterways, they never simply disappear, but need to be buried.
Creeks and streams exist because of things like changes in land grade, and even if the surface is paved with asphalt and concrete, rain water will still cause the ravines to flood.
Instead of having our streets pool with water everytime it rains, storm drains have replaced the creeks and streams by collecting rain water through a vast series of runoff pipes found in numbers on every road. To look at this process historically, I supposed you could say that bridges over a waterway were the first method of overcoming the imposing natural configuration. Over time these structures became more sophisticated and designs like culverts were implemented until it was decided that the speed of progress declared the water an inconvenience and was doomed to be buried.
Back to our story. Late last year, some drain colleagues of mine and myself thumbed through a newly released book, HTO (Coach House Press) that had an essay about the lost rivers of Etobicoke. This gave us some vital clues to where some larger pipes in South Etobicoke might be. My colleagues rifled through municipal documents and created retromaps of where these creeks might have once existed many years ago.
The first discovery along the eastern edge of Etobicoke wasn't much to brag about, but later on the other end, a pipe of both historical and aesthetic significance was found. The Colonel, named after a noble former land owner, is filled with different generations of drain construction.
The drain empties out into the lake. Here we find some newer concrete piping, likely built in the 50's or 60's. It's difficult to see here, but there's a small waterfall on the left that's emptying out an elevated pipe that curves in from a parallel connection. More on that later.
The pipe goes through a few material changes from concrete to corrugated steel.
Most of the sight-worthy features happen in the first two kilometres from the outfall.
Just before the pipe starts to shirnk to a stoopy propoertions, you have to climb up an impressive staircase of five knee-height steps. Sunlight pours through a roadside infall creating an idyllic curtain of warmth upon the stairs.
There's nothing worth seeing upstream of the stairs where the drain splits into two small RCB pipes.
The parallel connection mentioned earlier is a much older system that has an dry upstream access just downstream of stairs. Climbing up the wall to a perpendicular pipe, you enter a smaller, weathered concrete pipe that's mostly dry. Going "upstream", you enter a small and very old stone archway that was once a humble culvert that sent the babbling Jackson Creek underneath the railroad tracks. This connection has been abnandoned from the storm system adjacent to it and really only has moving water in it during rainfall. There's a small infall grate that has been modernized and has a few broken toilets lying around in partial daylight. How strange.
Turning back to walk downstream, the weathered concrete pipe changes abruptly to, what's known as, a segmental block pipe. This style of construction was used in the first quarter of the century, but this is the only example found in Toronto (so far). The blocks are built to lock into place and seem to be supported by sheets of wood behind them. This newer ad hoc sidepipe above gave us a better understanding of how the pipe was composed in a nice cross-section.
This section continued for about 300m until it changed back to a regular concrete pipe and met up with the main pipe seen in the first photo.