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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Blogger Arrested in Toronto Sewer Exploration

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Last weekend, Spacing Montreal contributor Andrew Emond was arrested during a foray into Toronto’s sewer system. According to an article in the Toronto Star, Emond and a fellow photographer, Michael Cook, are being charged with “mischief to interfere with property.”

According to the Criminal code of Canada 430(1), the mischief charge applies when someone willfully:

“a) destroys or damages property; b) renders property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective c) obstructs interrups or interferes with the lawful use enjoyment or operation of property or d) obstructs, interrupts, or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property.”

Emond is not currently in a position to comment on the case until it is resolved in court. However the pair’s intent was almost certainly not to destroy, damage, interrupt or interfere with the sewer. On the contrary, most urban explorers voluntarily follow a code of conduct which precludes tagging, stealing, littering or vandalizing in order to preserve the sites they visit.

Emond is particulary reverential of Montreal’s sewers and has written extensively about the links they provide to our natural and social history on his blog Under Montreal, as well as on Spacing Montreal.

His photography has revealed some of Montreal’s oldest un-modified structures: brick sewers constructed in the 1860s.

Beyond daring to venture through knee-deep sewer-water, Emond has delved into the archives to chart the history and development of this all-important, yet often-overlooked infrastructure. He’s put together a rich account of people’s relationship with the sewers through the ages, sought to put faces to the men who built the sewers, and deciphered hand-written field notes from sewer engineers.

Emond has also mapped Montreal’s lost rivers, now almost entirely channeled through the sewer system, and provided us with some the most thorough analysis of our city’s aqueducts and waste-water treatment facilities available.

Emond’s exploration has been covered in The Gazette and the Hour and he presented his work at CCA when they hosted a Pecha-Kucha event last winter.

Michael Cook is based in Toronto and publishes a blog called The Vanishing Point, which includes a detailed map and set of photos of the Garrison Creek sewer, in which the two men were arrested.

An urban exploring acquaintance of Emond and Cook, who was quoted but not named in the Toronto Star, said:

“A city like Toronto desperately needs more urban mythology. Instead of having crap like the CN Tower, the SkyDome represent the city, we present things that have been around much longer that most people aren’t even aware of.”

Personally, I have been fascinated by and thankful for Emond’s perspective on the city, which simply cannot be found in this kind of detail anywhere else. Although I aknowledge that laws applying to entering the sewer system exist for a reason, I hope that in this case the court will aknowledge the explorers’ intentions, as evidenced by the valuable body of work they have already created.

Images by Andrew Emond. Top: Garrison sewer, the system in which the two men were arrested last weekend. Below: 147-year old sewer in Montreal.


  1. I do hope that Emond’s case will be reviewed and hopefully dropped. I saw him speak at the CCA and reverence for the underside of Toronto is quite obvious. I could understand a trespassing charge, (though I would not wish it upon him) but this seems a little excessive and weak.

    Most of all, I hope this doesn’t deter any responsible, cautious urban explorers from continuing their work in bringing us all these beautiful bits of lore and imagery…

  2. I hope Emond’s case is dropped as well.

    I find it interesting that brick sewers have obviously lasted (and are still lasting) 150 after they were installed, yet cement sewers installed 50 years ago are crumbling to pieces.

    Same could be said of buildings built from brick vs. cement, no?

  3. This is sad news.
    Andrew Emond’s work is outstanding.
    The illegal part of his explorations has no real relevance to the quality of his reporting on history, geography and urban management.
    Any city should be honored to obtain for free such a thorough documentation of its underground.
    Thank you for keeping us posted, Alanah.

  4. Absolutely ridiculous… Without people like Andrew taking heart in exploring these places and bringing priceless cultural heritage to the attention of the city’s residents (free of charge)… who would be doing this invaluable service to our society? The city itself? Pff, give me a break.

  5. The problem is quite simple in this case. fire trucks, HAZMAT team and cops showed up. Following the circus, the media showed up with full force, TV and newspapers cameras and all the gears.

    Turns out there was no emergency nor need for dramatic rescue. So now the questions municipal leaders are asking is : who pays for this?

    The cops, Fire and HAZMAT team leaders all said : “THEM!”

    So here we go. Someone needed to pay for this so that those municipal services could justify their expenses and the fingers ended up pointing to them. That’s all.

    Thing is though, with all the exposure now, there is a fair chance we’ll find more kids unprepared stuck in sewers and in other crappy places, thinking it’s “so cool” to do this. It’s not cool, it’s dangerous. Andrew knows this, kids that just read the paper don’t. That’s when shit happen…

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