Popping Manholes on a Friday Night

I didn’t intend to spend my Friday night wandering around town popping manhole covers; in fact, I didn’t plan on doing much of anything on my Friday night. But sometimes circumstance has other plans and when the opportunity presents itself you just have to roll with it and engage in some middle of the night shenanigans!

It was around 8PM and I was bored. I had a buddy who was supposed to be coming over to hang out in a few minutes and no really pressing problems on the agenda to solve. As I often do when I have nothing better going, on I found myself idly clicking through some of the new posts on uer.ca wishing I was exploring some new underground tunnel or abandoned building. Eventually, my clicking led to looking for new drains on city GIS maps which is when my roommate happened to pop his head in.

“What are you up to?” I gestured towards the maps on my screen and replied that I was once again investigating possible new drains. My roommate, clearly also not having anything better to do, suggested it was the perfect time to head out and scout some possible entrances and, as luck would have it, my buddy chose that exact moment to pop in. And so it was that I found myself sitting in my roommate’s car, manhole keys in hand being driven towards god knows what shenanigans in the downtown core.

Our first stop was a residential area where I suspected a manhole might permit access to the fabled “Cook St Chasm” drain. We parked the car and after a few minutes of wandering up and down the street, totally not looking suspicious at all, I spotted it! A manhole grate conveniently located on the boulevard in front of a darkened house. A quick shine of my flashlight into the abyss indicated that this was indeed the grate I was hoping for! Rather then leading to a catch basin, it led to a sheer drop with a ladder along one side. My headlamp could just illuminate some water several meters below. With the streets nearly deserted and darkness providing cover, it took a lot of self-control not to pop down and start exploring right then and there, but I didn’t bring my boots and wasn’t thrilled about the idea of soaking my shoes and feet so we continued on to the next location.

The next site was only a few hundred meters away and was actually part of the same drain – this point of entry was located near the outflow so I was unsure of how high the water would be. We pulled up to a parking space to the right of the manhole and my buddy and I hopped out of the vehicle, keys in hand, and rushed up to the cover! This one was a classic solid cover with 4 holes that you could insert the keys into in order to left it up. I took one key and by buddy took the other and on the count of three we began to lift the cover.

it was at this point that my roommate reached us and gave us an aggressive “Sssshhht! Stop!” I paused for a second, looked around and not seeing any cars proceed to continue the process of wiggling the manhole cover. “Dude! There’s someone right there!” It was only then that I turned around to look at the beach and noticed a person less then 100ft away sitting on a log quizzically staring at the ridiculous scene that we must have been. I sheepishly waved and the three of us sauntered back to the vehicle. “Nothing to see here!” In hindsight, it may probably would have made sense to just continue our efforts since we were already caught, but I’m not quite that basely… yet.

After our close encounter you might think that we were ready to call it a night, but nope! I had a bit of an adrenaline rush and was more then ready to continue our evening shenanigans.

We headed over to a nearby cemetery which, according to urban legend, had an older brick drain running through it. After verifying that the site’s security guard was nowhere to seen we entered the cemetery and found ourselves walking along one of the dark, winding paths. I’m not sure what I expected, but walking through the cemetery in the middle of the night was actually less creepy then I had expected. Perhaps it was the residual light from the nearby road, or perhaps it was the fact that I was on a mission, but I’ve felt much more creaped out walking home at night then in this supposedly haunted graveyard. While my roommate spent some time looking for the graves of one of his long deceased relatives, I was more interested in a familiar style of metal grate, just off the path.

The first manhole in the cemetery was a dead end

Using the manhole keys, my buddy and I made quick work of the cover, but sadly this one was a bust; leading only to a deep catch basin with a few extremely small pipes feeding it. We re-covered the hole and went to find where my roommate had ended up.

On the way to find him, we stopped at another manhole just off the side of the path. This cover was the more classic solid style with 4 holes to lift it up. We paused here, had a quick look around for any observers and decided to pop it up and take a quick look!

While this manhole also didn’t reveal anything interesting – just a small valve likely related to the nearby pumping station, it was a really good opportunity to practice popping manholes. One of my irrational fears is that I would drop a cover down into a manhole, despite that fact that this was mathematically impossible to do. Under cover of darkness in the empty cemetery, this was the perfect opportunity to practice without any pressure, and I am pleased to report that I did not accomplish the impossible and drop a round cover into a smaller round hole! After some confidence building practice runs, we replaced the cover and caught up with my roommate, who had been unsuccessful in locating his relative.

The second cemetery drain was another dead end

By this point it was getting pretty late, but there was still one more potential drain I wanted to checkout in the area, so we piled back into the vehicle and drove over to nearby Humboldt street. After a few minutes of driving along at what felt like a snails pace, heads out the windows I spotted it! Another grated drain cover – this time in the middle of the road.

We pulled the car over and I hopped out, flashlight in hand. I shone the light into the inky blackness below and what I saw encouraged me – a drop of maybe 10 ft, with a shallow flow of water and maybe a 3 foot opening to one side. I made a mental note of the location and hopped back into the car, before we managed to attract too much attention. This was definitely a spot to checkout, but it would likely need to be attempted at stupid o’clock in the morning, since even at midnight there was still some traffic and onlookers to worry about.

At this point we decided to head back. All in all it felt like a successful trip – I had identified two new drains to check out, and made progress towards overcoming my irrational fear of dropping manhole covers. Since it was past my usual bedtime I was able to fall asleep quickly, despite the excitement of the evening’s shenanigans.

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