Stairway to Paradise
Chedoke Creek Diversion Sewer
Chedoke Creek watershed
Upstream watershed fed by Hamilton Mountain storm sewers
Year of Construction:
Large concrete duct and round concrete pipe.
8 Southern Ontario creeks we could start daylighting tomorrow
The Stairway to Paradise as we call it, or the Chedoke Creek Diversion Sewer, is an incredible drain that runs downhill from the Chedoke Radial Trail into the Chedoke Creek Valley and the creek's now-canalized main stream, with the mouth of the drain visible to tens of thousands of commuters passing everyday on the 403 Highway that now occupies the valley. Having to contend with a large elevation change between the base of the Niagara Escarpment, where the drain begins, and the bottom of the valley, the sewer's builders included a pair of massive staircases within it. Pouring down the stairs, water from the upstream tributary (which itself emerges from a Mountain storm sewer at Chedoke Falls) is able to disperse its extra gravitational energy over a long distance, rather than becoming the pounding, erosive force it would be if forced to descend through a vertical fall.
Artificial cataracts of this size and scope are unknown in other Ontario drains, giving this conduit extra significance despite its unremarkable length.
The Second Chedoke Creek Sewer
It is very difficult to tell on the ground, but the Stairway to Paradise was actually the second culvert to route the flow from Chedoke Falls underground to traverse industrial land and the city's public golf course. The first, now largely derelict, is located just to the east, a strange dusty culvert we called The Vault.
A persistent flooding problem along this stretch of the Creek during the springtime led to the construction of a second, larger drain, funded in part by Westinghouse, whose Aberdeen Avenue factory had frequently been disrupted by the flooding. The work took place in 1963, in conjunction with the canalization of lower Chedoke Creek and the construction of the 403 highway alongside it, and was budgeted to cost $650,000, with Westinghouse contributing $15,000 per year for ten years towards repayment of the project's financing.
Inside the Stairway
With a length of rocky, fast-flowing, forested ravine upstream of it, the Stairway's inlet is protected with one of the largest, most spectacularly reinforced metal guard structures in Ontario. Looking like a cross between a temple and a maximum security prison, the steel-ribbed cage is approximately 25 feet tall and 40 feet wide, and usually bears a large and diverse accumulation of woody material, dried sediment, and consumer trash.
From outside the outfall, one can already hear the rush of water descending the drain's lower staircase. Depending on outside temperature, this lowest passage is usually filled with mist as some of this crashing humidity is lost to the atmosphere, but if you're lucky enough to catch it on a clear day, the light reflects off the walls hundreds of meters up the conduit. Near the outfall and at various other points, the walls and ceiling are covered in cracks that have scabbed over in white calcite, and small calcium straws hang everywhere. A thickly-built side-pipe erupts from the side wall.
The stairs themselves are broad and slightly concave, either by design or erosion. Water courses down the centre of the race, but the entire surface of each stair is wet and slippery, as are the walls and ceiling. This lower stairway reflects silvery daylight from the adjacent outfall, and the roar of the water is absolutely massive.
Before the upper stairway, one has to traverse a long stretch of large but very wet RCP. I love large RCPs, and this one is among my favourites, streaked as it is with mineral deposits and very treacherous to walk through thanks to potholes eroded out of its bottom and very slippery surfaces where the floor actually is intact.
The second staircase is taller and narrower than the lower one. With no natural light, it doesn't feel quite as majestic, but it's still pretty powerful. Above it, another few hundred metres of rectangular passageway leads to the inlet, where diagonal shadows from the steel cage play across every surface.
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.