I was doing my best to read the bus schedule, and getting nowhere in the process. Standing at a bus stop in Downtown Victoria amid crowds of pedestrians, Nancy Drew and I had day passes in our pockets, thigh waders and flashlights in our backpacks, and a desire to explore. We were hoping to get to the far north (or was it east?) side of the city, and visit a drain I knew was lurking there. A couple of buses pulled up and stopped, and we boarded the one I hoped would at least take us in the right direction.
We sat and watched the unfamiliar cityscape go by as the bus chased a route that luckily seemed to be bringing us where we wanted to go. After riding for what seemed like too long, we got off at a stop near a gas station in a suburban neighbourhood. Having forgotten the map, I reasoned that we weren't too far and could just walk the rest of the way to the park; so we set off along the sidewalk. It turned out that we'd gotten off about 15 blocks too early, but after some guesswork with directions we did eventually arrive at the correct park.
A storm sewer outfall closely guarded by dense bushes is the start of Douglas Creek. We took a small trail that led around to the water, and sat down on the creek bank to pull on boots and headlamps. Wading carefully into the water, we were forced to skirt a deep pool to avoid flooding our boots. The outfall itself was an unexpected two pipes, of different diameter; the small one on the left spewing scummy water was unappealing, so we ducked into the larger tube on the right.
The pipe was of strange construction; apparently an 1800 corrugated, the inside of which had been completely coated with a layer of tar over 1cm thick. The solid black coating (which I assume was some sort of tar) absorbed all light and diffused sound, creating a weird type of sensory deprivation. It also gave off a strong smell- like a road being paved- that seemed somewhat toxic; I'm sure the air inside that confined space was not good for us to be inhaling for as long as we did. Despite worries about air quality, we pushed on. The pipe bent left and then right as it passed through a couple manhole shafts; these were also coated with the tar.
We basically didn't see much of anything until we suddenly arrived at a large concrete chamber. The curved walls of this room were covered in spray painted graffiti, most of which was the usual satanic/party/tagging stuff. There was a curved bench of sorts on one side, stepirons embedded in the nearby wall lead up to a manhole. A 1500mm RCP sidepipe dumped a stream of water into the chamber; and I climbed into this and followed it for about 50m before deciding it would probably be a long, boring backbreaker.
At the upstream end of the 'San Juan' room the corrugated tar pipe continued, covered for a short distance by bright yellow spraypaint. The graffiti, which urged "beware mortals", also wanted to "Puck" Alison and Jennifer, presumably in the "orgie room". Nancy Drew and I agreed that this room must be fantastic, and we definitely had to see it.
I'm very glad we kept going, because a short distance up this pipe we came across something so completely unexpected and amazing that at first, I didn't believe my eyes. Walking along, the pipe- which until this point had been that nasty tar over corrugated metal- became what I initially assumed was concrete left with indentations from wooden forms. But something didn't seem quite right- the wooden forms had been left on the walls. I thought this was strange, then it hit me- the entire pipe was made of wood! To be sure, I looked at the joint where the transition between types occurred. No mistake- we were standing inside a drain, approximately 1800mm internal diameter, that was made entirely out of 4"x6" wooden boards! This little discovery blew my mind, and for several minutes as we walked on I just kept repeating, "Holy shit, it's made of wood!" I'd heard of wood being used in sewers before, but never would have guessed that a storm sewer this size would be built with it.
Also surprising was the fact that the wood was in good condition. There were no signs of rot, just staining where minerals leached in between the tightly-fitted boards. Years of water flow had left little mark, except dirt. This made me wonder- what kind of preservative had the wood been treated with, in order to make it last so long? The boards were a faded brownish colour, but slight tints of gray could be seen- possibly dirt, but more likely some sort of preservative. There was no discernible smell, but our nostrils were probably desensitized from sniffing tar for the past twenty minutes.
We kept walking up the wooden pipe, and came to a second concrete room, that curved out of sight to the left. Directly ahead, a couple small sidepipes dumped a trickle of dirty water over a ledge. As we rounded the bend, I spotted some strange mushy piles on the floor. Closer inspection made me pull back in disgust- the small mounds were bits of poop, catching toilet paper that floated past. Upon seeing the turds, we were ready to head back- but up ahead, there was more wood pipe! Even though it was smaller (about 1500), and probably disgusting, I couldn't resist a look and dragged Nancy Drew inside with me.
We crouched along for about twenty minutes, passed one manhole shaft, and entered a section where large orange mineral deposits were running down the walls. We were taking a break in a second manhole shaft when we heard a sudden gush of water enter the pipe downstream somewhere- the way we'd just come. Tired of the smelly croucher, we decided to turn back. We'd nearly reached the 'Turdy' chamber when my backpack brushed the ceiling and removed a large, hanging deposit of the orange mineral. Knowing the stuff would permanently stain my bag, I stopped to try and brush it off. As we paused there, we heard a noise come from a tiny sidepipe a few meters upstream from us. We watched in disgust as a stream of foul-smelling water gushed out of the pipe; and with visions of flushing toilets in my mind we raced back out.
It was a strange relief coming back into the 'Turdy' chamber- we could stand up straight once again, but had to look at piles of excrement and endure the now-powerful sewage odour. I didn't want to waste any time exiting this drain, but had to stop and take a few photos before we left.
Despite the amazing wooden pipe, I wasn't sad to head down and out of this drain; the noxious tar smell and presence of sewage offset the interesting sights. But, wow- wooden pipe! I was happy to emerge into the daylight and fresh air once again, but troubled by the thought of the pollution entering the creek. I noticed a shiny substance floating on the surface of the still water beyond the outfall; I wonder if the tar is slowly being washed off the pipe? If anyone ever tests the water flowing from this outfall, I'd be very interested in knowing what kind of pollutants it contains, and how those might affect Douglas Creek.