Thus it was with a frisson of childish delight that I first noticed that in the older precincts of this great metropolis the sidewalks were peppered with sewer catch basins topped with manhole covers declaring "City of Toronto 1889". Such as the one below, which I captured at the NW corner of Church & Richmond. Yes, that is my foot, added for human interest.
Somehow I find it delightful. The boulevards of this provincial capital are paved with cast metal antiques. As if Louis Comfort Tiffany streetlights lined the boulevards of Manhattan. Although functional devices linked directly to the disposal of human waste, the scrollwork in the centre of the rondelle shows the care of master craftsmen of two centuries ago. And they have survived the growth of the city, the re-alignment of sidewalks and streets and the hammering of trucks, construction equipment and vandalism, and millions of passers-by.
And what lies beneath is even more remarkable...
Workers in the Garrison Creek storm sewer tunneling operation, Toronto, 1912, sewerhistory.org
The sewers in these photos are still in use! A dedicated group of urban spelunkers has been exploring Toronto's buried infrastructure, documenting and mapping it on the website vanishingpoint.ca. Vanishing point does a great job of documenting all of these junctures where sewers of one era still being used as adjuncts to huge concrete monstrosities that are clearly 1960s and 70s upgrades when Toronto had her explosive growth.
And if you want to follow the story without having to click your mouse, Netflix subscribers can view a detailed history of Sir Joseph William Bazalgette's London sewers construction in episode 4 of the BBC docudrama series Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. Select "The Sewer King".