It was sunset on my first day in Toronto…
…when I was leaving a giant defunct power station, exchanging calls with a mutual friend of a local explorer who was traveling with me. One adventurer was hitchhiking from Hamilton, ON into the area for the night to explore with us and plans for another ‘G.S.’ were coming together. Wendy’s was our headquarters, and fueled by empty calories we manned the phones to state the rest of the night—one power plant wasn’t enough, and there was an even larger, newer, generating station a short drive away.
“We’re the guys in ‘Infiltration’ shirts,” we reported to our incoming comrades, “Can’t miss us.”
Over burgers, with black-clad associates filing in slowly, we talked over the goal of the evening. ‘Lakeview Generating Station’ it was called, and it was apparently bigger than anything I’ve ever been in before. Being a history nerd doesn’t mean I only appreciate old things—I am also fond of exploring the record-setters that used to dominate our lives in the background.
Some people think about power plants as a dirty pollution factory, but if it wasn’t for the silhouettes of some of these these stark smokestacks our skylines, modern living would be impossible.
Lakeview Generating Station, which broke ground in mid-1958, was also known as ‘The Four Sisters’ because of its four 500ft smokestacks, which were so iconic they served as a navigational landmark for passing ships and plane! By the time the plant activated on June 20, 1962 it was the largest power station of its type in the world, running eight 300,000kW generators that made up 17% of Ontario’s total electrical potential.
Through the 1960s and 1970s Lakeview ran at full steam until it became a “peak plant” in the 1980s, running part-time when the power grid was under heavy loads.
Black clouds drifted across Lake Ontario, “But it’s clear tonight,” I thought, gazing at the stars through the glare of highway lights. “A little ways more to go,” someone said behind me in the new-smelling SUV, “Eh?” I smiled, looking forward, squinting for any trace of the Sisters. “I thought we’d see the stacks by now,” I shared idly with my new friends, “I mean, they’re huge, right?” “They came down a little while ago—they got blown up in the summer of 2006—sorry to break the news. ” I thought for a second, still scanning the horizon for some sign of our destination.
“Oh well,” I mused, “I like the symbolism, anyway. ”
In March of 2001, Ontario decided that coal was not the energy source they wanted to pass onto their children: the Province would be phasing out the dirty power, and with it generating stations like Lakeview. On April 30, 2005 the plant closed down, and a complete demolition of the plant was planned for 2008.
Between the time the doors were locked and razed, the building belongs to asbestos abatement crews, demolition teams and a medley of photographers, historians and adventurers whose only goal is to explore and appreciate the doomed structure. Emerging below the giant steam turbines, the last in a modest stream of like-minded people, I surveyed the expansive, taped-off gaps where giant machinery used to be bolted and welded to the superstructure.
Moving through the multiple control rooms, our silhouettes cast down the seemingly endless hallways by the bright orange glare of the work lights. After the echoes of our footsteps stopped sounding through the corridors, we traced our footsteps through a light mist back to the cars… the ethereal shadow of four stacks nearly visceral against the black clouds over Lake Ontario. I can’t tell you if that suggestion of an outline is still there today, but you might have trouble finding it if it is—on June 28th, 2007 Lakeview Generating Station was completely razed to the ground. I’m told a park is in its place.