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An unfortunate reality of Urban Exploration – DO NOT go to the abandoned RCAF Station Sioux Lookout

May 2021

Urban Explorers can forget about going to the former Royal Canadian Air Force Station Sioux Lookout. The owners live on the property and they are NOT friendly at all.

For those who don’t know what urban exploration (UE) is, it’s basically exploring things like storm drains, subway tunnels, utility tunnels, abandoned ships or areas of occupied buildings not open to the public.

One aspect of UE is going where you’re not supposed to go, at least without permission. It is advisable to attempt to obtain permission before going on an abandoned property, as even in an abandoned state, it is still owned by some person or some corporation. However, the reality is that often it is very hard to contact the owner(s), let alone find out who they are, which is why many will just trespass and hope they don’t get caught.

Another aspect of UE is documenting the deterioration of man-made structures once they are abandoned and no longer maintained.

Ethical UEers live by the motto of “Take only photos; leave only footprints,” which basically means they only photograph what they are exploring and don’t damage, vandalize or steal anything. Although UE does usually involve the offence of trespassing unless permission is obtained first, ethical UEers won’t use force to gain entry; they will go in through open doors or windows.

Over the Victoria Day long weekend, I made the drive to Sioux Lookout to see the abandoned RCAF Station Sioux Lookout, a former station in the now-defunct Pinetree Line; a network of radar stations that operated across northern Canada from the early 1950s until the early 1990s.

This line, which stretched along the 50th parallel, down the eastern coast and into southern Ontario and Quebec, acted as an early warning detection system against a Soviet air attack. The Pinetree Line was shut down over several years, starting in the mid-1980s, as part of the North American Air Defence Modernization Plan.

Back in 2013, a woman contacted me on this web site to say that she recently bought the property along with her husband (I didn’t realize that it was that long ago). For her privacy, I will call her “Mrs. X.” She was looking for some information on the schematics of the property as they wished to do some construction. In response to my question, she confirmed that most of the buildings were still there, but had been gutted for anything of value (metals, copper, etc).

Wishing to get permission to visit the property this spring, I sent “Mrs. X” an e-mail asking permission. I didn’t receive an answer, so I sent a second one, and didn’t receive an answer to that one either.

Thinking that maybe her e-mail address wasn’t operational anymore, I made further attempts to locate “Mrs. X” on social media and Canada 411, but still had no luck. With the date I wanted to attend only a couple of days away, I made one last attempt, and ran “Mrs. X Sioux Lookout” on Google, and found an entry giving me her workplace. I called and left a message on her voicemail, but never received a call back on my cell phone. Although a big reason for traveling to the area from the Toronto area was to visit the station, I did have a few other places to visit, as I’d never been to Thunder Bay before, and even if “Mrs. X” didn’t want me visiting her property, it wouldn’t be a total loss making an approximately 16 hour journey to Thunder Bay.

After making the four hour journey from Thunder Bay, I arrived at the former RCAF Station Sioux Lookout. I came upon a locked gate on the road leading to the main gate, with a sign saying “No Trespassing.” I was a little concerned at this point that maybe “Mrs. X” didn’t own the property anymore. It had been several years since she e-mailed me, although I didn’t remember the exact date at the time. Taking a chance that “Mrs. X” still owned the property and was there, I ventured forth on foot.

As I walked along the road towards the guardhouse at the station’s main gate, I started snapping pictures. One on the base proper, I noticed several cars parked alongside some of the former barracks, and started walking towards them. “Mrs. X” told me in her e-mail that she and “Mr. X” lived in one of the barracks.

It wasn’t long before I saw four dogs running towards me (luckily very friendly) and then saw a man, who turned out to be “Mr. X.” Thinking this was either the jackpot or the start of a bad situation, I kept walking and said hello to him. That’s when things went rapidly downhill.

“Mr. X” was not friendly in the least! Now, I can obviously understand his initial reaction to my presence, as any owner of an abandoned property will routinely deal with trespassers, some of whom are there to cause damage or steal anything salvageable. I know I would get tired of it, so I can understand to a point.

When I asked if “Mr. X” if “Mrs. X” was here, he continued his verbal tirade, not answering my question, which I repeated, along with explaining who I was and why I was there. Well, to sum things up, after he had shoved me twice and demanded that I delete any pictures I had taken, which I refused to do, “Mrs. X” finally did come out of their home.

I repeated to “Mrs. X” who I was and why I was there, but “Mrs. X” was having none of it. She threatened to call the police, to which I told her to go ahead and call them. As most UEers know, as long as you are not damaging or stealing anything, and are respectful to the cops, usually the worst thing that will happen is you get a $65 ticket for trespassing, despite what the owner may want done to you.

After being told the police wouldn’t be long, as I had no intention of waiting for hours for them to attend, I told her I would wait back at my car for them. Prior to being driven back to the gate by “Mr. X” in his truck, I asked “Mrs. X” why she never got back to me, which she didn’t answer right away. I explained to “Mrs. X” that I was sorry for offending her and would not have come if she had told me I wasn’t welcome. I once again stated that I made several attempts to contact her, and although I didn’t hear back from her, decided to make the journey anyway. Since she did tell me that she and “Mr. X” lived on the property, I was hoping to find them there and get their permission before exploring the property. I didn’t know if the e-mail address I had was still operational, and that maybe she hadn’t gotten my voice message. “Mrs. X” was wearing an arm brace, so she probably hadn’t been at work for a few days, at least.

Unfortunately, “Mrs. X” was still very angry at me, insisting that her not getting back to me didn’t automatically give me permission to trespass on her property. While that is true to a certain degree, there is the common law doctrine of “implied invitation to knock,” which basically gives someone like a salesman the right to walk up to your front door and knock, with the intent of offering to sell you whatever they are selling. The salesman can’t enter you house without your permission and certainly can’t wander around your property. They can only go to the front door. If needed, that’s what I would have argued, and I certainly did say that to the police, as I was indeed intent on finding “Mrs. X” if she was at home. She told me that she lived in one of the old barracks, and that is where I headed immediately, rather than just aimlessly wander the property.

In the end, “Mrs. X” basically told me that why she never responded, is that she didn’t feel like answering my e-mail.

After speaking with the two friendly OPP officers who attended, they chalked it up to a misunderstanding, and I returned to Thunder Bay.

So the bottom line is that it doesn’t appear to matter if you try to get permission to explore this historic site; one that was once a part of the defence of North America. “Mr. & Mrs. X” don’t want you there, so don’t even bother.

If “Mr. & Mrs. X” happen to be reading this, as I’m sure they will be checking my web site to see if I post any of the photos that I took (“Mr. X” said the photos I took were his property because I was trespassing), you might want to consider charging admission to your property, just like the owner of another popular UE site, Camp Bison, the abandoned jail south of Sudbury.

The owner of Camp Bison charges a $20 fee, and once you have signed a waiver, you are allowed access to the property. No fee and waiver, you get charged with trespassing. The owner, Chris, can be contacted at Avalon Eco resort (https://avalonecoresort.com) at (249) 805-0159.

“Mr. & Mrs. X” made mention that he didn’t have time to give me a tour, something that I never asked them to do in the first place, but if they do decide to allow access, they could set the dates and times that access is allowed, so that they are not bothered on days when they won’t be around, and stipulate that no access to the buildings will be permitted. Most UEers will willingly pay a reasonable fee (something lower than the fine for trespassing) to be able to explore a property worry-free; not having to constantly look over your shoulder for the owner or the police; not having to traipse through the woods to sneak into the back of the property, sometimes under cover of darkness.

If the demand is there, they may even be able to hire someone to give the tours, or just act as general security to ensure compliance of the rules.

“Mr. & Mrs. X” if you do read this, you can take my suggestion or not. I certainly won’t be making a return journey, so it doesn’t matter to me. I was going to e-mail you to offer this suggestion, but I’m not going to bother you anymore. Have a nice life.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/an-unfortunate-reality-of-urban-exploration-do-not-go-to-the-abandoned-rcaf-station-sioux-lookout/

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