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Faded footsteps and empty windows – Documenting the decay of man-made structures

April 2021

“What would happen if every human on Earth disappeared? This isn’t the story of how we might vanish…it is the story of what will happen to the world we leave behind.” – Life After People 

This is part 2 of my Urban Exploration (UER) series. All photos were taken in Ontario, unless noted.

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I’ve been involved in the hobby of urban exploration (UE), specifically abandoned structures, for over three decades.  The hobby is multifaceted, with some urban explorers (UEers) favouring 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 someone 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Another aspect of UE is documenting the deterioration of man-made structures once they are abandoned and no longer maintained.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.

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Buildings and structures are abandoned for a variety of reasons. Some buildings quickly demolished, but others remain standing for years, some sealed up, which delays the deterioration process. Some buildings withstand the elements better that others, especially those made of brick.

Below are more photos from the abandoned Abandoned American Motors Corporation (AMC) Auto Plant in Detroit, last seen in my previous article on Urban Exploration:

Urban exploration – Documenting the decay of man-made structures – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

While the barn below was dismantled down to the foundation, rather than deteriorating to the point of collapse, what remains is left to crumble.

This next barn did collapse, after years of being scavenged and deterioration. The other outbuildings have also deteriorated in the ensuing decade; some due to scavenging as with the barn, but the natural process does still take its course.

All abandoned buildings and structures eventually crumble though. Their deterioration is frequently slow; over several decades of abandonment.

Some are eventually demolished to make way for a new building or because they’re an eyesore, while others eventually collapse in on themselves.

The above house was so badly deteriorated, it was too dangerous to go inside. The next one below had mostly collapsed, except for a small section at the back of the house.

Same with these former Royal Canadian Air Force buildings.

Some other abandoned military buildings. There are many of them across Canada.

Some are heavily damaged inside by vandals early in their abandonment, thus exposing the building to further deterioration in the future.

Some of the many motels that once lined the King’s Highway 11, going northward into the Muskoka and North Bay regions, and the King’s Highway 169, going northward into the Parry Sound and Sudbury districts.

In some cases, the abandonment of not just the structures, but the land, was so long ago that it is being consumed by the land as it returns to its natural state.

While everything does eventually crumble, some structures endure the corrosive forces of nature better than others, like arch bridges and tunnels

The house below was bought by a developer and will eventually be torn down for a new housing survey. It didn’t take long for vandals, mostly looking for scrap metals, to enter the house and cause heavy damage. There is also water damage, causing mold issues.

While some haven’t visibly deteriorated that much, moisture inside is already causing mold to take over.

Some structures are covered over and forgotten; left to silently deteriorate out of sight. While these were formerly underground military communications bunkers, and thus already buried, their entrances have been sealed and covered over, leaving whatever is left inside to deteriorate.

The above Edenvale Bunker was unsealed by the current property owner, over around a decade and a half after its abandonment. The decay in that short period was extensive.

Some disused buildings find a temporary second use for training military and police, then torn down or incorporated into a new building.

The buildings below are former military buildings. The first two are used by a paint-ball war games company. While they’re technically not abandoned, they’re not maintained and is open to the elements.

RCAF Station Edgar was once a station in the Pinetree Line, a series of radar stations across Canada, whose job was to monitor the skies for attacking Soviet bombers during the Cold War. RCAF Station Edgar closed in 1964, and was then sold to the Ontario government, who converted it into a residential facility for handicapped adults. The Edgar Occupational Centre closed in 1999, and until the buildings were demolished in 2011, the property and buildings were used by various police and military units for Emergency Task Force and urban warfare training, respectively.

Some buildings and structures are restored and given a new use, even after years of abandonment and neglect.

Even abandoned airports are sometimes re-opened after years of abandonment, such as the former RCAF Station Edenvale, which saw no aircraft land on its crumbling runways from the end of World War II, until it re-opened in 2003.

It’s not just buildings and structures that that can deteriorate. Other man-made creations can be obliterated by a return to nature.

A small but impressive looking mausoleum in Port Dover was abandoned not long after it was built, never having been used as originally intended. Built in 1927 on an existing cemetery property, the concrete and limestone mausoleum never saw anyone entombed within the approximately 300 crypts. When the Depression hit the world two years later, the $225-$275 cost of the crypts was just too expensive and it’s owner soon went out of business.

The mausoleum sat empty until the 1960s, when it was used to house temporary tobacco workers, leading to it being called the Death Hotel. Making the experience even more morbid, the workers slept within the crypts.

Other than being used for storage, the mausoleum was also used for various film shoots.

The impressive building was pretty much neglected over the years, to the point that by 2016, the cemetery board felt that they had no choice but to demolish the almost 90-year-old building.

To end off, some other houses and building from my collection that are long gone; all shot on film.

Until next time………

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Check out some of my other articles that also cover the topic of Urban Exploration (there are a lot):

https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2018/03/13/city-of-detroit-to-take-a-stab-at-redeveloping-former-amc-headquarters, HistoricPlaces.ca – HistoricPlaces.ca, Port Dover’s mausoleum is no more | TheSpec.com.

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/faded-footsteps-and-empty-windows-documenting-the-decay-of-man-made-structuresmenting-the-decay-of-man-made-structures-part-2/

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