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Victoria- home to the newly wed, the nearly dead, and (temporarily) flocks of tourists. Indeed, I felt very much like a tourist as I arrived in the city, set on seeing the sights and indulging in the food. However, most tourists aren't intent on exploring the sewers and consuming cheap pizza slices and honey buns.
I'd been to Victoria once before, during the depths of winter. The weather hovered above freezing the whole time, and it even snowed once. My drain exploration was limited to the infamous Bowker Creek, and some scouting around town that hinted at things great and old hiding under the streets. I busied myself exploring buildings and the Bamberton Cement Plant, and left knowing that I'd be back someday. Since then, a few urban explorers have made themselves known in Victoria by being the first to enter the ancient brick sewers under the city and investigating the rumours of tunnels under downtown.
Upon returning to Victoria, I was intent on exploring the storm drains around the city. Only three hours after arriving, I was deep inside a dark pipe on the North side, and over the next few days managed to explore several more amazing drains. Explorers in Victoria have done their research, and are blessed with a variety of excellent information regarding storm drains. They were kind enough to share this information, which was crucial to my explorations. Teaming up, we also researched and scouted something amazing which has yet to be explored.
Most of the drains in the city of Victoria were built before 1920, and this makes them fascinating, if painful and difficult, to explore. The sewer-building material of the era was brick and this is what the majority of the drains are built of, excepting a few newer or replaced pipes. Even the manhole shafts and rooms are red brick, with fascinating arches and staggered layers. Many of the smaller brick drains share the same semi-elliptical shape; basically a tall curving ceiling over a shallow curving bottom. There are also square, egg and of course round shapes in Victoria as well. Most of the drains are a small size, no more than 1.5m high, and this makes them a pain to explore. Unfortunately, most of the brick storm drains are a small size and aren't even very long, so most explorations don't cover large distances.
Most of the drains can only be accessed regularly via manhole, which is inconvenient because the majority of manholes seem to be in the streets. The outfalls are all to the ocean (with the exception of Bowker and Douglas creeks), and many are completely submerged. The older grate-style manhole covers are difficult to replace once opened; a tab on the manhole that fits into a slot in the collar will jam if the cover is incorrectly replaced. Surprisingly, these types of covers are easier to replace from below.
Victoria is much sunnier than Vancouver, and seems much less concerned with security. I don't recall seeing any razor wire, and little barbed wire. In one particular case, an empty building near downtown was completely accessible and unfenced, without even a "No Trespassing" sign to guard its open doors! Even downtown, there are several buildings which are solidly boarded up, but show no signs of invasion or security. Victoria projects an almost idyllic image of a historic seaside town, ideal for the tourist. But unlike most other cities I've visited, there seems to be a distinct lack of industry apart from tourism and services; and with no rail lines and a waterfront dedicated to tourism, heavy industry is now almost completely absent.
Victoria is just like Vancouver in that the drains are crowded with spiders. There were spiders everywhere. Since Victoria has a lot of really short pipes, the spiders were probably more noticeable, even if we were getting used to them by this time. The small pipes also meant that the webs would frequently stretch across the space in the middle, which is where we were walking. During any trip, I would usually end up brushing thick threads of web off my gloves, hood and body. The only incident I actually had with a spider was in Bowker Creek: I was setting up for a photo, with my camera on a tripod. I brought my left hand up to make an adjustment, and sitting on the back of my hand was a large black spider. I will honestly say I freaked right out, and shook my hand to get the spider off while letting out a scream of surprise. There's something about being surrounded by spiders, and then unexpectedly finding a large one on me, that shocked me temporarily out of my wits.
One of the things I must mention about Victoria is the cheap pizza slices, which can be had for about $1.17 in numerous places around the downtown, at most hours of the day. This is very convenient, as the pizza is both good, cheap, and available at the hours when explorers find themselves hungry. Also, the small chinatown boasts numerous places where cheap honey, pork, and other buns and produce can be conveniently purchased. The small size of the tourist-infested downtown is probably the big reason for all this.
Speaking of tourists, I was surprised by how crowded downtown Victoria becomes during the day and evening hours of summer. In the winter, tourists are sparse; but in the summer the floodgates open and crowds are everywhere. Interestingly, from the hours of about 2am to 9am the streets seem very quiet and peaceful, with just the normal population of street youth and homeless persons roaming or sleeping on the streets. The tourists seem essentially confined to downtown, rarely venturing into the surrounding suburbs.
There is a strange phenomenon in Victoria. Downtown amidst the tourist crowds, bold acts of manhole popping can be perfomed by the daring, and (although not unnoticed) easily dismissed by passing crowds as a strange curiosity. However, in the suburbs, manhole popping will incite staring and calls to the city from suspicious residents. For example, Tanuki popped a lid downtown, and as tourists walked by Nancy Drew and I ventured down to check out our first brick manhole chamber and small sewer. No problems, and we came back up five minutes later. However, one night while looking for manholes in a neighbourhood, we elicited a few stares and challenges from neighbourhood residents.
Alas, the rumoured tunnels under downtown Victoria once again evaded me. Sidewalk skylights and manholes everywhere beckoned, but few of these ever lead to anything. I'll admit that I focused more on the drains than on the tunnels or buildings during my short visit, but I have seen and heard little to indicated that there are any accessible, existing tunnels. Perhaps next time...