R.L. Hearn Thermal Generating Station

To many Urban Explorers in the Toronto area, R.L. Hearn Generating Station (simply called ‘Hearn’) was one of the largest structures that was pretty much open for exploration at any time. Hearn was my first power plant, and the first time I was introduced to any actual danger while UE’ing.

The first time I went to Hearn with my friends, we entered via the coal chute (pictured to the left). We walked in through the wide opened door in the Coal Chute building, and simply walked up the catwalk, straight into the Power Plant. As I recall there used to be a loose or partially missing panel near the top of the catwalk, which we had to hop over. That made climbing it kind of dangerous. Now we were in the Coal distribution section of the plant. Long conveyer belts run the length of the plant and feed into various coal hoppers which feed into huge furnaces which are about 80 feet tall, and 40 feet by 40 feet wide. Walking into the plant from such a high vantage point was amazing and utterly scary. The catwalks were see thru, and you could look down and see the ground far below you.

Honestly the first time there was overwhelming, and I was glad I was with Avatar-X who knew the place well. However I wished he had slowed down a little so I could take things in. Hearn was very much not a restful place however. While the building did have its ‘quiet times’, most of the time it would creak and squeak. Hearn had a voice, unlike The Aud which was always so peaceful and quiet. Hearn was always talking to you. It was spooky sometimes. It is possible that some of the noise was caused by a homeless person who lived in the plant, or by other explorers. The place was so large you could literally spend several hours in the place with 10 other people, and completely avoid all of them the whole time, while not even trying to hide.

There was a time when Avatar-X, shiroi, and Myself were stuck inside Hearn for a good 5 hours or so. We had a huge plan, along with the help of other explorers to scare a second group of explorers while they explored the place. Basically this group of amature urban explorers had publically planned this outting to Hearn, and invited a lot of people to come. This amature group was kind of a laughing stock of the ‘elite’ urban explorers in Toronto. So we wanted to pull a prank on them. Our plan was to sneak in before them, with a few people, and hide in various parts of the plant. We would also have members of our team, in amongst the amature team, who were specifically looking for their reactions and reporting their location to us. We also had our usual team of recon members who were posted strategically in spots to report locations of guards and any other such activity.

I was heading this whole operation up, and I snuck in and positioned myself near the roof of the Building with Avatar-X about an hour before the time that the amature group was planning on entering. From the roof I could watch (hidden of course) as the amature team crossed the coal fields and headed towards the coal chute. Shiroi was supposed to enter the building and hide in the rafters / catwalks, and stay in the shadows but make noises every now and then. However he was late entering the property…

Shiroi barely missed being seen entering the property by the amature group of explorers. And just as he thought he was in the clear, he had to dive to cover again. A security car had driven up through the coal fields and was intercepting the amature explorer’s as they attempted to climb the fence. Luckily he was too busy to notice shiroi who continued into the building after hiding in some bushes for a good 15 minutes. Once Shiroi got inside, he joined us on the roof as we scoped out the situation.

Things were not looking good. Security guards with dogs showed up and there was a lot of security presence. Hopefully the amature group learn’t their lesson so to not publically schedule things. But the funny part is that they got off easy. It ended up being us who got stuck inside.

With the help of outside recon we were able to determine how many security guards were on site, and we were also able to determine that none had entered the building. None the less we figured it would be wise to hide in a corner somewhere and wait it out. It was a good 4 hours until the extra guards left, and we were able to retreat without any issues.

Ah good times tho.

The Stack:

A graph comparing the stack to other tall buildings in Toronto, Canada:

There was also the Stack mission. Avatar-X, Conundrum and Myself wanted to climb the 705 foot tall smoke stack (one of the tallest structures in the City). It was to be a long mission, and we were planning on starting about 3am. I was fully geared up. The other 2 had very little gear. In hindsight likely a smart choice for them.

While carrying a back pack full of food, safety items, radios and drinks, as well as a jacket full of other gear such as cameras, flashlights, and night vision… I headed towards the stack with the other 2. We entered the stack and began to climb. Inside the stack it was pitch black. The stack is actually a fairly habitable place, the vertical ladders and catwalks were all fairly clean, considering it was a smoke stack. The smoke itself traveled in a giant pipe in the center of the smoke stack.

At first the climb was fast and easy, Especially carrying a backpack. The ladders had cages around them, so the backpack would often hit against the cages, and it became annoying fairly quickly. After about 350 feet I began to tire extremely. Avatar-X and Conundrum were moving very quick without any load, and I was struggling to keep up with them. They were trying to get up to the top before sunrise.

I eventually called it quits around 375ft (about 37 stories high), and set up a base camp on a ledge of catwalk. From this vantage point I could watch the other 2 climb up the smoke stack, and communicate with the ground team. I also set up some food, and had drinks ready for their return.

For someone who is as out of shape as I am, 375ft vertical non stop climbing is not bad, especially carrying about 40 to 50 lbs of gear. I could of continued, but I didn’t feel safe until I had rested. My arms were numb, and because we were climbing ladders, I didn’t want to slip up and loose my grip on the ladder and fall backwards.

The other 2 got to the top, however it was too cloudy to see any sun rise. They took a video of it, and then continued back down. We met up and rested for a bit, and then continued out of the stack, returning the safety harnesses that we borrowed from the safety harness closet. We exited the property and went to Tim Hortons for the traditional after exploration meet and de-brief.

History:

Hearn was built between 1950 and 1960 with units coming into operation as construction progressed. After it was all said and done there were a total of 12 turbine generators (units 5-8 were tandem units). All told, the station had a total capacity of 1200 MW. The plant originally burnt coal, however in the 70′s the whole plant was converted to Natural Gas. 4 of the units retained the ability to burn coal however.

In the late 70′s/early 80′s however it became apparent that running a whole plant on Natural Gas was very expensive, and units 1-5 were shut down. Units 6, 7 and 8 remained in service for a few years burning coal both coal and natural gas, however due to a surplus of energy in the province the plant became redundant. Eventually all units were shut down. The plant remained active until 1995, keeping some generators in service as ‘standby surge power’ and to maintain the quality of the power grid in the Toronto area. The hydro yard and control room were staffed until 1995 and were still in service to provide power to Toronto. Eventually the plant was disconnected from the grid and completely mothballed.

Since 1995, Hearn has lived an interesting life. It has stared in various movies, among them Frequency, Resident Evil, The Recruit, and some film about the New York trade center incident (at one point inside Hearn you could find cars and wreckage dangling in a huge blown up hole). I am sure you can probably find more films which include Hearn in their scenes.

There was talk of turning Hearn into a giant movie set, however that proposal never went through. The ‘portlands’ energy project won favor over the local government and it became the priority for that section of land. Demolition was sped up in order to make room for the Portlands energy center being built next to the plant.

Sadly however demolition was not fast enough. Hearn is a dangerous place. I can’t stress that enough. It took too long to be demolished. And that delay was paid for in the form of a human life. It could of been any one of us who died that day… We have all had close calls at Hearn. It is time it came down.

Hopefully these photographs, and the photographs of other Explorers, will keep the memory of the place alive for years to come. Below are some of my better photos taken at Hearn. Enjoy.

Photos:

The Generator Floor was actually quite far above ground level. This photo was taken from the generator level looking down. I believe the Generator Floor is technically ‘level 4′. Either way, it is a long fall.


There was still some power in the place for demolition and movie use. This was where the outside electric feed fed into the building. It would hum constantly with power.

I found this chain to be of interest.

The plant was very tall. This is looking up from the ground floor. If you use the Coal Chute to get in, you enter the building from the upper levels.

Kind of an artistic closeup of one of the Generators.

Inside a generator stator. Each ‘tube’ is actually a solid conductor within which the electricity is generated as a large magnet spins in the center.  The magnet is driven by the turbine which is in turn driven by steam. Included a beer bottle we found nearby for scale.

The Generator Floor. I did have an overview photo of the whole floor, from above, but I seem to have misplaced it, so this will have to do for now.

The control room. It has been kind of trashed over the years, sadly. Otherwise it would make a cool place for a photo shoot.

Some random meters in the control room.

For some reason I seem to have neglected taking any outside photos of the plant. Therefore I will use one of Avatar-X’s photos and credit him :)

I have a lot more photos of the plant… somewhere. I can’t seem to find them at the moment. They could have been on my hard drive which failed in 2006.

7 Comments

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  5. In the photo you refer to as the turbine photo you then get the story right. It is in fact the internal view of the generator stator not the turbine. the large round objects with Parsons name plate on the ends of them I believe are the ends of the generator units themselves. In the background of the one complete generator can be seen the LP turbine unit. I’ve worked at several of OPG’s nuclear stations and the Lampton coal-fired station over a thirty year career with the former Ontario Hydro. I had friends how worked at the R. L. Hearn plant as operators so although I’ve never actually been in the station I fell reasonably familiar with it. The unit I’ve described above looks like it is probably one of the MP/LP turbines of one of units 5 through 8 which were 200 MW cross compound units. It seems a shame that a plant that in it’s day was cutting edge technology has come to such an ignominious. Like many of our great technological firsts in this country we have little or nothing left to show for it. We could certainly take a lesson from our British cousins who have preserved much of their early industrial age technology, much of it in restored running condition.

  6. In the photo you refer to as the turbine photo you then get the story right. It is in fact the internal view of the generator stator not the turbine. the large round objects with Parsons name plate on the ends of them I believe are the ends of the generator units themselves. In the background of the one complete generator can be seen the LP turbine unit. I’ve worked at several of OPG’s nuclear stations and the Lampton coal-fired station over a thirty year career with the former Ontario Hydro. I had friends how worked at the R. L. Hearn plant as operators so although I’ve never actually been in the station I fell reasonably familiar with it. The unit I’ve described above looks like it is probably one of the MP/LP turbines of one of units 5 through 8 which were 200 MW cross compound units. It seems a shame that a plant that in it’s day was cutting edge technology has come to such an ignominious end. Like many of our great technological firsts in this country we have little or nothing left to show for it. We could certainly take a lesson from our British cousins who have preserved much of their early industrial age technology, much of it in restored running condition.

    • Oh, thank you for the correction :) I am honored to have you post here. You are right that it is not the turbine itself… But I was not considering technical terms when I wrote that, just laymans terms. Honestly I do wish I was more familiar with power generation, but that is not my field of expertise. So forgive my mistakes :)

      I also agree that it is sad to see these places left to rot and be demolished as they are. These machines were great machines, and made at a time when people cared about quality and workmanship. t is sad when I see the world Ayn Rand wrote about in Atlas Shrugged, happening around us in reality.

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