Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Spelunking in Harold Town Conservation Area

My spiritual metabolism requires I visit new places on a regular basis; when I don't my soul gets fat and depressed. It gets harder to do the longer I live somewhere, but there are always new niches. With a bike and fair weather it's easier to root them out, and this week I found some oddities worth relating.

The Harold Town Conservation Area may or may not be defunct - there are few references to it online, and no official signs to mark it on Old Norwood Road. There is, however, space for parking and lots of clear trail. I found the park through a friend's description and Google maps, and there is at least plenty of information on its namesake. Harold Town was a Canadian abstract painter in the style of Picasso, famous enough in his time to have work acquired by the Guggenheim and the MoMA and to win awards in Yugoslavia. He died in Peterborough in 1990, when I'm guessing he  granted his property to the city to create the park.

I didn't confirm that last part, but while I'm guessing, let's assume he was also an avid mountain biker. The Conservation Area seems most popular among mountain bikers, and there are at least two places where you could bomb downhill for a good long time. On foot the climb is tough enough, and on the north and east sides there's not much shade to be had. As a walking trail I wouldn't give it five stars, but there are a few interesting sights along the way, including some rusty human remnants:

I climbed the hill twice, after the trail on the eastern slope turned to marsh and spat me out on the road. I looped back and explored the alternatives. The west side has some creaky, shadowy trails through cedars, and after I had ambled around on the high ground I followed them down.

They let me out in front of an old warehouse, with boarded windows and rotting garage doors. I shuffled through the grass up to it and peered in a hole - inside, skateboarders or stunt bikers had decorated the walls and retrofit the building with ramps, rails, and filthy mattresses. I walked to the side of the building, where I found my means of ingress. Ducking carefully around the broken glass and jagged wire, I slithered in:

Means of ingress
The room was drafty and squalid, but anyone inclined to practice tricks would find hours of entertainment. It's the perfect repurposing for a building in its waning years, and exudes a certain rebel charm. Here is the view from within:

Interior view

I sat on the ramp awhile, whistling and admiring the echo. A flycatcher flew in the window, flew a circuit round the room, and left the way he came. I also noticed, except for the word FAG liberally spray-painted everywhere, the skaters had done a great job decorating:

 Notice the bear is wearing a "100 Years of Flight" pin. After I had explored the main room, my curiosity drew me to the locked door at the far end. I tried the latch, but it had rusted shut. I had to crawled through the hole instead:

The second room was very dark. I kept imagining I could hear people coming around the building, but it was only the weeds sloshing against the outside walls, or the plastic sheet on the floor rustling, or the wind shaking the old garage bays. Once my eyes had adjusted and I'd conquered the urge to flee, I saw there was a large pallet of insulation on the floor and an enormous furnace swaddled in the stuff against the far wall. It was damp and rotten and hanging in straggles from the pipes. To the side, there were a number of split and spilling boxes.

My first thought was that they were empty, but as I approached I realized they were full of Christmas bows. Dozens and dozens of fluffy bows in a variety of colours lay among the insulation and broken glass. Why they would store so many bows next to the furnace in a warehouse in a conservation area I couldn't guess. If they had ever stored anything else, it had long since been pillaged. Usually I am against robbing abandoned buildings of their setpieces, but I stuck a bow in my pocket as a momento.

 Unfortunately the lighting wouldn't let me take a decent shot of the bows, but the above should give you some idea. The price tag on them says eight-five cents, but they are available now at quite a discount.

I left shortly thereafter, but not before taking a field recording of the eerie sounds of the furnace room, which will show up one day in a suitably horrific composition. I have been back since, and even when the wind is quiet, the impression of someone approaching from outside is intense. On the eastern side of the park there are more ruins, but they are much worse for the wear. Judging by the rusted cable and ruined electrical equipment in one not-quite collapsed shack, though, there must've been a ski lift there at one time.

If you're new to Peterborough, Harold Town Conservation Area shouldn't be the first place on your list, but anyone looking for a few new trails, or interesting in spelunking an abandoned building, should give it a try. I'm afraid this post will be of little interest to anyone reading from further away, but if you send me a self-addressed stamped envelope I will return it to you with a vintage Harold Town eight-five cent bow inside.

Thanks to Will Lalande for the tip!


  1. Matt
    This is a now a marked trail system for bikes (and dog walkers). It was an old ski hill...Old Orchard..and before that an air strip on the east side. The build was also a Polaris snowmobile dealer who rented to skiers etc.
    Everyone is keeping quiet about this jewel...we don't want snowmobilers or horseback riders mucking up the trails. A good walk on all trails except when muddy if you want a good workout.

  2. Building is now torn down and just the concrete floor is left