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GTA Tripping: Radioactive Wood Imps!

Posted by Christopher Reynolds / March 21, 2009

Pickering Nuclear's Area of Serenety"Where the f*** are we? We should do this more often," said my travel partner, setting the tone and ethos of GTA Tripping.

In a town called Pickering, about 45 minutes East of Toronto, there's a small blustery hill near the lake topped with weatherworn wooden poles. Featured on these poles are mystical figures, known as Wood Imps, carved in relief. This hilltop is called the Area of Serenity and it overlooks one of the world's largest nuclear power stations.

This charming combination of flakey Earth-spirit-love and badass industrial nuclear stuff makes Pickering Nuclear a supremely compelling destination for the adventurous (or, perhaps, weed-blasted) GTA day tripper.

Originally, in planning for this trip, I figured that if I posed as a graduate student in physics, or maybe a schoolteacher sussing the place out for a future class trip, I could just waltz into a reactor core and come out glowing, both figuratively from the awesomeness, and of course, literally.

When I asked over the phone about getting a tour, ready to try either story, the voice on the other end immediately said "NINE ELEVEN!" to which I replied, "Whaa?"

As it turns out, the power plant used to offer tours of the reactor buildings and the control rooms to the public, but the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (wisely, I guess) closed public access to all nuclear sites following that famous plane/building thing in New York City in 2001.

To accommodate people like me, who view the idea of visiting a nuclear power plant as "fun", Pickering Nuclear has set up a visitor information center. It's pretty easy to find, but if you can't seem to locate it, try asking one of the many armed security personnel, who will likely already be very interested in you and your destination.

armed responders!
Pickering Nuclear Info Center

At the information center I was greeted warmly by the receptionist and invited to stroll past the various placards and interactive educational displays. I learned about the process of nuclear power generation, the radioactivity of everyday objects, the history of Pickering Nuclear, and the various community programs on offer.

visitor info at Pickering Nuclear
Pickering Nuclear's info center

Then I discovered the exact amount of radioactive tritium the station adds to our public drinking water here in the GTA (it's more than none).

Pickering Nuclear's info center

After shaking down the visitor information center for all it was worth, we explored the area surrounding Pickering Nuclear. Here we found the Wood Imps, which include sacred animal figures including an owl, an eagle clutching a snake (what up Mexico?), wise and bearded sage-types, and, incase we didn't feel connected to nature enough here in the shadow of a massive nuclear power station, a human fetus.

forrest and carving by artist Dorsey James
Wood Imp by artist Dorsey James

A little further afield, through Pickering Nuclear's award-winning "Green Space", we found a pretty beach. Enjoying the beach is easy: slink languorously over the polished rocks, swing on the swing set, and gaze out over the shimmering lake. Then pause for some photographs of your lover in the warm sunset light reflecting off her face... and the string of gigantic Canadian deuterium-uranium reactors looming in the background.

Pickering Beach

(To get there we took the GO train from Union Station ($5.70) to Pickering, then hopped the 101 Industrial bus ($0.65). The local bus back to the Pickering GO station leaves hourly from Pickering Nuclear, at seven minutes past.)

Photos by the author



mdworld / March 22, 2009 at 12:13 am
There's one too in Toronto's High Park
Christopher / March 22, 2009 at 10:12 am
Great article, especially about the part about the armed security guards reference should you get lost.
Justin / March 22, 2009 at 03:50 pm
One more thing - you must find the jade monkey before the next full moon.
SR / March 22, 2009 at 08:37 pm
Great piece, I did wonder however if the windmill in the beach photo powered the power plant? you know, in case of emergency...
Financial Panther / March 22, 2009 at 10:18 pm
Yesss! A well crafted and humerous article by TO's newest and most inquisitive explorer. Nicely played Mr. Reynold's. This is just what TO needs, shake it up baby, show us the peculiarity that is Toronto. Dare to mention TO's unmentionables. Pants the GTA and tell us "boxers?" or "briefs?"...Looking forward to your discoveries and adventures to come.

PS- Can I come too?!?
Michelle / March 23, 2009 at 01:20 am
I didn't know that kind of place could be a nice place to visit. I guess many people just miss it. BTW I like those pictures, especially the 12th pic.
DJ / March 23, 2009 at 08:43 am
The Pickering waterfront is really quite nice, especially the beach area off Liverpool in the summer. OPG helped with a lot of the marsh cleanup and tree planting in the area.
Cherry / March 23, 2009 at 10:11 am
What a nice place and article! I look forward to your new one. Pickering,I am coming~
neil / March 24, 2009 at 07:04 pm
As a soon to be resident of the GTA this article got me excited about the fun places that most people don't tell you about. Awesome stuff. Keep it coming.
seung hyun / March 24, 2009 at 10:45 pm
It's really happy to read your article.!
I can't sure how much i could understand about your expressions,
but i think this is so nice ~ great information and great photos!
Meg / April 4, 2009 at 03:54 pm
wow crazy stuff, whoooo knew?
awesome article and quite the adventure by the sounds/looks of it.
Adrienne / April 8, 2009 at 05:33 pm
Wow, neat place! Er, combination of places. You are such an excellent writer too. I hear there's a mini-stonehenge back home near Parsborro - have you seen it?
RichardJohnson / January 12, 2010 at 09:11 am
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Mehul / September 3, 2013 at 01:06 pm
I remember going in there as a kid in school, they got us to wear these suits to protect against the radiation, I was hoping to go for the tour again when I came against this blog. It seems like the military or something/someone else has invaded our glorious Country (Canada) over the past two years, as everyone around pretends to be friendly and nice however there's a huge tensions in the air. It's like we're prisoners in our own Country. I wanted to go into the power plant again to get the chance to where the suit again and to feel like I'm not a prisoner in my own home again.
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