GTA Tripping: Radioactive Wood Imps!
"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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
(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