By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, break nothing but silence.
Those are the core mandates of urban exploring — an act where curious minds venture into abandoned buildings, structures and locations to explore.
Finz519, an area resident whose name isn’t being released for fear of repercussions, said while he hasn’t been an urban explorer for a long time, there’s something about peeling paint and wallpaper, holes in the roof that let sunlight stream into abandoned homes and historical treasures like rusted antiques that can be found at some locations.
“Most of it was the adventure to see where somebody maybe hasn’t been for years,” he said of why he became a modern-day voyager. “The thing I like about it was these were once thriving places where people lived and enjoyed and then you go there and you see that kind of nature is taking over.”
Finz519 said abandoned sites typically fall into one of two categories — locations that have been “reclaimed by nature” or have been trashed.
“There’s the sites that are decaying, like a natural decaying,” he explained.
Those locations have become ramshackled through neglect, with plants and weeds growing through windows, portions of roofs caved in because of water damage and belongings of the former owners strewn about.
Cloaked under a cover of anonymity, Finz519 said he’s visited approximately 24 area sites.
According to the website Ontario Abandoned Places (OAP), there are a number of urban exploring locations in the Forest City, ranging from old hospitals and farmhouses to cemeteries and factories. Some of the sites have been demolished as recently as June, but still remain on the website.
Only a partial list is available. To view the full inventory, one must prove they’re serious urban explorers and gain membership.
The OAP website functions as an online forum where the public can post locations and photos of the sites they’ve visited, as well as addresses and a brief history. There is also information about the status of the site, namely whether it has been abandoned or demolished, or even if an act of arson has been committed.
Modern-day ruins being turned into vandalized and mistreated holes — like the fate of the abandoned McCormick’s factory — is one of the main reasons serious urban explorers don’t offer up the locations of their gems, Finz519 said.
“That’s the worst part about it and that’s why everybody is kind of secret about locations,” he said. “When I go to these things, I really try not to touch anything — even taking the dust off of something or whatever it may be.
“You’re kind of ruining the picture for somebody else.”
On one urban exploring website, the author of an online post describes how participants of the pastime are often misunderstood, especially when it comes to the occasional illegal aspect of it.
“Genuine urban explorers never vandalize, steal or damage anything — we don’t even litter. We’re in it for the thrill of discovery and a few nice pictures, and probably have more respect for and appreciation of our cities’ hidden spaces than most of the people who think we’re naughty,” the statement read.
“While it’s true that some aspects of the hobby happen to be illegal, it’s important not to confuse the words “illegal” and “immoral.” Laws against trespassing are like laws against being out after curfew: People get into trouble not for actually doing anything harmful, but simply because the powers that be are worried that they might.”
Being caught and charged isn’t Finz519’s biggest fear, however. In fact, it’s the wrong people stumbling on hidden sites and trashing them that worries him.
Despite being an amateur photographer, the historical component of the sites is something Finz519 finds interesting. He added he does research in his spare time.
“I like to take a peek at them (old records or files) and just kind of see what the latest date I can find was,” the explorer said. “Sometimes you’ll find names and sometimes I like to do some history on maybe why it’s abandoned.”
For more information on urban exploring sites in London, visit www.ontarioabandonedplaces.com