Yesterday I rode my motorcycle 350 km from Toronto to Brockville Ontario and saw some amazing stuff along the way. But today it’s time to continue my 2,000 km motorcycle ride from Toronto to Quebec City. There’s just one problem, the weather is terrible. Instead of getting back on the bike today, I’ve chosen to stay put and be a tourist in Brockville.
Michael and Melissa, my hosts last night, offered to let me camp out at their place for another day because of how bad the weather was. They’re wonderful and kind people, but personally, my favorite guests are the ones who go away, so I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. Time to gear up and get going!
At this point, I had no idea where I was going or what I would be doing today. If I get to Montreal today I’ll have time to see my friends, but that could mean as much as two hours of highway riding in the rain. Not fun on a motorcycle.
I found my way, by chance, to a Tim Hortons in Brockville on the corner of William St. and Brock St. I needed to kill time. 10 minutes to eat a donut. Still raining. 20 minutes to drink a bottle of water. Still raining.
Monitoring the radar I can see some gaps between cloud cover and rainfall opening and vanishing too quickly for me to have any hope of a dry ride to Montreal. I start to Google “things to do in Brockville” and come across something that looks interesting.
The Brockville tunnel
I had no idea that I was going to enjoy the Brockville tunnel so much. I can’t believe I almost left town without checking it out.
This is the first railway tunnel ever built in Canada. Construction began in 1854 and we didn’t have underground boring machines or even dynamite back then. Instead construction crews relied on hard work and low-tech means of just getting the job done.
On one side of tunnel the workers hand dug through the earth. You can still see cut out holes in the walls on both sides of the tunnel that held scaffolding and an arched wood form in place. The masons would rely on this to help support the ceiling while they worked underneath.
Further down they were faced with hard rock which needed to be blasted through. Back in the 1850s gunpowder was the explosive of choice. They didn’t have dynamite. Along the walls you can see where the workers hand chiseled into the rock to pour down the gunpowder for their blasts.
The tunnel itself was built using the cut and cover method. That means the workers didn’t actually dig a tunnel through the earth. It was more like they turned a trench into a tunnel. They dug out a trench into the earth, built the tunnel roof and shaft, and then covered it all with earth.
Inside the tunnel you can find a huge extraction shaft that goes up about 50-60 feet. It was used as an access portal for bringing in workers and materials. It also served other purposes like extracting water and blasted rock.
To see what inside of the tunnel was all about, check out the video up above.
The water and colors inside
One cool feature of the Brockville tunnel is the pouring rain inside of it. The tunnel was designed to leak, because water spreading through the stone walls stops the buildup of hydrostatic pressure that could otherwise cause the walls to collapse.
What’s cool is that this continuous flow of water has created some really cool mineral deposits all over the tunnel’s walls and ceiling. It’s kind of beautiful down here. As beautiful as a man-made wet underground cave can be, I guess. The mineral deposits are all kinds of different colors, depending on what chemical they are made up of. Calcite is white, dolomite is yellowish, iron can be orange and red, and anything you see that’s blue and green are from nickel and copper. It’s a whole rainbow of science.
Ventilation and Brockville city hall
The first trains would finally ran through the Brockville tunnel in 1860. Over the first century of the tunnel’s use, the trains passing through would use a variety of different engines to power the locomotives. Early on, the trains would be steam powered, later on, wood-burning trains would come through.
That means the tunnel needed to have ventilation shafts. These shafts were so important, that in 1863, when Brockville’s City Hall was built directly over the shafts, the tunnel’s ventilation shafts were incorporated into the building’s design.
If you look at Brockville’s City Hall, first named Victoria Hall, you can see two stone chimneys coming out of the roof of the building. Those chimneys go all the way town into the tunnel, hundreds of feet below.
Later on, the tunnel would see diesel trains come through, and those would continue to pass through until the early 1970s, almost 120 years after the tunnel’s construction.
Where to stay in Brockville
After walking the tunnel several times I rode back to Tim Hortons to regroup, check the weather, and make a plan. It looked like the rain would continue for hours to come, so I decided to book a hotel room so I could take a hot shower, dry up, and take a nap.
I chose to stay at the Super 8 by Wyndham Brockville. It’s got an average 3.6 star rating on Google. It was clean, dry, very comfortable, and I could park my motorcycle right outside my window. I spread out my things to dry, took a hot shower, dried up, and soon napped for hours.
When I woke up, I found the internet was fast, but I also found that the sky had cleared. It was time to get out and explore Brockville some more.
Pink Pills for Pale People
Now, a quick little Brockville story. There was a guy who lived right around where I stayed. He became very rich because he bought the rights to produce a product called Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People.
They basically branded it as a miracle pill that could cure you of any ailments. They ran ads in newspapers with alleged patient testimonials that were typed out to look like little editorials even though they were ads, and the guy made a fortune. It was basically iron, magnesium, sugar, and a ton of advertising hype both in the US and in Canada. They were found to not be particularly medicinal, and by the 1970s they were taken off the market completely. But not before they made him very very wealthy.
Tomorrow rain or shine I’ll be leaving Brockville and riding to Montreal. From that point on, my trip is going to be very different, and not just because I’ll be in French Canada where none of the signs are in English anymore. Hit subscribe to see that and hit like if you liked this video.
End of the Day 2
Overall I only rode 21 km today because I decided to stay in Brockville and be a tourist, but it was the right choice. The people in Brockville have been extremely friendly, pleasant, and quick to spark a conversation. The Keystorm Pub was completely out of chicken wings, which was disappointing, but the Super 8 was a nice shelter from the rain and a good place to call home for the day.
All things considered, I rated today’s motorcycle riding two stars, as it was just about making the most of a rainy day. Tomorrow I’ll be making my way into French Canada and riding 215 km to Montreal! Stay tuned for that!