2015 Hero: Elton McDonald
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.


1 Comment

2015 Hero: Elton McDonald

Nominated for: digging a mystery tunnel to our hearts.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Heroes Elton  Torontoist Heroes and Villains 2015   640px

When it comes to grit and determination, Elton McDonald has it is in spades. After four failed attempts digging back, rather, dating back to middle school, the plucky 22-year-old can finally strike “dig a really, really, big hole in the ground” from his bucket list.

In January the public was alarmed at news that a conservation officer had stumbled upon an man-made underground tunnel in a wooded area near the Rexall Centre on York University campus. Before McDonald came forward with an explanation about his handy-work, worldwide speculation focused on a terrorist plot bent on disrupting that summer’s Pan Am Games.

Having grown up in a rough community in the northwest corner of the city, the soft-spoken McDonald routinely sought quiet places to be alone with his thoughts. Rather than hole up in his bedroom or head to the local library, McDonald went in a different direction—underground.

If McDonald is anything, he’s tenacious. Four previous attempts at constructing an underground bunker ended in failure. Did he throw in the shovel and give up? No. Instead, he honed his tunnelling skills working in construction.

His most ambitious excavation, the one that baffled authorities and spooked the public, began in 2013. Assisted by another man, McDonald dug a couple of metres below the frost line, then worked horizontally with a pickaxe; a sump pump kept groundwater out, wood framing prevented cave-ins, and a soundproofed gas generator provided electricity.

When the tunnel was discovered it measured 10 metres in length and a few metres high. McDonald and his fellow burrower chilled out in the cave listening to music, watching movies, and barbecuing. McDonald spent a part of Christmas 2014 alone in his Middle-earth creation.

When reports of a suspicious tunnel first surfaced McDonald panicked, convinced a SWAT team would burst through his front door and arrest him. In the end, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as all that. Digging deep within himself, McDonald came forward on his on own to fess up.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel: no charges were laid, and McDonald promises to keep his future ambitions above ground. Using his new-found celebrity McDonald solicited funds to establish a landscaping and construction business hiring local, at risk youth.