Dave prefers not to disclose his full name.
He’s known as Dave from Freaktography, a pseudonym he’s adopted for his urban exploration and photography hobby, which has evolved into a side hustle. With his camera lens, Dave captures the haunting beauty of abandoned homes, factories, and other vacant sites across Canada.
Based in the Burlington area in Ontario, Dave leads a typical life with a full-time job in marketing and a family. Just sometimes he spends the night in deserted jails, decaying churches or long-forgotten homes tucked off rural roads.
He documents his explorations through photography and videos. His process involves scouring Google Maps, keeping track of demolition notices, driving down rural roads, and relying on word of mouth from the urban exploration community to discover potential sites.
He spends at least a few hours at each location, and sometimes the night. He stops short of saying he develops a relationship with each site, but he does feel the pull of history at each location and finds beauty in the decay.
“While you’re there, you put together a story in your head of what possibly happened. You picture the lights going on within the house. And what’s interesting to me is if I were to leave my house today and just walk away, these photos that I show, that’s what my house would look like in 20 years if I walked away and never came back.”
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Dave’s work has been featured in media outlets around the world, he sells prints online, speaks at photography workshops and says he actively supports aspiring urban explorers.
He follows a few rules. He never forces entry into any location, never removes any items (although he has broken this rule twice, more on that later), and always removes the photographs from the internet if he’s contacted by concerned or upset family members.
He also always listens to his gut.
“If my gut tells me don’t go in the basement, I don’t go in the basement,” he says.
Not out of fear of what may be lurking below but for his own personal safety. He sticks close to the walls and stays mindful of the strength of the floors he’s walking on.
He comes prepared with about 30 pounds of equipment, including steel-toed boots, lights, multiple lenses and a hammock in case he decides to spend the night.
“A lot of these places are extremely dangerous but in terms of being creeped out, I don’t typically get creeped out,” he says. “I don’t believe in the paranormal.”
Not to say he hasn’t discovered anything strange. He’s come across blood-soaked crime scenes, eerie body stains on carpets, cremated human remains and even visited an abandoned funeral home filled with caskets.
On a few occasions, he stumbled upon unexpected treasures, including jewelry, diamonds, and once, a plastic bag stuffed with nearly $7,000 in U.S. and Canadian cash.
Although he usually avoids taking items from sites, this was an exception. After finding some paperwork in the house with identifying details, he was able to track down the granddaughter of the couple who previously owned the home.
After a few phone calls, and along with his wife and another couple, they met the woman at the house and she explained more of its history to Dave. As for the cash, the woman’s grandfather had operated a fruit stand in Niagara Falls, which explained the mix of U.S. and Canadian currency.
After he handed over the money, she gave him back $250, which he then donated to the Burlington Humane Society.
In the only other instance where he’s removed items from a house, he attempted to return a box of Second World War memorabilia, including medals and a bloodied Nazi shoulder patch that he surmised was cut from a dead soldier.
Dave found surviving family members through an obituary and offered to return the items. Surprisingly, they declined and even notified the police.
A former military member, Dave says he was shocked by that reaction.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the military and these medals were just sitting there in such ruins,” he says.
He ended up loaning the items to a friend, who has a Second World War collection in his home.
“They’re in a very nice display, it’s very respectful and if the family ever changes their mind, they can have it all back,” he says.
In 12 years of urban exploration, he’s been fined $65 on two occasions for trespassing violations. He maintains open communication with the police, who are aware of his activities and know how to reach him.
Years ago, a woman from the Cobourg area threatened to press charges after discovering Dave’s pictures of a family property online.
Through his lawyer, Dave offered assistance in cleaning up the property. For six consecutive Saturdays, he met her at the house, helping with manual labour as she collected items of personal value. The woman ultimately dropped the charges, and they remain close to this day.
In his travels across Canada, Dave has found that Saskatchewan is rife with abandoned rural homes, Quebec has plenty of decaying churches and monasteries but Ontario is home to a variety of sites for urban exploration.
“Developers buy land and then they sit on it until they’re ready to build,” he explains. “So because of the population and the density and the history, Ontario has a lot of abandoned sites.”
He’s particularly drawn to homes that seem to have been vacated in a rush, with things left exactly as they were. A calendar still hanging on the wall, a coffee cup still on the kitchen table, a picture of the past, frozen in time.
Where others might see death and decay, Dave sees a story waiting to be captured.
“My favourites are houses that look exactly as they did the last time someone walked out the door,” he says. “It just looks like they left one day and never came home.”
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