One of the forty items on our fortieth anniversary list last year was to visit the Tunnels of Moose Jaw. We didn’t really know much about them, but we’d heard intriguing reports. So, on our way to Calgary for Christmas, we allowed an extra day to stop and check them out. I recommend the adventure!
Beneath the streets of downtown Moose Jaw, a complicated series of tunnels hold some fascinating—and disturbing—stories of our own Canadian history. The city has shrewdly turned these dark secrets into a tourist attraction that entertains and enlightens. Part museum, part theater, the tunnels include multimedia and even animatronics.
In the “Chicago Connection” tour, we relived Al Capone’s bootlegging days. Guests become bootleggers in 1929 who have come to Moose Jaw to buy booze from the Capone organization. Needing to steer clear of the local police chief, “Miss Fanny” led us through her club, Al’s office, and bedroom—both of which hid secret escape routes—until we ended up in an underground tunnel. The only one who knew the way out was the lovable Gus, one of Capone’s goons, complete with “Joizey” accent.This tour began on the opposite side of the street from where it ended, proving that the tunnels truly do go right under the streets.
The tunnels were the work of Chinese railway workers who’d dug them decades earlier so they could hide whenever officials decided to collect the notorious head tax. The “Passage to Fortune” tour tells the story of these immigrants. Population pressure, political instability, and poverty brought many Chinese people to Canada seeking a better life. Chinese labor played a major role in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which reached Moose Jaw in 1882. With that project finished, many Chinese ended up living and working in laundries in these tunnels because—as harsh a life as it was, it beat the discrimination and hatred they endured above ground. The conditions they lived in and the near impossibility of moving up can only be described as slavery. Certainly, it was human trafficking and a shameful, dark blot on our history. This story needs to be told, and you won’t find it in our Canadian History textbooks—at least, you didn’t in my day. The tales left me with a new appreciation for what many Chinese endured, passing down an irrepressible spirit of determination to their descendants.
At the end of the tour, we could ask questions, and I wish I had. I think we felt too subdued by the somber story. Later, I wondered several things. Were the tables, benches and bunks the actual ones used by the immigrants? Was a lot of that stuff left down there? When were these tunnels “discovered?” What went on in between the time they quit being used and the time they were developed for tours? In what condition were they found?
If you go, perhaps you can ask my questions and let me know!
The Tunnels of Moose Jaw are a family friendly attraction offering an experience like no other. Tickets are available from their website www.tunnelsofmoosejaw.com and cost $15.00 per tour or $25.00 for both. They offer discounted tickets for seniors, youth, and children, with no charge for kids five and under.