Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Tunnel Stories are Mostly Myth

This morning I disappointed a visitor. I didn't mean to but when he asked me about the tunnels of Lethbridge, the tunnels that are reported to be like the ones in Moose Jaw, I had to be honest with him and tell him most of the hype around the tunnels are not true.

Don't get me wrong. There were tunnels in Lethbridge.

Under Lethbridge and area (from Magrath to Picture Butte and under Coalhurst, Diamond City, etc ) approximately 3200 km of coal tunnels were dug. This was done over 90 years of coal mining. Many of these tunnels went under areas of Lethbridge. There was even a rumour that in one of the tunnels they had a sign saying City Hall with an arrow pointing straight up. While City Hall was a closer to the coulees in those days, there were a great many tunnels.

There have also been reports of secret entries into the mines for illegal workers to get down into them. These are certainly possible (and likely) but there would not have been many.

Other tunnels were supposedly built during the prohibition years as a way to smuggle and hide alcohol. I do know of "secret rooms" -- rooms where the entry was covered -- and there were underground hallways connecting some buildings. The basements of many of the buildings had warrens and small rooms and isolated areas. There were not, though, all of the connecting tunnels that people claim.

Bootlegging seems to have been a rather open secret in Lethbridge. Alcohol appears to have been transported in grain trucks (as one way to get it across the border). I've heard stories of various businesses downtown that everyone seemed to understand had a side business. While alcohol was hidden there were not a large number of raids. So I don't believe elaborate tunnels were really necessary. And most good businessmen will not build unnecessary (and expensive) tunnels that aren't truly needed.

Even the Galt's "tunnel" was really an underground cinder block hallway connecting two parts of the Galt Hospital (the power plant and the hospital building). The tunnel description was just way more fun to use, especially at Halloween and on ghost tours.

I wish the romance of these tunnels stories were true but over time they have become highly exaggerated. My favourite tunnel story was when I was on a guided tour of a downtown business and the tour guides had the audacity to tell us that not only was there once numerous tunnels under Lethbridge but there had been a tunnel built from Lethbridge TO Moose Jaw! The guide would not believe me when I said that was patently false (and I have no idea how many tours he told that story to). Really, people? With all of the backroads and prairie fields and with too few police to search everything on the trains, you really think you would have to do something that elaborate in the teens and twenties to smuggle alcohol?

Again, sorry to disappoint you but don't believe everything you hear whispered and reported about the Lethbridge tunnels.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Snakes and Ladders

A game developed in India hundreds of years ago is still a popular game today although the original intent has changed substantially. Snakes and Ladders was first developed by Hindu spiritual leaders to teach children the positive results of doing good deeds (moving forward by climbing ladders) and the negative results of doing bad deeds (sliding downward on the backs of snakes). Today, the game is simply a race from the first square to the final 100th box.

The Galt is creating a new supersized Snakes and Ladders game for children to play on Community Day on October 1, 2011 - the day we open the Toys & Games exhibit. The playing board is an 18' by 18' piece of canvas and the playing pieces will be kids! The design of the game will include the colourful and dramatic patterns of local snakes such as the wandering garter and bull snakes. Ladders will come in a variety of styles and sizes.

Once the design is complete, staff and volunteers will be invited to help paint the game board. A large foam die will also be created to add to the fun of the game. Children will throw the die and they will count off the number showing on the die as they move from one square to the next on the board. Once they encounter the head of a snake they must follow its length down to a lower numbered square. If they are lucky to stop on a square with the base of a ladder then they will jubilantly ‘climb’ the rungs to a higher numbered square.

Children playing on this huge board will be fully immersed in the action of rolling the di, counting off the squares and following the paths of the snakes and ladders to their destination. Those watching the action will be cheerleaders and photographers!

Gonna Get Me a Gopher

Last week we had the first week of the Coulees & Culture Day program where kids aged 6 to 10 spend the week at different venues around Lethbridge.

On Friday they were at the Galt all day. Michelle, Galt summer staff, spent most of the day with them but I was able to drop in for some of the fun activities (hiding dinosaurs for them to find, making ice cream – it’s a hard life, but somebody’s got to do it). I also gave Michelle a break at lunch and was out with the kids south of the museum during their free time.

The kids were using sticks to try and dig out gopher holes (and, yes, I know they’re Richardson’s Ground Squirrels but I’m going to keep calling them gophers). Watching them, I had a major case of déjà vu. I remember doing the same thing during my early elementary days. We could often be found behind the school with small sticks determined (and positive) that we were going to dig the gopher out of the hole.

We planned it like a military expedition. We had people at various holes each digging away at the same time. And with our sharp pointed branches (because we never had so much planning that we had shovels or anything) we would dig and dig.

I was amazed watching the kids how little things have changed. Just as it had when I was young (more years ago than I care to admit) – a stick, a hole and friends to play with were captivating these kids. I remember being that captivated, certain that with perseverance and a little more time, we were going to dig the gopher out of its hole.

Watching them, though, I had the advantage of seeing it as a child and an adult. I knew that no matter what they did or how much they dug, they were never going to get the gopher. I could imagine the gopher in one of probably a dozen other holes popping her head up and looking at the kids and thinking to herself, silly kids. Or maybe the gopher was resting from the heat in a deep, dark place in the hole comfortably away from the hot sun (it was a really warm day), laughing at the silliness of humans.

As an adult, I knew the gopher was never in any danger from us. But watching the determination on the kids’ faces, hearing their excited discussion as they planned where to dig and how best to dig and observing them as they tried to make certain they had all of the hole covered, it was priceless. I realized, for those kids (and myself, too, as a child), it was not about catching the gopher – it was about digging for the gopher.