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.

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