Saturday, August 22, 2015

Keep Winnipeg Weird 2: The Tunnel of BEER

Winnipeg has a weird history of underground tunnels. In a city that spends 9 months of the year covered in endless winter, I could imagine how a tunnel connecting buildings and heated with steam would be a wonderful alternative. The Pantages theatre had an attempted tunnel to City Hall that had been planned but ended as the Sand Room in the latter’s basement. The University of Manitoba has a network of tunnels that connect most of the major buildings to one another (the bit between the Fletcher Argue-Liz Dafoe Library and Duff Roblin is particularly scary) as does The Health Sciences Centre and Downtown Winnipeg.

However I’ve heard weird rumours about underground tunnels that have been out of use since at least the 40s located in the older parts of Winnipeg, connecting the oldest buildings in the city. The Free Press did an article a few months back gathering the various hearsay and rumours about these tunnels focusing on the tunnel system that (supposedly) connects most of the buildings in the Exchange District.

In my research, I’ve found mention of a tunnel that connects the Hotel Fort Garry to the Manitoba Club and Union Station. The Fort Garry was one of the first major hotels in the city and due to its proximity to the rail station, has had guests of very high statuses. Charlie Chaplin, however, stayed in the Windsor Hotel down the street when he was in Winnipeg. From what I gathered, the Fort Garry tunnel was used to transport guests to and from the hotel in the winter and also used to get dirty linen to the hotel from the Manitoba Club. I also read various accounts of the tunnel being used illicitly to secretly transport prostitutes from the train station to the Manitoba Club with the tunnel being haunted by a prostitute strangled and walled up down there. Security guards at Union Station can’t say for sure if the tunnels exist as the basement of the station is a labyrinth of entry points that have been out of use for a while. If the tunnel is there, it’s been closed up for years and may be flooded and unusable.

The Exchange Tunnels are the ones I hear the most about. Their primary use was for transporting goods in the winter and may have also been used to transport booze during prohibition. These have also been boarded up with the only entry point being the still used storage area that opens to the street near Main and Bannatyne. These tunnels were used by Al Capone during his time in Winnipeg.

The tunnel system I was most surprised by was the one connecting the Legislature building with the Vaughn Jail. It was used to supply steam heat from the power plant between the jail and the Leg as well as power the elevators within the Legislature. Later, it was used to transport mail by air tube. It was also supposedly used to allow politicians to escape angry mobs during the Winnipeg Strike. Like the other tunnels mentioned here, it's locked down to the public.

There are loads of underground secrets in Winnipeg that I couldn't find any information of. I've heard a lot about an old movie theatre under the Radisson hotel on Portage as well as a pool hall and second bar under the Windsor Hotel that was used during Prohibition. Here's hoping somebody can point me in the direction of these secrets.

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