Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan: The Tunnels of Moose Jaw

As nicknames go, “Little Chicago” is a good one.  Especially if it was earned during the heyday of prohibition through a connection to Al Capone.

Welcome to Moose Jaw!  More specifically, under the streets of Moose Jaw.

For the record, the initial response I got from Daina when I talked about taking a tunnel tour was… less than positive.  Back in his teenage days, the Tunnels were thought of as a bit of a joke, something that tourists would come in to see but that weren’t really that impressive.  However, time has passed.  Daina’s friends and relatives kept saying how good the tunnel tours were.  So, what was originally going to be a solo excursion for me became a family affair with Daina, his sister and her boyfriend coming along for the tour.

For $15 a person, you get your choice of one-hour tours.  You can go on the Passage to Fortune tour, which reenacts the struggles of the Chinese immigrants who came to Western Canada and had to live in the tunnels until they had earned enough money to move topside.  We chose the Chicago Connection tour.

During Prohibition, Moose Jaw was a smuggling centre, as the Soo Railway went from Canada through Minneapolis and ended up in Chicago.  This made it a great route for smugglers to get booze from boozy Canada to dry Chicago.  Of course, anything going to Chicago was under the purview of Al Capone.  The FAQ section of the Tunnels of Moose Jaw website explicitly states;

“We have no proof to physically link Al Capone to Moose Jaw but we have been told stories by several people which would place him here in the late 1920’s…  They and their families are well known in the community and we have no reason to doubt their recollections.”

The tunnels were used as a mean to transport booze, as a place to hide from (non-corrupt) law enforcement, and as defacto offices.  Of the tunnels that have been uncovered for the purposes of the tour, you could probably do a walk-through in about 15 minutes.  They’re neat to look at but nothing spectacular visually, having been constructed in the late 1800s and early 1900s as utility tunnels.  So, that plus a slightly tenuous link to Al Capone leave you wondering how the tour could sell these things as something exciting.

Well, sell they do!  And they do a fantastic job at it!

You’re not signing up for a boring “this is where this happened, and this is where this happened” type tour.  Instead, the people at the tunnel tours have created a narrative whereby “Fanny” and “Gus”, two of Capone’s Canadian representatives, tour you through the tunnels, peppering historical information with allusions to Al Capone coming for a visit, police and the IRS coming into the tunnels, and a ton of actual humour.  It’s performance tourism at its best and, while it is admittedly kind of cheesy, it’s a FUN kind of cheesy.  As somebody who’s been on a bunch of different tours, I have to say that this ranks as one of the most entertaining ones I’ve been on.  If they had done these tunnels as a museum, it would be worth maybe $5 for the walk, which would have taken you maybe twenty minutes, assuming they set up some exhibitions.  As a tour, $15 is a bargain for how much fun you’re going to have.

So, yeah, if you’re in Moose Jaw, this is the “Can’t Miss” experience.

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