The Tunnels of Moose Jaw are filled with Half-Truths and Lies

Moose Jaw is a small city in south-central Saskatchewan. It’s 71 km west of Regina. Throughout Saskatchewan, Moose Jaw is known as a retirement and tourist city, and is more or less a central hub for farms and small rural communities surrounding the area. For as long as I can remember, Moose Jaw has been proud to call itself the Tourist Mecca of Saskatchewan. Some residents have noted that this is similar to being the skinniest kid at a fat camp. Whatever your opinion is, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit every year.

The most popular tourist attractions in Moose Jaw are the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa, The Western Development Museum, Casino Moose Jaw, Murals of Moose Jaw, and the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, which sort of plays the victim and the perpetrator in this trial. I’m not discrediting Moose Jaw’s interesting past, however I do feel people have the right to know about certain half-truths the Tunnels of Moose Jaw use to lure in curious tourists.

A little history of the Moose Jaw tunnels

In the early 1900’s the majority of the large buildings in Moose Jaw were being heated by steam. Engineers who looked after this heating system in the basements decided to create a network of tunnels linking the buildings together, so they can easily move themselves and their equipment from building to building without freezing in them gosh darn cold prairie winters.

During this time, many Chinese immigrants had begun to arrive in Moose Jaw to work for very low wages. In order to survive off their poor wages, the immigrants adopted the tunnel system as living quarters and workplaces which were cheap to run, and hidden from the occasional hostile populace.

What hostile populace? Well for a brief period Moose Jaw was the centre of the Ku Klux Klan in Saskatchewan. The first KKK rally being held on June 7, 1927, with 400+ members attending. The last rally was held on October 26, 1927, shortly after organizer Hugh Emmons was arrested. At the time, bigotry was in.

Once prohibition started, Moose Jaw became the capitol for the distribution of bootleg liquor both in Canada and in the US of A. The Soo Line Railroad which goes to Chicago was the vessel for the majority of the international distribution of the booze. With all this illegal activity going on, Moose Jaw earned the nickname “Little Chicago”. More and more illegal enterprises began popping up within the network of tunnels. Speakeasies, casinos, and brothels all at one point found their own area to sell their services. When prohibition was ended, the tunnels fell into disuse, until over time the tunnels were nearly forgotten. Many were filled in or blocked off by new construction.

Creative Commons Attribution daryl_mitchell

A Tourist Attraction Is Created

Decades later an elaborate tourist attraction was created in what remains of the tunnels using live actors and animatronics to give tourists a look into the past of this era of “Little Chicago”. They call the attraction The Tunnels of Moose Jaw. The story they tell however, is in fact based on a bit of a lie that leaves my mouth tasting a little sour.

The Tunnels of Moose Jaw claim that the infamous 1920’s original gangster ‘Al Capone’ hung out in Moose Jaw during these sketchy times. I’ve been on the tour a couple times as a kid, once on an elementary school trip, and I remember somewhere along the line you get to enter the “supposed” office of Al Capone, where he held secret meetings with associates. As a child I took this for fact, and thought, “Woah, Moose Jaw’s badass.” Which it is and all, but this tourist attraction is selling a lie. There is no proof whatsoever that Al Capone ever visited Moose Jaw. His name has never turned up in old hotel registries, and not a single person has brought out their old photo album to show the crime boss hanging out anywhere in Moose Jaw. If you dig deep enough the only thing you’ll find is six personal accounts of people who claim to have met the mobster Al Capone in Moose Jaw.

If personal accounts from people were fact, then Extra Terrestrials, Angels, Unicorns, Leprechauns, Santa Claus, Gnomes, Trolls, and Fairies would all be real. I think what really gets my goat the most about this obvious stretch of a few personal accounts, is that the Tunnels of Moose Jaw have these witness accounts on their website under ‘History‘, and the fact that they bring School Groups into the tunnels to learn. Seems to me that they’re selling a piece of false-history. Not cool guys. I feel like this place is serving an empty plate for hungry tourists, and likely making a killing in the mean-time. According to Tunnels of Moose Jaw, they receive over 100 000 visitors per year. I’m no math wiz, but at $14.00 a pop, they can’t be hurting.

The Real Gangsters of Moose Jaw

It’s not like Moose Jaw doesn’t have it’s fair share of memorable proven historical figures to use. Take Annie Hobert for example, she was the owner of the Railway Restaurant in the 1890’s and operated 24 hours a day to accommodate passengers of the Canadian Pacific railway. During this time hard liquor was banned in Moose Jaw, which at the time was part of the North West Territories. So Annie begins making regular round trips on the train to Winnipeg where she used her long skirts and petticoats to hide her custom fitted rubber bags filled with moonshine, which she brought back for her thirsty patrons.

Annie Hobert began making a killing, and soon began smuggling more and more. She began to dress up kegs of whiskey to pass as sleeping babies, then moved on to masking crates of alcohol to resemble plain old commodities, such as flour or beans. Everything was going according to plan for a while. That is until a crate took a spill and she was busted. She paid her fine and retired in Manitoba.

Mobsters and gangsters were likely in Moose Jaw at one point or another, however if Godfather taught me anything, it’s that The Boss Hog himself would not risk being caught up in some petty crimes just to visit “Little Chicago”. That’s what henchmen are for. Duh!

Moose Jaw is an interesting town, it has some quaint shops, and old buildings, some cool museums, and is a good place to get a dose of the history of the prairies. I just feel that this stretched truth has gotten out of control. Go to Moose Jaw, and heck, check out the Tunnels for yourself, they are neat and entertaining, just know that what you’re seeing is a scripted theatrical performance based on fictional events.


Subscribe to the I Backpack Canada mailing list

Exclusive deals, hot travel tips, and more!
* indicates required

, , , , ,

40 Responses to “The Tunnels of Moose Jaw are filled with Half-Truths and Lies”

  1. Alouise
    February 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    Nice post. I have family in Moose Jaw, but I’ve only been there once and I was too little to remember anything. I’m a bit bothered by the idea of passing off fictionalized history as accurate. I guess it’d be different if they said “Some believe Al Capone was here, but no one really knows for sure.” At least then it’s only speculating, and still keeping some mystery and excitement.

    I don’t know if you’ve read the book “Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw” by Will Ferguson. It’s a great Canadian read and quite funny. The author basically says the same thing, that The Tunnels are entertaining but not really accurate. And he also asserts that the real truth (like the story of Annie Hobert) is just as interesting as the made up stuff. It sort of makes me wonder if there are other historical sites, that have stretched the truth out a bit too much as well.
    .-= Alouise´s last blog ..No Day But Today =-.

    • Corbin
      February 14, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

      @Alouise – I agree, it wouldn’t bother me so much if they said there’s a chance that Capone was there. But to dedicate an entire tour for a “hunch” and then pass it off as truth just seems wrong.

      Yep, I read Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, I loved it! I was trying to figure out when I first heard about this Capone thing not being entirely true, and you just reminded me that this is where the idea spawned from. Thanks for reminding me! I read that back while I was in high-school so I just barely remember it. Scary that if they can get away with it there, who’s to say this kind of thing isn’t happening all over the place at many popular tourist destinations.

      • South Hill Canadian
        November 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

        Read up on Capone, there are plenty of books about him. A famous quote about a reporter asked him about Canada his reply: “Canada, I don’t even know what street it’s on”

    • Shawn
      March 17, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

      you can say he wasn’t here all you want. That is as false as saying he was here. How does anyone really know for sure… he wasn’t going to go to Moose Jaw with a big sign saying hey everyone here I am.
      It would have been very discrete and likely no one would know.

      The fact that he was the one bootlegging his liguor up here and as you stated Moose Jaw became the hub for bootlegging it stands to reason he would have at least wanted to visit his operation at some point. I know if I was relying on someone to sell my booze I would want to know who he was and what he had planned before I went into that kind of business with him.

  2. Candice
    February 17, 2010 at 4:01 am #

    Wow, I did not know ANY of this stuff. Super interesting.
    .-= Candice´s last blog ..Why Borders Are Difficult Concepts for Island Folks =-.

    • Corbin
      February 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

      Totally! Moose Jaw’s all sorts of hood. It’s like Corner Gas with Guns…and interesting stories. Zing. lol jk, Corner Gas is alright.

  3. SpunkyGirl
    February 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    There’s a whole series of Kids books called The Tunnels of Moose Jaw I believe. I have to admit, it’s an interesting town. Probably more interesting to me than say Regina.
    .-= SpunkyGirl´s last blog ..Day One of No-Social-Life-In-Order-To-Save-Money-To-Travel-In-August has begun! =-.

    • Corbin
      February 22, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

      I think I have to agree with you. Regina’s got it’s quirks and what not, but Moose Jaw seems to have a bit more of a rich past. However, if I had to choose between living in Moose Jaw or Regina, Regina wins by a landslide.

      • autumn-rae
        July 21, 2010 at 5:49 am #

        we are relocating from Alberta. It’s a toss up between Regina and moose Jaw. I’ve been leaning to Moose Jaw to live more small town-ish, raise the kids, you know, the average story. Just looking to hear an opinion.

        • autumn-rae
          July 21, 2010 at 5:51 am #

          oh and of course, thanks for the tid bit info to get folks thinking! Well written for sure.

  4. Shawn
    March 17, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    The worlds biggest bootlegger dealing moonshine in Moose Jaw and he would have come to check things out ever.

    I realize you send in the henchman but you still have to take care of business.

    I am not saying he was here or not but to say he wasn’t could be just as false as saying he was. So what exactly is that saying about your statements or publication on this matter?

    The tours are great and meant to entertain. This is not taught in schools and is not passed off as fact. It isn’t like you are meeting his dear old Aunt who is saying he was here.

    This is a unique and interesting city with lots of heritage. To suggest this as being a lie or half truth as you call it would also be just half the truth.

    If there is some proof to the matter than show it.

    The Chinese worked and did laundry underground and they have proof that they a head tax had to be paid for them to work above ground.

    Why even bother with the KKK comments when discussing the tunnels or Capone. That made no sense to me at all. They have a couple of meetings over a few months and that makes us a hub for the KKK. Come on.

    As you can tell I am kind of offended by this article as I think more thought and facts would be provided when deciding if someone is telling “half truths”.

    • David Kerkkonen
      March 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

      Chinese had to pay a head tax to get into Canada. What evidence do you have they worked underground in Moose Jaw? I am a serious researcher re. Chinese in Canada/Chinese Canadian history and culture, and would really like to know.

  5. David
    March 17, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    maybe you should do a little more research into the matter rather than copy and paste things from wikipedia, what facts can you bring to the table? your arguement is based off of what wikipedia says, and they’re not always right. if you’re going to try to prove a point, atleast back it up with the facts. don’t base it off of one other website and a movie. just because you think he wouldn’t come to moose jaw doesn’t mean he wouldn’t. that’s just your own personal, close minded view.

    • Corbin
      March 17, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

      Hey Shawn, David, any other fake names you made up (all originating from the same moose jaw ip…)

      A) Although I respect your opinion(s…) I think you’re naive to believe that Capone had anything to do with Moose Jaw.
      B) I mean no disrespect to Moose Jaw, it’s a great little town, but I think your civic pride is getting in the way here
      C) You ask for proof that Capone was never there…yet if I wrote that Jesus Christ has never been to Moose Jaw (which is blatant common sense), I wouldn’t have to prove a thing. So screw your proof.

      Thanks for reading, and taking the time to be more than one commenter to show their disgust with this post. :-)

  6. Brady Mason
    June 23, 2010 at 9:32 pm #

    I am a 22 year old Saskatchewan resident myself and have always felt the same way about the “Little Chicago Tunnels.” It’s good to see that at least some people take the “history” presented there with a grain of salt.

    • Corbin
      June 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

      Thanks brady, yea i hate to bash on the them, Moose Jaws got a cool vibe to it and everything, as do the tours. But yea, grains of salt most definitely are needed for the whole Al Capone part of the tour. The rest of the tour seems pretty fine, wholesome family fun and what have you. Thanks for commenting

    • blank
      May 1, 2012 at 1:03 am #

       The “history” presented in the Chicago tour… you have a right to be weary about. However, take a second look at the other tour they offer, The Passage to Fortune, that is a lot more historical.

  7. Dan
    August 22, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    It’s called entertainment…. I go see movies and plays all the time that are ‘based on a true story’… Nobody has to spell it out that this is a hunch.

    What they are offering is entertainment. Some people wanna believe in things like this. Who is being hurt?

    It seems silly to debate something which can never be proven, and doesn’t matter at all…

    • Corbin
      August 25, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Dan. I understand that this is a form of entertainment, however it’s still a business and a tourist attraction that is selling itself for something it can’t definitively prove. The tunnels are interesting, and I think they’re still worth checking out, however I am just trying to bring to light that some things on the tour need to be taken with a grain of salt.

      As far as people wanting to believe in this sort of thing, cool, go for it. I just think both views should be put out on the table for the tourist / traveler to examine.

  8. Jeph Maystruck
    December 6, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    Corbin, I love the comments on this post, it always amazes me that people will leave comments on a blog that are disagreeing with a blogger with no real name. What are they afraid of? Obviously the Moose Jaw Tunnels marketing experts have a Google alert set to “The Tunnels” found your post and tried to turn the convo back to positive for them. Quick tip: if you want to be taken seriously you can’t leave an anonymous comments. Simple as that. If you disagree stand up and say so, otherwise we just ignore your opinion.

    Great post, on a side note, you watch Boardwalk Empire? Great show, Capone was too busy in Chicago to worry about Moose Jaw!
    .-= Jeph Maystruck´s last blog ..Case Study- Be Remarkable =-.

    • Richard
      September 10, 2011 at 1:44 am #

      Why would they need to. I know for a fact they got a kick out of reading this.

  9. Allan
    February 1, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    I’m not Canadian, but I used to live in Saskatchewan. I also visited Moose Jaw. I remember that tour of the tunnels had two parts historical and funny one. All the facts that have been said, I heard there. Even in the entertainment section that talks about Al Capone I was told that it is not documented facts. I have a little sense, if this article is not burdened with your subjective impression.

  10. June
    March 20, 2011 at 2:29 am #

    First hand eye witness account of one “deception” of the Tunnels: the zero block of Main Street was blocked off for WEEKS while a tunnel was being built across the street; this, before the Tours opened. I saw it, as did anyone else who ever drove down Manitoba Street!! I remember thinking at the time, “It’s all a bunch of lies.”

    • blank
      May 1, 2012 at 12:57 am #

       The Tunnels were RECREATED to tell the stories. This is told to every tourist that walks through the door. Those “exact” tunnels were re-dug and re-enforced. But if you never came in, I guess you would never know. 

  11. Kelvin Hu
    March 25, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    You are confusing legends with facts. I went to the tour once and remember to be told that the story around Al Capone was not documented facts, as another poster mentioned above. Suppose what you were trying very hard to “prove” is correct, that Al Capone never set his feed in Moose Jaw. Big deal. Lots of tourist spots worldwide captalize on legends and myths to attract tourists, but does that make them guilty of “lying”? I think not.

  12. come one
    April 6, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    Dude seriously its a tour meant for entertaining, of course there would be stories not true, its like going to a medival times and thinking that stuff actually occured in north america, its common sense, quit being a turd in the punch bowl

  13. Rose
    April 13, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    Hey guys,

    This is interesting, because this DOES happen all around the world. I’m Australian, and I was involved with a tourist attraction called the Waltzing Matilda Centre. Waltzing Matilda is, for any of you who don’t know, an Australian folk song that is so important that at one point it was considered for our national anthem (after they decided to ditch God Save the Queen).

    Anyway, there are two main stories which conflict with each other over how Waltzing Matilda came about, and the WMC portrays one, while the historian who argued for the other set up a small museum in the next town up the highway portraying HIS version of events. There have been many decades of arguments over what is the real version of events. Either way you get a good story, as long as the people you are telling realise that it is only one version of events and may not be documented fact (but is based on some kind of historical evidence).

    The most interesting (amusing) part of the Waltzing Matilda story, to me, is that a letter written by the poet behind Waltzing Matilda does not really conform to either version of events but has been completely dismissed out of hand by the historians.

    Makes you wonder how many versions of history there really are. I always like my version the best :-P


  14. Shannon
    May 19, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    My grandfather was one of those who ran rum over the border when the farm went bust during the dust bowl. I have asked him if Al Capone ever was there and he said if he was he wasn’t no more lol my grandfather was a cryptic guy:) So I say he may have which can not be proven and he may not have been which also can not be proven. It is just a tourist thing no need to go all in depth about it…. I went on a tour of the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor ON (they make Canadian Club) and they took us to a basement office where they said Al Capone did business and showed us a hole in the wall where they said he tried to shoot someone! Now talk about unbelievable, especially since I went on the tour a year before and were never allowed down there and never heard that story. It is all hokey fictious crap… or maybe part of our history who cares really??? There are bigger things to worry about.

  15. Jefflchura
    August 31, 2011 at 6:24 pm #


    I agree with the other “posters” who say that no one involved with the Tunnels actually claims that these stories are definitively true — they only say that they are likely rumours that may be true and which are (as you yourself write) attested to by a number of older citizens. One thing I think that must be pointed out, however, is that Capon was never claimed to have come to Moose Jaw in order to commit crimes (another “poster” is correct that henchmen commit the crimes, not the bosses). In the past, I have spoken with a number of these older citizens who claim knowledge of the Capon affair, including one who was a very old family freind before he died, and they say that Capon actually came here in order to be out of the lime-light in Chicago during specific times when the heat from police and politicians was particularily active against him — this is because Moose Jaw was where the rail-road essentially ended and it was very easyto get here and also there was a smallish sub-community of people living in Moose Jaw who had recently moved there from Chicago (including my own mothers side of the family); all this allowed Capone to remain on “holiday” so to speak with his guard partially down and to relax until he felt safe to return to the USA. This is what people in the “know” really say and does seem perfectly reasonable.       

  16. Joe Friars
    September 4, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    ok, first off, I have lived here in Moose Jaw most all my life, and I am  HUGE fan of the american mob. I have read everything i can find on the mob including Al Capone, watched every movie and documentry even sat and visited with a fellow who’s grandfather was Capones driver and bodygaurd (he had proof in the way of pictures) and I have Never seen anything linking Capone to Moose Jaw other than these tunnels. so I too must agree that it is probably a load of bull. Having said that, I must wonder what happened to you here to inspire such a bitter article. I mean, maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, who cares it’s not that important.

    • Corbin Fraser
      September 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      Thanks for stoppin’ by Joe!

      Haha my folks (who live in saskatchewan) asked me the same thing to be honest. Honestly, just thought I’d stir the pot a bit. I love Moose Jaw, think its a great city with plenty to do.

      I just personally feel that Moose Jaw (and all of Saskatchewan) has a rich history. Dont see the need to sprinkle pop-culture historical references all over the city.

      Definitely didn’t mean to insult anyone with this post. Unfortunately it seems I may have done so, but hey. C’est la vie.

  17. Anonymous Tunnels Staff
    September 10, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    So I am a tunnels employee. This was a good read yes but at no point do we ever say Al Capone was in Moose Jaw. We do know that he could have very well never have been here. It is merely a dramatization. The stories we tell are fictional. It is a well known fact that he was ALLEGEDLY in Moose Jaw. The story is more so trying to focus on the boot legging not Al Capone himself.

    • Davidkerkkonen
      April 27, 2012 at 12:12 am #

      Do you say the Chinese actually used the tunnels? I’ve heard mixed messages regarding this. I’m extremely interested in this subject, and really need to get this settled for once and for all.

  18. Jerry
    October 18, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    By the way, I have access to documented proof that Capone could never have had anything to do with those tunnels. As for whether he was ever in Moose Jaw, I did some homework on that too….not likely. This city is just using myth to create tourism, which I kind of admire their business eithics. I like that. My mother watched Main Street, River Street, and Moose Jaw grow. She was still around for the demise of “old” river street. A long time ago, she and I had a talk about this Al Capone issue. The original rumour (way back then), was that Capone was “alleged” to have been seen passing through on a train. Patrons sat in the Churchill hotel, talking about this rumour and nobody ever claimed to have seen Al Capone, except one unknown person who got off the train one day and said “Al Capone was on that train”. My mother told me people quite often said things like that in a bar, just to get people to take interest in a story and buy the “story teller” drinks just to get juicy details.

    • Corbin Fraser
      October 20, 2011 at 10:58 am #

      Jerry! High 5’s for this. Appreciate seeing others from the prairies dispute whether Capone was ever there. Thank’s for rockin’ the boat with me!

  19. Mel
    January 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    It’s a shame the story is based on fiction. Visiting the tunnels is one of the happiest memories I have of growing up in Moose-Jaw. As a kid I remember being incredulous that Moose-Jaw had been a former ‘hub’ for anything, no less getting a visit from the Al-Capone! Still the tour was quite impressive (I mean how often do you see a tour guide run into a wall and disappear!). This post brought back a lot of memories!

  20. Jerry
    April 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    I toured the tunnels and thought they were great entertainment.  They never say that capone was IN them.  It’s fun to connect the dots though – or try to.  there are a bunch of bitter tourists on here.  the tunnels are interesting history indeed.  many have caved in and are lost forever and chinese immigrants did live under the streets of moose jaw because at the time they simply couldn’t surface.  it’s an amazing piece of history.  Illicit activities did happen in the tunnels after the Chinese immigrant period – it’s all documented.  
           As for Capone it is definitely still fun to consider the possibility.  
         – do you think he’d actually use his name or run around for photo opps given the context.  I suspect not.  there’d be little to nothing by way of documentation of his visit(s).  it would all be anecdotal evidence/word of mouth which distort and die as time passes.       – Interestingly – there is a tunnel that starts at the liquor store/train-station under the staircase and connects to the rest of the tunnels.  I entered it as a kid way before it was a tourist site.  you went down the staircase to go under the tracks and to the left was a doorway that entered the tunnels.  Thus – you could step off a train and walk the tunnels and never be seen in town by anyone above ground.  it’s bricked up now as it was one of the unsafe portions.

    • Davidkerkkonen
      April 27, 2012 at 12:10 am #

      If you have any documentation at all that Chinese actually used the tunnels, please let me know. 

  21. Louis Campione
    October 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    I used to work at the tunnels. And on the tour we specifically tell the guests that these are all rumours, that the tour is not based on facts but is something that is fun to think about. And the Passage to fortune tour is based on fact, but the chicago connection tour is a hypothetical reality that we never claimed to be real, but in fact openly say that it is false. It is a performance and is meant for entertainment.

Leave a Reply

Please leave your comment here. Your Email address will be kept private. Remember to be nice!