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.
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.
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.