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A guide to "secret" tunnels in Toronto

There's something so tantalizing about the prospect of a secret tunnel, a hidden passageway to some place unknown beneath the feet of an unsuspecting populace.

Finding a secret labyrinth with a tug on a candlestick is compelling folklore - there are forums filled with speculation about secret alien bases beneath Toronto, all of which (yeah, I'll say it) are nonsense, but that doesn't mean there are no real secret passageways in the city.

Most people have heard about the 800 foot tunnel that connects Casa Loma to its stables, but there are others out there waiting to be discovered. Here are four real and one fake (but remarkably persistent) tales of underground tunnels in Toronto.

REAL: LOWER QUEEN

toronto lower queen

Lower Queen station, as it's known among rail fans and urban explorers, is the rough shell of an underground streetcar stop deep beneath Queen and Yonge. It was built with Queen subway station during construction of the Yonge line and, according to Transit Toronto, an authority on this type of thing, it bears close resemblance to the Queens Quay underground streetcar stop, if anything.

Due to its fragile nature, the TTC is extremely reluctant to allow anyone inside, but most people don't realize they walk through part of Lower Queen every day. The underpass between the north and southbound platforms of Queen station is a walled off part of the abandoned platform. An anonymous locked door leads to the remainder of the disused shell, photographed above by Dave Beach.

REAL: LAKESHORE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL

toronto tunnels

Built in 1884, Toronto's Gothic and Romanesque Revival psychiatric institution at Lake Shore and Kipling was the first in Canada to adopt the "cottage system," a series of small, separate buildings instead of one single monolithic asylum.

A warren of tunnels built below the landscaped gardens allowed staff to scurry between the buildings without stepping foot outside, which must have been a boon in winter. Some of these subterranean pathways may have even had miniature railway tracks for moving heavy equipment and supplies, according to a site dedicated to the institution's history.

When the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital closed in 1979, the site fell into dereliction before Humber College renovated the site and tunnels. The passageways are not open to the some 7,800 full-time students but that doesn't mean photographers haven't been allowed inside, as illustrated above.

REAL: THE PNEUMATIC POST

toronto tube mail

Long before the Internet made dashing off a story on Rob Ford's antics at City Hall as simple as opening a laptop, Toronto's press corps relied on a network of underground mail tubes to file copy.

The system of pneumatic pipes originally linked the Royal York Hotel and Union Station with the offices of the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway via Bay Street. Later, the Toronto Star and Toronto Telegram laid new tubes from Old City Hall to their respective headquarters.

Messages were stuffed inside metal canisters and dropped into the pipe, which sucked like the end of a vacuum cleaner. The pneumatic pressure would drag the newspaper copy, letter, anything light enough to be carried on the air, to its intended destination. Each connected property had two tubes: one for receiving and another for sending.

The system fell into disuse in the years before much of it was wrecked by the arrival of Union subway station and the demolition of several of its principal buildings. Road construction on Bay Street between the end of the second world war and today would surely have finished off what remained of the shallow pipes, if anything.

REAL: ROY THOMSON HALL

roy thomson hall

This tunnel is a great urban mystery. When workers were excavating the foundations for Roy Thomson Hall in the 1980s, diggers struck something solid in the buried remains of the old Canadian Pacific freight office that used to occupy the site. It was a tunnel leading to a room under Simcoe Street. Inside was a table, a chair, two empty cups, and a locked safe.

The sealed container was craned to the surface where it quickly vanished, never to be heard from again. "A lot of people were treating it as a piece of junk," Eugene Blain, the project manager on the site told the Toronto Star. "We had planned to force it open, but it wasn't a priority."

Building continued and the strange room that hadn't appeared on detailed site plans was demolished and filled in.

"CP asked me what happened to it, and I had to say it disappeared," Blain said.

FAKE: KING EDWARD HOTEL

toronto king edward hotel

The tale goes like this: Some time shortly after its opening in 1903, management at Toronto's luxurious King Edward Hotel drew up plans for an underground carriage link between Union Station - then located a block west of its present location - and its King Street basement. Hotel guests could reach their rooms without stepping foot outside, they thought.

The passageway was built under Victoria Street as far south as Wellington Street, abruptly abandoned, and sealed up.

"That tunnel as far as I know was never built and there's certainly no sign of it today anywhere at the hotel," says hotel general manager Jeff Waters. "Beyond the hotel, the basement slightly sits over the outside of the building but [it doesn't] go anywhere, so there's not an old abandoned tunnel or anything like that."

If it was ever a real structure it would surely have been compromised by now. The 12-storey office building located behind the hotel at 26 Wellington Street East has a four-storey basement that abuts the supposed east wall of the tunnel.

"There are areas of basement that have been abandoned but even within those you can see all the exterior walls, there's nothing there," Waters says, which may go some way to explaining photos that purport to show the disused tunnel.

REAL: QUEEN'S PARK STATION (BONUS)

toronto queen's park

There is an underground pedestrian tunnel that links Queen's Park subway station with the south basement of the Whitney Block on the east side of Queen's Park Crescent. "The tunnel is property of the Province," says Danny Nicholson from the TTC, so don't expect to get inside without a good reason.

A special constable guards the entrance day and night, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario's website warns, but access is allowed on legitimate business.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: That Boy, Erik Mauer, Dave Beach, Matt Watson, k-beer/blogTO Flickr pool, Toronto Star Archives, The Corporation of Massey Hall & Roy Thomson Hall Archives


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