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A guide to "secret" tunnels in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / January 30, 2014

toronto garrison creekThere'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 QUEENtoronto lower queenLower 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 HOSPITALtoronto tunnelsBuilt 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 POSTtoronto tube mailLong 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 HALLroy thomson hallThis 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 HOTELtoronto king edward hotelThe 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 parkThere 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

Discussion

60 Comments

floyd / January 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm
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apparently there is a tunnel that runs under College street, between the MaRS Building (old hospital) and the Banting Building(old morgue).
IG / January 30, 2014 at 01:03 pm
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There was also a tunnel from the Flatiron building running to a bank across the street.
Astin / January 30, 2014 at 01:29 pm
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When did they put security at the Queens Park tunnel? I used it years ago when I had to deliver something to an office there. Don't recall talking to a security guard (or anyone really) until I was at the office itself.

There are maintenance tunnels under U of T's St. George campus as well, connecting some of the buildings (Convocation Hall, Sanford Fleming I think, and a few others).



ML replying to a comment from Astin / January 30, 2014 at 01:34 pm
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There's an OPP officer stationed at the entrance from the subway station, but anyone is allowed to use the tunnel. The public can't enter Whitney Block, but they have access to MacDonald block at the end of the tunnel.
Kate replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 01:38 pm
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plus one on that. I'm also sure that some current urban explorers can top up this list a little.
ajc33 / January 30, 2014 at 01:39 pm
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Apparently there is a very old rumour of a tunnel that connected the barracks of Fort York with the Wheat Sheaf Tavern at King/Bathurst. Story goes that the soldiers would use the secret tunnel to get drunk after they used up all their beer rations.
ajc33 replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 01:41 pm
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Agreed.
Andy / January 30, 2014 at 01:45 pm
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There are tunnels connecting Princess Margaret Hospital, Sick kids, Toronto General and Mount Sinai Hospitals as well. Highly used by staff.
MR / January 30, 2014 at 01:46 pm
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York University also has a major tunnel beneath various buildings. Sure beats walking the paths in this cold ;-)
CaligulaJones / January 30, 2014 at 02:03 pm
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It was fun during the OPSEU strike years ago when the tunnel was patrolled by steelworkers, complete with hard hats, to discourage scabs.
CaligulaJones / January 30, 2014 at 02:03 pm
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That would be the QP tunnel, sorry.
torontodude replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 02:18 pm
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yeah, he was a real pioneer around these parts....it was amazing the places he went and the pix he posted
John / January 30, 2014 at 02:19 pm
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My father and other family members who were all military claim that there were tunnels connecting Downsview Airforce Base with Aurora as this was to be the mustering point should the unthinkable occure. Can anyone verify this?
Chester Pape / January 30, 2014 at 02:23 pm
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There's the tunnel between the stables and the main building at Casa Loma but that's hardly "secret" I guess.

As mentioned all of the hospital buildings in hospital row are connected by tunnels much used by staff (and usually you have to have an employee access card to badge into the areas where the tunnels are)

Mike / January 30, 2014 at 02:26 pm
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When the Lakeshore Psych Hospital was being renovated for use by Humber College Lakeshore Campus 15 years ago I and a friend explored the tunnels. They are actually half buried & half above ground. No sign of any railway track in any of the floor though.
Mark Moore / January 30, 2014 at 02:36 pm
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Lakeshore psych was a lot more interesting with peeling paint, no power and water everywhere. Walked through alone at night while working on a film in one of the 'cottages' a long time ago. Supposed to be 'haunted', and definitely weird vibe at that time in those conditions.
Joel replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 02:40 pm
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+1 We miss you! Ninjalicious
HighAndMighty / January 30, 2014 at 02:55 pm
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What about Lower Bay/Museum?
Giles / January 30, 2014 at 03:09 pm
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How about the Gooderham & Worts distillery payroll tunnel ? I remember reading somehing in official literature somewhere maybe a leaflet or plaque.

I think it ran under the streets of the distillery complex.
Nodrog / January 30, 2014 at 03:24 pm
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How about the reported tunnel that joined HMCS York with the Toronto Island Airport. The story goes that it was secretly built during the second world war.
Paula / January 30, 2014 at 03:26 pm
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What about the tunnel from the Keg Mansion to St. Michael's hospital? It was used to transport one of the Massey children who was frequently ill.
chris / January 30, 2014 at 03:33 pm
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There's a service tunnel connecting 880 Bay and 900 Bay (the QP complex), but you can only access it with a proximity pass.
4ChanApologist replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 03:57 pm
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A friend and I were stumbling around Canada Malting one Canada day and ran into Ninjalicious and a few other UE'ers. He showed us the roof where we had a fantastic view of the fireworks and then took us on a tour of the place, including introducing us to some crazy dude who was raising raccoons inside it.

Easily my best UE experience ever, he opened my eyes to how many amazing places there are in Toronto if you're willing to ignore "do not enter" signs.

He will be truly missed.
4ChanApologist replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 03:59 pm
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Rumour has it there are/were tunnels connecting Central Tech at Bathurst/Harbord to some U of T buildings. My friends and I were never able to find access during our time there but we did find enough bricked up archways and maintenance corridors to seem plausible.
Steve Chapman replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 05:55 pm
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Indeed :) [No relation btw, but we did meet]
sean replying to a comment from AV / January 30, 2014 at 08:16 pm
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not at all. go to the '1' lower level of mt sinai and there is unfettered access through the tor gen/pm/sick kids tunnel. walked through it last week from sinai to tgh
Jay / January 30, 2014 at 09:22 pm
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Urban explorers, saddle up!
K. C. replying to a comment from ML / January 30, 2014 at 09:26 pm
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Why's there an officer guarding the tunnel, if everyone can use the tunnel?
Ron replying to a comment from floyd / January 30, 2014 at 10:28 pm
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Floyd, there is indeed a tunnel between Banting and MaRS. The north end is located in the subbasement of Banting. Don't expect to get through there anymore; it's locked and even when it was available, not very 'hospitable' - it's hot, humid, and steam pipes partially block your path.

I used to work in Banting when MaRS was being built; we decided to go exploring one day. We ended up in a large room in MaRS, still under construction. Large power transformers were being installed in the room at the south end of the tunnel.
Matt replying to a comment from 4ChanApologist / January 30, 2014 at 10:52 pm
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Interesting. There is, apparently, tunnel which runs from Eastern Commerce to Danforth Tech in the east end, built during the war, but it has been closed.
Muddy York Tours / January 31, 2014 at 12:14 am
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The tunnel that ran under the street from the Gooderham (Flatiron) building at 49 Wellington Street East, across to the north side of Wellington Street, was true, at one point. There's a "The Works" burger place across the street now (it used to be a Pizza Pizza), but from 1862 till 1961 there was a branch of the Bank of Toronto that stood there. Gooderham was the Bank President and according to the stories he used to like to walk back and forth, from his office to his bank, under the street.

Apparently bits of the tunnel are still there. Entry from the basement of the Gooderham Building has been bricked up and a lot of what was the tunnel is full of wires and cables and is generally not accessible.
Muddy York Tours / January 31, 2014 at 12:16 am
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Also, there is a tunnel that leads from the main Trinity College building, west one block to St. Hilda's on Devonshire. It's the quintessential "steam tunnel" - old brickwork, pipes running along the ceiling, and lights that flicker off and on. One point of entry was in the hallway behind Strachan Hall at Trinity College, and the other was in St. Hilda's.

I was through it a few times several years ago, when I was signed in (totally officially of course!), back when St. Hilda's was still a residence for female students. I haven't tried to slip down there in at least a few years but from what I understand, the doors are all thoroughly and perpetually locked up these days, of course the tunnels are still there.
Jono / January 31, 2014 at 01:02 am
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floyd: Yup! It's still there. It's a combination pedestrian / steam tunnel. It's very easy to lock yourself in to, though, if one end happens not to be unlocked, so be careful : )

J->
Jon / January 31, 2014 at 08:30 am
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Are the tunnels from Toronto General to Mount Sinai accessible by the public? Any clues on where to attempt to find them? Thanks.
Robby Breadner / January 31, 2014 at 10:21 am
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there's a BAY SUBWAY platform under the existing one. you have to run along a descending train line and you can end up there (i if i recall, from Museum platform). it's haunting because (when we were there) it was fully lit, dirty, subway equip laying around and when you looked at the escalators that go up, they just end at a blocked off wall.
SDizzle / January 31, 2014 at 10:28 am
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+2 RIP Ninjalicious!..
Robby Breadner replying to a comment from AV / January 31, 2014 at 11:00 am
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my subterranean exploration days are well over. it was the 80's when i was last dodging TTC security...
ML replying to a comment from K. C. / January 31, 2014 at 04:19 pm
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Probably just to make sure nothing suspicious is going on and to monitor on security cameras. They are OPP officers in MacDonald Block too, even though the public is allowed in.
ML replying to a comment from ML / January 31, 2014 at 04:20 pm
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*There are
junctionist / January 31, 2014 at 11:05 pm
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One really obscure but impressive network of tunnels is the Enwave district cooling system. It's a series of tunnels deep underground throughout the financial district that pump cold air into office towers in the summer. The air is cooled by lake water drawn 5 kilometers from the shore at a depth of 83m.

What amazes me is how obscure it is. The only photos of it are on a website called Vanishing Point. Almost no one knows about it, yet it's quite a remarkable system that saves a lot of electricity that would have been used for air conditioning and makes Toronto a better place.
Daner / February 3, 2014 at 08:59 am
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There is a tunnel running from the Old Vic building to Northrop Frye 200 metres to the south at Victoria College at U of T.
Sue Severin / February 3, 2014 at 09:48 am
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interesting reaD
Steven / February 4, 2014 at 10:22 pm
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Let's not forget the tunnel between Toronto Island airport to Bathurst Street.
roof-repair.weebly.com / February 14, 2014 at 04:26 am
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It's an amazing paragraph in favor of all the internet
people; they will take advantage from it I am sure.
Chris Luckhardt / February 15, 2014 at 09:51 am
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Ninjalicious is legendary. While exploring Japan's abandoned Hashima Island, my guide asked if I knew him. The same question was posed to me by an explorer I met down at the abandoned Six Flags New Orleans. I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised that Ninjalicious' name has traveled so far. Unfortunately, I missed my one opportunity to meet him. RIP
ARNIE / February 26, 2014 at 03:26 am
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HAS ANYONE HEARD THE STORIES OF THEIR BEING THE POSSIBILITY OF A UNDERGROUND HABITATED OR UNHABITATED CITY IN THE DOWNTOWN SECTOR OF TORONTO......
jeff replying to a comment from K. C. / March 5, 2014 at 08:47 am
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"Why's there an officer guarding the tunnel, if everyone can use the tunnel?"

Your tax dollars at work accomplishing nothing.
Crossfire replying to a comment from AV / April 2, 2014 at 01:47 pm
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Indeed, Av. Hats off to Ninj.
Conrad Stephan / April 30, 2014 at 04:34 pm
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There was tunnel from Eatons Queen St store to Eatons College St. I worked there during he sixties and used the tunnel to take goods and parcels back and forth. The entrance was from the basement of the Annex store. Only a few staff knew how to access.
heartbreakf replying to a comment from ARNIE / June 1, 2014 at 06:50 pm
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yeah around queen and university,apparently a bunch of homeless people.
Marc / August 10, 2014 at 04:05 pm
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There is also a series of tunnels in Scarborough near the intersection of Warden Ave and Eglinton Ave E that were used to transport/store machinery and materials among munitions factories between 1941 and 1945. They connected over 150 buildings and some are still accessible through the basements of various warehouses in the neighbourhood today.
beth / August 10, 2014 at 04:18 pm
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What about the one that runs from the Wheat Sheaf to Fort York. I hear it's a fake but the story continues.
Bacher replying to a comment from Marc / August 10, 2014 at 04:30 pm
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Marc is that you?
Marc Lombardo replying to a comment from Bacher / August 10, 2014 at 04:38 pm
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Yes?
sybil / August 10, 2014 at 04:53 pm
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Aren't there tons under the distillery district from prohibition?
Phil / August 10, 2014 at 05:33 pm
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When I worked at the old ROM in the '70s, we used to use a sub-basement tunnel as a shortcut to the NE corner. There was a branch tunnel that carried steam pipes from the U of T, but it had a padlocked caged door. If you looked out the 2nd or 3rd floor windows facing west in the winter, you could see melted snow on the grass by Philosophers Walk showing the position of the tunnels.
B. Ross Ashley / August 10, 2014 at 10:48 pm
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I worked at Mt Sinai for 35 years ... the tunnel under University ave connects Toronto Hospital, Sick Kids and Sinai. You can get to PMH by going up a floor in Sinai and heading north past the men's locker room and the caf, but you will run into a door to PMH's radiation therapy unit at which I believe you need a pass card. There is also an underground connection from the south end of that same floor in Sinai to what is now Toronto Rehab at 550 University, and from there one could find a connection to a tunnel under Murray Street to the pair of buildings on Elm that used to be nurses' residences. That was always difficult of access to non-staff people and is possibly no longer there at all. I'm not sure but I think there may be a tunnel from the Sinai clinic and research building at 50 Murray to the PMH basement too; it would date back to when both buildings were parts of Ontario Hydro's headquarters, before 700 University got built in the 70s.
Ciderbat replying to a comment from 4ChanApologist / August 11, 2014 at 09:10 am
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The guy in the malt plant... was this around 2003? I think I met that guy. He had a very impressive setup in that little storage room.
Ciderbat replying to a comment from Robby Breadner / August 11, 2014 at 09:15 am
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They open up Lower Bay to the public on occassion [I was there one Nuit Blanche, and it usually gets unlocked for Open Doors.] It is used mainly for film shoots [I believe the subway scene from The Matrix was shot there], and I've heard it's where TTC staff take their smoke breaks.
Toronto Dude replying to a comment from Giles / November 3, 2014 at 01:59 pm
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The GW tunnel is real, but does not exist anymore. There used to be a bank across the street that teh tunnel went to. It has since been sealed up.
There is a pub in the basement of the building. The manager's office is in the small portion of the tunnel that remains.
I was in there once and asked nicely and the manager let me see it.
(At least that's how it was about 2008)

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