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6th Annual
Secrets of The City
by Shawn Blore
illustrations by Tomio Nitto

(First published in Vancouver, November 1998)

Infamous Visitors

Moving Violations

Bad Addresses


Tunnel Visions

Screen Gems

Quiz: Welcome to Genericville

Okay, they're just holes in the ground. But one goes all the way under Burrard Inlet, another plunges below UBC, a third is behind some big green doors and the fourth may not even exist.

Near the northern end of Stanley Park, at the junction of Stanley Park Drive and Pipeline Road, there stands a pavilion, unmarked except for the letters GVRD. Within its walls, a tunnel drops nearly straight down more than 400 feet into the soil and rock, passing below First Narrows and coming up on the far shore near the Capilano river. Seven feet in diameter, the passageway is plenty big enough for West Vancouver pedestrians to commute through on their way to the brokerage, the executive suite or the boiler room - were it not for the millions of gallons of water coursing through from the Capilano watershed to thirsty consumers in Vancouver and points south.

The Lions Gate Tunnel

Five feet across and 200 vertical feet straight into the ground - these are the dimensions of a tunnel that was dug on the UBC campus back in 1936 by the Vancouver and Districts Joint Sewerage and Drainage Board.

The tunnel's purpose was to divert water away from the fragile cliffsides, thus preventing a repeat of the spectacular landslide that created Second Ravine. To ensure that the water doesn't build up too much speed on its way down, the sides of the tunnel are lined with a six-inch spiral flange, which also provides a convenient handhold for would-be climbers. The only trick? You'll have to find the entrance to the tunnel first.

Back in 1985, when BC Transit needed a way to get their nifty new SkyTrain through downtown to the waterfront, they cheated a little and cut a deal to use the CPR's Dunsmuir Tunnel.

That's hardly a secret - thousands of commuters ride that stretch of railway history daily. What has been pretty much forgotten is that the SkyTrain didn't use the whole tunnel. A substantial disused section (now the property of Concord Pacific) extends beneath downtown. Musty and forgotten, it's employed for storage, occasional film shoots and not much else. In fact, a Concord Pacific spokesperson says they'd rather people didn't even know that the tunnel exists. Sorry: the big green doors that mark its eastern terminus are clearly visible in the side of the cliff below Beatty Street near GM Place.

"Deep underground tunnels - the kind you read of in mystery and detective novels - now link the Hotel Vancouver with the Medical-Dental Building and the Hotel Devonshire." So said the Province on October 22, 1942 (and this was in the pre-tabloid days). Taking their cue from the "advanced technology of Soviet Russia," the managers of the three buildings teamed up to heat their buildings with common steam-heating systems. The boilers were located in the basement of the Hotel Vancouver. The tunnels - 36 feet below the surface of the city's busiest street - housed the pipes carrying the pressurized steam.

Two of the three buildings have since been demolished, but what about the tunnels? No one at the Hotel Vancouver seems to know of their existence, while, according to city engineers - and this is confidence-inspiring - there are all kinds of things lurking in the city's depths that they know nothing about whatsoever.