Tracking the tunnels

Jack Fitzgerald
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

The discoveries made by archeologists relating to old St. John's as referenced in The Weekend Telegram, March 13 ("What lies beneath") are another priceless addition to the history of this city, but they are quite mistaken in claiming St. John's has no underground tunnels.

In 1962, Michael Harrington, author and historian, led a move to save the underground tunnel and vaults that ran from an unknown point west of the Royal Stores on Water Street, beneath the Royal Stores and then angled out to beneath Water Street and continued running eastward to at least the King George 5th Institute.

The discoveries made by archeologists relating to old St. John's as referenced in The Weekend Telegram, March 13 ("What lies beneath") are another priceless addition to the history of this city, but they are quite mistaken in claiming St. John's has no underground tunnels.

In 1962, Michael Harrington, author and historian, led a move to save the underground tunnel and vaults that ran from an unknown point west of the Royal Stores on Water Street, beneath the Royal Stores and then angled out to beneath Water Street and continued running eastward to at least the King George 5th Institute.

The origins of the tunnel were not known, but when the Royal Stores was built it incorporated parts of the tunnel into its building so that it connected various departments. Over the years, thousands of Royal Stores customers walked in and out of these tunnels.

During the construction period when the new harbourfront road was being connected to Water Street at Prescott Street, bulldozers opened the ground east of the Royal Stores and exposed the tunnel and vaults. At this point, Michael Harrington made an unsuccessful effort to save this piece of old St. John's history.

Meanwhile, construction was halted while debate over what to do took place. Harrington described the discovery in The Telegram, stating: "They are remarkable, as much for their workmanship and strength as for any other reason. Most people who have looked into them must have been astonished to see that a couple of layers of arching brick have been holding up a large section of heavily-travelled Water Street for half a century or more."

St. John's lost, and this intriguing piece of Newfoundland heritage was bulldozed into oblivion.

I have never heard of any myth, legend or lore about a tunnel beneath St. John's harbour, but it is well documented historically that a tunnel connected Fort St. George, on the waterfront near Temperance Street with Fort William on Plymouth Road, later the site of the Newfoundland Hotel.

In 1937, Mrs. Harold Ayre, a prominent citizen and community activist, publicly suggested the tunnel be used as a tourist attraction. Mrs. Ayre stated:

"The North Fort was now called Fort William after William III. It was connected by a subway (tunnel) with Fort George which stood where the Furness Withy offices are. We should have named the Newfoundland Hotel 'Fort William' and the tourists could have come through the historic subway from the wharf."

Later, in 1942, The Telegram reported that the new sewer system at Quidi Vidi would be connected to the old tunnel at Temperance Street. Newfoundland was financially strapped, and using the tunnel for sewage was economical. This item would also be found in the minutes of city council.

In the 1960s, the tunnel beneath Temperance Street was opened during construction work. I was one of perhaps thousands who took a look into it. It was constructed of stone and was large enough to park a dump truck inside. That too was covered in and forgotten except the line that fed sewage into the harbour. The last public effort to save it was made by Ayre.

A third tunnel was mentioned in The Evening Telegram on March 21, 1946 page three, which described a stone-walled tunnel three feet by five feet that ran eastward along Water Street from Queen Street. This was likely part of a main sewer built before the 1892 fire; its origins are not clear. However, in 1952, following one of the most severe rain storms in decades, the wheels of a truck coming out of Bishop's Cove sunk into what was described as a French sewer. If so, that would have likely connected with a small sewage collection station at the top of Adelaide Street, in the section bulldozed to make way for the building of City Hall.

Much more can be added to the above about tunnels, cemeteries and vaults from beneath St. John's, and I am sure that there are many others in the city who can add to this part of our history.

The feature item also claimed that Shawnadithit died in the military hospital in 1829 and was buried in the hospital's cemetery. Yet, the Southside Road military hospital closed in 1825 and Shawnadithit died in 1829. The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland states that she died at the home of a James Simms, Attorney General of Newfoundland, and not in a hospital. Her obituary notes she died in "The Hospital," but doesn't name the hospital.

The Church of England burial records simply state she was buried at Southside. There was no St. Mary's Church on the Southside at that time. The Military Cemetery as her burial place would make sense when considering the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland's reference that the cemetery was used for military victims of infectious diseases. If she had been a Christian she would have been buried at the Established Protestant Cemetery adjacent to the Anglican Cathedral. Her burial site may have been a political decision.

Archeologists from MUN were led to the site in the 1960s when a Southside Road resident found human remains on his property. That resident still resides there. The existence of that cemetery has been known for decades, although generally forgotten. Two years ago, NTV did a news feature in which I participated and we visited a number of forgotten burial sites around the city, one of which was the old Military Hospital cemetery.

Jack Fitzgerald writes from St. John's.

Organizations: Royal Stores, The Telegram, Newfoundland Hotel The North Church of England Southside Church on the Southside Anglican Cathedral Military Hospital

Geographic location: St. John's, Water Street, Newfoundland Temperance Street Fort William Prescott Street Plymouth Road Fort George Southside Road Queen Street Adelaide Street Mary MUN

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Trent
    June 30, 2012 - 19:30

    I never did see the tunnel system in St. John's, but I was suppose too. They are there, and are still being used today. However, its suppose to be a secret, so I'm told.

  • peter kelsey
    March 15, 2011 - 20:46

    wish I see this stuff love it, we tend to forget.

  • CFA
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Absolutely fascinating, Jack. Ive heard of vaults near the foot of Prescott and that there is a street under George Street where the Yellow Belly Brewery is.

  • CFA
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Absolutely fascinating, Jack. Ive heard of vaults near the foot of Prescott and that there is a street under George Street where the Yellow Belly Brewery is.