Tunnel of Flags – or is that Fears?

Greenwood’s Tunnel of Flags is 100 this year. Graffiti inspired then-mayor Arno Hennig to paint 210 national flags as a Millennium Project.

Greenwood’s “Tunnel of Flags”.

Greenwood’s “Tunnel of Flags”.

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the construction of the road tunnel at the north end of the City of Greenwood, now commonly referred to as the “Tunnel of Flags”. One hundred years ago, some people in the Boundary district might have been calling the new structure the “Tunnel of Fears”.

In 1913, the Canadian Pacific Railway was in the process of replacing the old trestle and truss bridge built in 1899 spanning Boundary Creek and the wagon road (now Highway 3) just north of the city. A rock and gravel fill was replacing the old wooden structure; a one-lane road tunnel (and sizable stone-walled culvert for the creek) was designed to take traffic under the new railbed. But the design was questioned and Greenwood Mayor Frederic W. McLaine wired the following lettergram to Sir Richard McBride, premier, and W.J. Bowser, attorney-general of British Columbia, on July 14, 1913, pleading with the powers to be to stop the CPR from continuing the tunnel construction.

“I respectfully call your immediate attention to the fact that the Canadian Pacific Railway Company is continuing the construction of a tunnel for the Public Highway at its bridge in the north end of this city, at an angle which prevents drivers of automobiles and teams from seeing approaching vehicles until both will be actually in the tunnel. The approach and tunnel will be about 120 feet in length, and low, and not of a width to permit a load of hay and team to pass therein.

“Its construction in its present form was protested against by the Grand Jury at the Assize last month, and I ask you to refer to such finding. If permitted to be completed, the tunnel will be a death trap and a permanent menace to life and property, since with the advent of automobiles it is necessary to have a clear view of approaching vehicles; and being long and low and dark, it will be a resort of hold-uppers and other criminals.

“A meeting of the electors has been called to protest against this menace. I am fighting for the safety of our citizens and the travelling public, and to protect them from robbery and worse. It will be unsafe for women to enter such a tunnel unprotected.”

Mayor McLaine’s fears apparently fell on deaf ears as a month later, with no change made in the design of the tunnel, the superintendent of the CPR for the Boundary district pronounced the tunnel to be completed and no alterations or improvements were to be done.

The tunnel would serve the district (for better or worse) for the next 50 years. In 1964, the one-lane tunnel was replaced with a two-lane road tunnel. The old tunnel was filled in with earth.

But it would surface again. When the CPR abandoned the railroad throughout the district in 1990 and started removing infrastructure, the fill above the highway was removed. As there was no longer a need for a tunnel on the highway, the two-lane tunnel was destroyed. The 1913 one-lane road tunnel was then unearthed and given by the CPR to the City of Greenwood as a heritage landmark.

Today’s concerns for the tunnel have nothing to do with Mayor McLaine’s fears of a “death trap” and a “resort of hold-uppers and other criminals”. One hundred years later, concerns revolve around the issues of what to do with a landmark that has become an eye-sore; and how serious are we about wanting to preserve interesting pieces of Boundary district heritage.