Moose Jaw: a wholesome city of 34,000 in the heart of Saskatchewan. However, this wholesome city has a dark past, involving secret tunnel networks, international smuggling rings and notorious mob boss Al Capone. Moose Jaw once went by another name: Little Chicago, one of the most important smuggling hubs of the Prohibition Era, where thousands of litres of rum ran through the small city on its way to speakeasies across Chicago.

Today, visitors to town can explore the Tunnels of Moose Jaw and learn the history of Al Capone’s Moose Jaw operation, how corrupt cops supported the rum trade, and even the struggle of persecuted Chinese immigrants.

Moose Jaw Peace Celebration WW1 Parade

The Tunnels of Moose Jaw: a History of Violence

The tunnels of Moose Jaw’s history actually predates Prohibition, and contains a much grimmer story than one of cops and gangsters. 

Though the steam tunnels were originally built in the early 1900s to transmit utilities through downtown Moose Jaw, they were later abandoned and went unused until Chinese railway workers needed refuge from a wave of persecution and the spectre of the Head Tax. According to the Globe and Mail, whole families of Chinese immigrants hid in this warren of utility tunnels and basements, relying on legal immigrants with shops above ground for work and supplies. 

You can learn more about the plight of these early Chinese immigrants in Passage to Fortune, one of the tours offered at the Tunnels of Moose Jaw.

Tunnels of Moose Jaw Gus Guests in Bottling Room

How Al Capone Used Tunnels in Moose Jaw

As the Chinese eked out a living in the Moose Jaw tunnels, new neighbours moved in with the Prohibition of alcohol across the United States and Canada in the 1910s and early 1920s. Under the reign of the city’s corrupt police chief, many illegal speakeasies and brothels opened up shop in the Moose Jaw tunnels, eventually giving way to more refined operations, thanks to the tunnels’ proximity to the railway station.

A major stop on the Soo Line – which runs through Western Canada down to the East Coast of the United States – it was easy enough for rumrunners to move their wares on and off travelling trains, storing them in the Moose Jaw tunnels and surrounding caves until it came time to continue their journey to Chicago. 

Tunnels of Moose Jaw Gus Fanny Guests in Gambling Room

It’s impossible to quantify how many of these rumrunners were active throughout the decade prohibition lasted, however, it was an open secret among Moose Jaw residents that notorious gangsters like Capone and Diamond Jim Brady often passed through their sleepy city.

Likewise, it’s impossible to tell when the tunnels ceased being used for criminal means. In fact, city officials refused to acknowledge the existence of the tunnels for many decades, until a road collapse in the 1970s revealed their existence to the public once more.

Tunnels of Moose Jaw Gus Fanny guests in Gun Room

Al Capone in Moose Jaw: Fact or Myth?

Despite Capone’s famous courtroom assertion of Do I do business with Canadian racketeers? I don’t even know what street Canada is on,” many Moose Jaw residents have family myths about ancestors’ encounters with the legendary mob boss and his subordinates.

These mythic encounters range from a local barber who was called to cut Capone’s hair, to a dentist who removed the infamous criminal’s wisdom teeth. 

One Saskatoon resident, Violet Lauder, told CTV News Saskatoon that her father’s farm had served as a staging ground for the bootleggers, and that Capone himself had visited on multiple occasions. Another, Laurence Mullin, fondly recalled doing favours for the gangsters as a child for change. 

The best teachers I had in this world were those men that weren’t supposed to be any good,” he told the Globe and Mail.

Finding Al, a 2015 documentary by Canadian filmmaker Kelly-Anne Riess, compiled several of these testimonies, along with other evidence that builds a compelling case that Capone not only visited Moose Jaw, but spent a substantial amount of time there.

Tunnels of Moose Jaw Fanny Guests

Chicago Connection Moose Jaw: Relieve the Hey Day of Little Chicago

Today, the Tunnels of Moose Jaw are a popular tourist attraction, featuring fun, educational tours like the Chicago Connection Moose Jaw. Taking on the role of rumrunners in the 1920s, participants are invited to join costumed performers through recreated speakeasies, secret chambers, and bottling rooms. 

After visiting the Chicago Connection in Moose Jaw, check out some of these other great attractions in Saskatchewan.

Special thanks to the staff at the Comfort Inn & Suites in Moose Jaw, SK for their suggestions.

Choice Hotels in Saskatchewan