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Blue Ghost Tunnel Part 7

Part 7 of a collection about the Merritton Train Tunnel that runs under the 3rd Welland Canal. Look forward to more newspaper clippings, photos and videos from what is now known as, The Blue Ghost Tunnel.

This article is titled “Black Hole Into History” and appeared in the St. Catharines Standard on September 30, 2005. The same article appeared in the Welland tribune with the title “What Lurks In The Tunnel”. Only a few days would pass when the St. Lawrence Seaway began sealing the west end of the tunnel. This was the article that caused several angry letters to the editor in the days to come. More on this topic soon.

Even the fierce glare of the afternoon sun can’t banish the creepy chill lurking in the Blue Ghost Tunnel.
The former railway tunnel, curving into darkness under the third Welland Canal, boasts a slew of haunted hallmarks.
A historic train wreck complete with nasty fatalities, of course. Submerged graveyards just around the corner. A deliciously isolated location.

It even looks like a Hollywood horror director’s fondest nightmare. The yawning black hole into history is tucked away under a seldom-used dirt track, slowly losing a battle to encroaching plant life.
Crows get in on the act, crouching ominously in a couple of stark-limbed dead trees nearby.
You have to be a brave, chill-seeking soul to venture into the gaping mouth of the tunnel and not just because of its ghoulish reputation.

The ghosts may not mind a visit, but the St. Lawrence Seaway wants you to stay as far away as possible.

“It’s not safe,” says an emphatic Michel Drolet, Niagara region vice-president of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.

“We know people are going down there, to party or whatever, but the main thing is we don’t want people going to a place where they could be hurt, especially at night.”

The tunnel and a few thousand acres of land around the old canal are owned by the federal government and managed by the Seaway.

For safety reasons, the Seaway has asked The Standard not to identify exactly where the tunnel is located.

But Drolet says he realizes many locals already use the surrounding land as an unofficial park for dog-walking, cycling and dirt-bike riding.

Strolling along the dirt road in the sunshine isn’t a big issue for the corporation, says Drolet even if it is trespassing.

But in recent years, the site has proved a different sort of nightmare for Seaway employees, who find teens partying near the tunnel, especially around Halloween.

Interest in the tunnel spiked after the CTV documentary program Creepy Canada ran a segment on the topic.

To discourage visitors, the Seaway fenced off the entrances to the tunnel, only to have them pulled down by irate trespassers.

Now, the Seaway is considering walling off the entrance with cement blocks effectively burying the tunnel’s history and paranormal denizens forever.

“It all comes down to liability,” says Drolet. “We are aware of the history behind this. If we don’t have to do anything, we’d prefer not to spend the money at all. But our first priority is to keep people safe.”

It does require a tricky climb, down a muddy, near vertical slope to find the western mouth of the tunnel, originally used by the Grand Trunk Railway between 1882 and 1915.

At 77, Ray Wilson has managed that climb dozens of times.

Wilson, a Niagara Falls resident who grew up in Thorold, isn’t afraid of the climb or the ghosts.

“Oh no, no, I don’t believe in the supernatural,” he says with a laugh.

“It makes a good story, though. Everything about (the tunnel) is a good story.”

Despite “roving all over Thorold” in his youth, Wilson only discovered the historic tunnel five years ago. He’s dedicated countless hours to researching its history ever since.

“It’s just such a fascinating part of our heritage,” he says, waving his walking stick expressively at the stained limestone block walls.

“It’s beautiful. Can you imagine setting all these big stones by hand back then? I don’t know how they did it.”

The 214-metre tunnel was originally meant to provide a rail route under the third canal.

The single-track tunnel was soon replaced by a swing bridge but not before it stood silent witness to a massive train collision a hundred metres from the western entrance.

Two firemen aboard the train died in the 1903 collision, giving later-century spirit hunters like the Niagara Amateur Ghost Seekers an excuse to explore.

The tunnel is a popular paranormal web attraction, with posted pictures of wispy “ectoplasm” and blue orbs that apparently gave the tunnel its name.

To Wilson, however, the tunnel isn’t dark and forbidding. It’s a shining example of our industrial history.

And it would be a shame, he says, if it was hidden behind a wall.

“I would be upset, if it happened,” he says.
“I understand why the Seaway would be apprehensive. The problem these days is that ‘sue everyone’ mentality.
“But I think this would be a great place for people to come if it were a federal park.”
Municipal officials like the idea even if it seems a longshot.

St. Catharines Regional Councillor Bruce Timms is championing the idea of a federal historical designation for all the old canal lands in Niagara.

“Saving structures like the Blue Ghost Tunnel is exactly the type of goal we would have with a designation,” says Timms.
Convincing a federal agency like Parks Canada to take over responsibility for the canal lands would be an ideal solution but also a major undertaking, admits Timms.
“Liability for the operator is a big deal,” he says. “From the Seaway’s perspective, it’s obviously easier and cheaper to block up something like the tunnel.”
Timms says Niagara regional council is researching the feasibility of pitching a park to Ottawa, but a detailed report is still months away.

Wilson has also approached the St. Catharines Museum about the idea of creating an exhibit on the tunnel and maybe pushing the park idea as well.
It’s a tempting notion, says Kim Payne, tourism development officer for the City of St. Catharines.

Payne says the wooded area along the old canal “is obviously well-used,” noting visitors to the museum often ask for directions to see the tunnel.

“It’s private property, but it would be a pity to lock it away,” he says.
“The area as a whole does have heritage value … there’s a lot you could do with it, from a tourism perspective.”
He says he hasn’t talked to the Seaway about the tunnel yet, but plans to “make some inquiries” in the near future.
No one has approached the Seaway to ask about preserving the site, says Drolet, but he’s “willing to talk to anyone.”

The bottom line, however, is the Seaway doesn’t want to remain liable for any future public use of the property.
Although the block limestone tunnel looks solid, Drolet says it leaks heavily and Seaway engineers have declared it unsafe.
That’s enough to worry the corporation, which has recently been named in three separate lawsuits by individuals who claim to have hurt themselves on Seaway property.

“I think the Seaway has been a good corporate citizen. We recognize the historical value of (the old canals),” he says.

“But where I’m coming from is if you have a 125 year-old home with a historical designation, that doesn’t give me the right to go into your home whenever I want.”

Also see: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

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3 Responses
  1. Interesting to read about Ontario’s history, great articles!

  2. ghost says:

    Your article is very interesting, I did not accidentally fall into your website with keywords ghosts

  3. Karen says:

    I support Wilson here, i think the tunnel should be re-enforced and open to the public as an historical site to be preserved and pasted on to our predecessors, it’s a crying shame to block off history to our children and their children/ our grandchildren to come, the seaway could protect themselves with an “Enter at Own Risk!” sign and exclaiming the the users of the Merritton Tunnel, are at their “Own liability for any inguries that may occur by usage of the tunnel” , thus exempting their responsibility! there are legal ways to go about this and take action to protect themselves! In my option they are just acting and being cowards about the whole deal!

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