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The “Secret Tunnel” Of The King Edward Hotel

November 22, 2012

Underneath the majestic and luxurious King Edward Hotel in downtown Toronto is the little-known beginnings of an underground tunnel that heads south along Victoria Street into Scott Street towards Wellington Street. The tunnel was supposedly started to allow underground transport carriage service for hotel guests arriving from trains and ships at Union station – long before the current Union and TTC subway stations were opened in 1954.  

The first serious proposal for a subway system in Toronto was made in the early part of the 20th century, with a series of proposals to bury the streetcar line on Yonge Street. A number of proposals emerged between 1909 and 1912 – just shortly after The King Edward Hotel was built in 1903 – and the development of this underground guest passage began, but was never finished.

(Excavation of Union Subway around 1949)

Just down the street to the east of the tunnel connected to the King Edward Hotel is the Gooderham Building – now commonly referred to as the “Flatiron Building“.  The Flatiron building was previously the downtown head office of hotel founder George Gooderham – of Gooderham & Worts Distillery fame. George Gooderham and his company made their money selling some of the finest and most popular distilled alcohol, and selling it worldwide at a great profit.

(Gooderham Flatiron building in 1895)

(Gooderham Flatiron building today)

Tunnel construction was eventually abandoned but access to the tunnel still exists in the basement of the hotel.  Some hotel staff call it “the Twilight Zone” for its current damp, eerie and other-worldly existence.  The entrance to the tunnel is from an unsuspecting door leading from the hotel’s audio-visual department in the basement.

tunnel 1

On the other side of this door one finds a floor covered with puddles of water with a Danger Construction Zone sign as a safety precaution, along with damp and rusting pipes.

tunnel 2

I felt very privileged to be able to have been given access to the tunnel to see it for myself.  Although it was very damp and dark, one can see the supporting steel beams that actually help support Victoria Street above from caving in below.

tunnel 3

tunnel 4

More importantly to our story is the speculation that this tunnel may have been used secretly to smuggle alcohol during the years of prohibition between 1916 and 1927.  Of course, there’s no evidence to support such a claim but it does make for a fascinating story!

Supposedly, the plan was to easily connect Gooderham & Worts Distillery staff from the Flatiron building to the basement of The King Edward Hotel by using this “secret tunnel”.

Further rumors are known to question how the hotel, during the years of prohibition, could have built the towering and costly 16-storey addition by 1922, when Gooderham’s wealth and company – a major financier of the hotel – were at great risk due to financial losses during prohibition (it needs to be pointed out that George Gooderham died in 1905 – two years after the hotel was completed and a decade before the start of prohibition).

Gooderham & Worts Distillery came under siege by the prohibitionists around 1915 who sought to legislate the company and the rest of the “liquor traffic” out of business.

Prohibitionists claimed that “booze” was the root of all evil and actively campaigned across Canada – particularly in Toronto – where the very lucrative Gooderham & Worts distillery was located.

As the Legion Magazine points out,  “As a result of this propaganda campaign, the prohibitionists managed to pressure provincial legislatures to pass “dry” legislation. Saskatchewan was first in 1915. Then, in 1916, came Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, followed in 1917 by New Brunswick and British Columbia. The Yukon Territory and Quebec climbed aboard the wagon in 1918. The temperance acts in each of these provinces closed drinking establishments and forbade the sale of booze.”

Further speculation is that this tunnel was secretly being used to smuggle, hide or make boot-legged alcohol for the hotel for those “privileged guests” who were secretly willing to pay for it.

Of course, it’s all still great speculation…but it does make a fascinating story adding to the colorful and important history of The King Edward Hotel – where you can still enjoy a wide-range of timeless classic alcohol drinks in the elegant and comfortable atmosphere of their Consort Bar…of course – legally!


From → history, stories

  1. Might it have been used as an entrance for hotel guests who did not wish to be seen. I am aware that ladies from Rosedale did not wish to be seen going to a hotel while their homes were being renovated.

  2. Orson Wells permalink

    One good thing that came out of all this is that the Govt can tax our liquor to death… And we pay, pay, pay.

  3. Julia permalink

    I worked for the now defunct flower shop in the hotel between 1987-88. The flower studio used to be in the basement with a direct and unobstructed link to the area where the tunnel entrance is. I tried for years to find out what it was for and even emailed people at Blog TO but nobody ever answered me. There used to be dark old toilet stalls on the west side and the tunnel entrance itself was bricked over with a curved archway on top. I too thought it made it sense that it was a tunnel meant to link with Union or the trains an/’or carriages coming in.

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