Article mis à jour le / Post updated on 11/04/2022.
Have you heard of Moose Jaw before thinking of visiting Saskatchewan? No? I suspected it. Let’s change this and discover Moose Jaw together!
Moose Jaw is a city in Saskatchewan located on the Trans-Canada Highway, about 45 minutes from the capital Regina. I went there for a day in June 2018 for my first weekend in the neighbouring province and it was really a nice surprise, especially Grasslands National Park. Saskatchewan in general is much cooler than Manitobans pretend it is, but the rivalry between the two provinces rages on.
So why is Moose Jaw worth a visit? Moose Jaw actually has good tourist attractions, neat street-art, is the unofficial headquarters of Al Capone during Prohibition, it has a troubled past and a giant original statue that caused a diplomatic dispute. Just that. And besides, the city is not bad at all architecturally speaking.
Moose Jaw’s Tunnels
The main tourist attraction in Moose Jaw are the tunnels. The city has been dotted with underground tunnels for more than a century, it was an open secret among the inhabitants – but the political authorities have always refused to recognize the truth of these rumours. However in 1985, a section of the main street collapsed on a sort of cellar not appearing in any city plan. The legend was true, there are tunnels in Moose Jaw.
The tunnels in Moose Jaw were constructed at the same time as the buildings and were initially used by heating engineers. And then they were picked up by two completely different populations: Chinese immigrants and the underworld.
To learn more about the tunnels, you have to visit the Moose Jaw Tunnels. Costumed interpreters lead two thematic guided tours, one about Al Capone and one about the Chinese immigrants. I definitely preferred the second, finding the first a little tacky and less informative. That said, the two tours complement each other quite well and there is a combined ticket which allow you to save a few dollars.
Moose Jaw and Al Capone
Al Capone is EVERYWHERE in Moose Jaw: on the walls, on the signs, on the billboards. Everywhere. Apparently, Al Capone would have moved his alcohol production and resale business to Saskatchewan during American Prohibition. After all, Moose Jaw is only an 18-hour drive from Chicago, it’s next door! There was also a train line providing a direct connection to the United States at the time.
Moose Jaw was full of gangsters in the 1920s, and police chief Walter Johnson was notoriously corrupt and turned a blind eye to the illegal production of alcohol bound for the United States. A hundred years later, for the tourists, the whole city is capitalizing on the rumours of the presence of Al Capone in town in the 1920s. But was he really there?
Unfortunately, there is no formal proof of Al Capone’s presence in Moose Jaw, only rumours and testimonies.
Chinese immigration in Moose Jaw
La visite des tunnels dédiée à la question de l’immigration chinoise s’appelle Passage to Fortune et c’était vraiment une visite édifiante sur les conditions que le Canada, pays pourtant tellement progressiste, faisait subir à ses immigrants.
The visit of the tunnels dedicated to the history of Chinese immigration in Moose Jaw is called Passage to Fortune and it was really edifying to learn the conditions in which Canada, a country yet so progressive, welcome its immigrants.
The entrance to the guided tour is quite normal, in the street, in is a building like any other. But the laundromat panel in the basement does not hide a regular business.
Chinese immigrants came to Canada in the 1880s to build the railroad to Vancouver. The first immigrants had to find the money for their passage, which they paid to brokers in Hong Kong and then had to pay back for years. But at the height of the construction of the railway, it was the American company in charge of the work that brought them directly.
En 1885, le racisme anti-chinois est ancré au Canada et une head tax de 50 $ est imposée à chaque immigrant. Le chemin de fer a été terminé en 1895 et ces travailleurs n’étaient pas invités à rester au Canada. La taxe était un moyen de les dissuader : elle a progressivement augmenté, jusqu’à atteindre 500 $, soit 11 000 dollars d’aujourd’hui. L’immigration chinoise a drastiquement chuté (une quinzaine d’admis par an selon les registres) et la population existante est passée… sous terre. Dans notamment les tunnels de Moose Jaw.
In 1885, anti-Chinese racism was deep in Canada and a $50 head tax had to be paid by every immigrant. The railway was completed in 1895 and these workers were not encouraged to stay in Canada. The tax was a means of deterring them: it gradually increased, until it reached $500, or $11,000 today. Chinese immigration had then dropped drastically (about only fifteen immigrants admitted per year according to the registers) and the existing population went… underground. Especially in the Moose Jaw tunnels.
The tour reconstructs an underground laundry with deplorable but very real living conditions. Like the entrance to the laundry on the street in the photo of the entrance, everything is done to have recreate the authenticity. In any case, it was very, very interesting.
Moose Jaw’s Street-Art
Un des attraits de Moose Jaw, c’est son street-art. En effet, la ville compte une cinquantaine d’oeuvres de toutes tailles, de tous les styles, réparties majoritairement dans un carré de sept rues sur quatre environ. Cela peut sembler peu mais en fait chercher de l’art, ça prend du temps !
One of the attractions of Moose Jaw is its street art. Indeed, the city has about fifty works of all sizes, of all styles, distributed mainly in a grid of approximately seven streets by four. It may not seem like much, but actually looking for art takes time!
A selection of my favorite Moose Jaw murals is below. A map of the murals is available almost everywhere in town for free.
Moose Jaw’s Moose Statue
Je ne sais pas si c’est partout au Canada mais dans les provinces des Prairies, les statues géantes sont partout. Les communautés rurales sont fières d’afficher en trois dimensions ce qui fait la renommé de leur ville. Ça va de la citrouille à la fleur, en passant par tout un tas d’animaux ou de trucs plus hasardeux comme des bananes ou des bouches à incendie. Pourquoi pas !
I don’t know if it’s everywhere in Canada but in the Prairie provinces the giant statues are everywhere. Rural communities are proud to display in three dimensions what makes their city famous. It ranges from pumpkins to flowers, the status can also be a whole bunch of animals or more hazardous things like bananas or fire hydrants. Why not!
At 9.80 meters tall, Mac the Moose in Moose Jaw was the tallest moose statue in the world until early 2019, when Norway decided to break this record with a 10.30 meter statue. Diplomatic conflict was imminent, and Moose Jaw and all of Saskatchewan fought to retain their title. The municipality decided to do a fundraiser and they enlarged the woods of the moose. As of October 2019, the Canadian statue is the tallest in the world. Honour is safe.
The picture has been provided to me by Kenton, a Regina-based blogger that I really like reading.
More Thinigs to Do in Moose Jaw
A Trolley Tour
Like Winnipeg, Moose Jaw has an old streetcar with a narrated tour of the city’s points of interest. I didn’t ride it, but it would have been a nice addition to the tunnel tours.
Hang out at Crescent Park
Right next to the Hotel-Spa and Casino (maybe either of those activity is your thing), Crescent Park is the perfect place to rest on a patch of grass after walking around town in search of the murals.
And my day in Moose Jaw was over. If you are passing through Saskatchewan, stop to discover Moose Haw, it’s a fun and rich little city!