Beauty in Ruins - Blue Ghost Tunnel

With Spring upon us - not that you can tell from the snow flurries and the cold - I'm getting back out, hiking and exploring my way around the Ruins that surround us.

This past weekend I headed out to hike the old (third) Welland Canal, in search of the East entrance to the Merritton Tunnel, also known as Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel, also known as the Blue Ghost Tunnel. I've explored the West entrance many times, but it's become increasingly hard to access with General Motors blocking access to the service road, and the Seaway Authority establishing a presence on the property.

With a rough idea of where the exit should be, knowing the serpentine turns of the tunnel - at least as far as where total darkness gave way to murky light and flooded water - I decided to hike north from the old half of Lakeview Cemetery, up past the control gates we've always referred to as "Siren Sounds."

I actually hiked up past where I figured the tunnel should be, making my way through the hilly, winding, forested terrain until I found the stream I was guessing - hoping? - led back to the tunnel. It was about 45 minutes of hiking, probably more strenuous and painful than it should have been, because marked trails and I don't get along.

And, lo and behold, there it was in all its glory. The East end of the tunnel. Now, while you gaze at the vintage stonework, let me establish some context here. Opened in 1875, the tunnel is 713 feet of Queenston limestone, with beautifully winged stonework at either end. They put a lot of work into the construction and the design, especially when you consider when it was built, that it was used for freight trains, and it was only in use for about 40 years.

The railway tracks themselves are long gone, leaving an empty tunnel of moulding, mildew-covered, limestone and a bed of thick, quicksand-like mud and water. I came prepared, but after sinking into my knees more than once, and nearly losing my boots in the process, I decided to wait for warmer, drier weather before attempting it again. You can just see the bend about 50 feet in, just like at the West entrance, which leaves the majority of the tunnel in pitch-black, claustrophobic darkness.

The tunnel looks spooky as hell, especially once you're around the bend and confined in the darkness, so it's hard not to imagine ghosts inside. While there are a few deaths associated with the tunnel - one related to its construction, and the other two coming from a head-on crash of trains about 500 meters outside the West end - there's really no story behind the ghostly sightings, which are more of the (yawn) weird blue lights and photographic orbs variety than creepy apparitions, poltergeist attacks, or the screams of the region's Screaming Tunnel.

Anyway, curious to find just exactly where the tunnel was situated, and how close to the canal system it was, I decided to hike up the muddy, slippery, thorny embankment to see just where I was in relation to the landscape I was more familiar with.

As for why that East end is so hard to find, take a look at the picture below. Standing there, you have absolutely no idea you're about 15 feet from falling over the edge, with a walk straight ahead taking you dead-centre above the tunnel. You really have to know its there, and want to find it.

Of course, you're probably wondering why they needed a tunnel in the first place. You have to imagine the old (third) canal system full of water, with 19th century ships steaming through, but this is the section of the locks under which the tunnel makes that first bend.

There's a far more interesting, far more disturbing story to the canal that replaced this - the fourth Welland Canal, which is still in service today - but I'll save that part of the hike for next week.


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