Ottawa

Tourists, history lovers flock to Canada's 1st railway tunnel

Canada's first railway tunnel in Brockville, Ont., is home to stone walls, century-old mineral deposits — and now a brand new light show.

Rail tunnel in Brockville, Ont., opened for its 2nd season Saturday — with a new light show

Canada's first railway tunnel in Brockville, Ont., opened its doors for its second season Saturday. More than 25,000 people visited during its debut weekend last year. (Keith Hare)

Tourists and historians are once again flocking to Canada's first railway tunnel in Brockville, Ont., home to stone walls, century-old mineral deposits and a brand new light show.

It's something for everyone.-  David  LeSueur ,  Brockville  councillor

The tunnel opened for its second season Saturday, after its debut in 2017 made it one of the top tourist sites in Ontario, said Brockville councillor David LeSueur. 

"The city has made it completely safe and added the light show and music," said LeSueur, who worked on the tunnel for seven years and spoke with CBC Radio's In Town and Out Saturday.

"It's something for everyone."

'Used to go all the way up to Ottawa'

The 525-metre stone tunnel, built between 1854 and 1860, runs through the downtown core of the city. 

It was initially built for the Brockville and Ottawa Railway. The tunnel was last used for train travel in 1970, and the City of Brockville acquired it more than a decade after. 

Steam engine 3011 departs through the tunnel's south portal in this archival image. The steam engine travelled through the Brockville tunnel until 1954. (Brockville Museum)

In August 2017, the city reopened the tunnel as a tourist attraction.

Although the rail tracks have been removed, the tunnel features a light show that highlights its engineering, architectural and geological features.

LeSueur, who also chairs the Brockville Railway Tunnel Committee, told In Town and Out that its original walls remain untouched.

"There's a little bit of water that drips on you in certain areas. You'll see stone work. You'll see an area that they used gun powder to blast through the rock," he said.

"It comes out to the north end of the city near the CN tracks — and the line used to go all the way up to Ottawa."

'It's a fantastic site'

Roughly 25,000 visitors walked through the tunnel during its debut weekend last year, LeSueur said.

"A lot of people say that, at the end of the day, it calms them down," he said.

"Kids like to dance to the music. Historians and photographers are hard to get out of there. They love the architectural features and the mineral deposits that have been built up for 150 years plus."

The rail tunnel in Brockville, Ont., has quickly become one of the top tourist sites in Ontario, according to city councillor David LeSueur. (John McQuarrie)

This year the tunnel reopened around Easter, LeSueur said, to welcome back families during the long weekend.

It was even home to an Easter egg hunt this year, he added.

'All the citizens [of Brockville] were thinking we should open it as a tourist attraction," he said. "It's a fantastic site."

CBC Radio's In Town and Out

now