Friendly Moose Jaw, Sask. re-brands as 'Canada's Most Notorious City'

Moose Jaw, Sask., was once known as"The Friendly City" but now, the city has decided to look to its seedy past for a new motto.

Descendant of Al Capone, who was rumoured to have hid out in Moose Jaw, is happy city is embracing its past

Moose Jaw will no longer be known as "The Friendly City," instead council and the tourism board have opted for the city's new slogan to be "Canada's Most Notorious City." (Tourism Moose Jaw)

Moose Jaw, Sask., has garnered headlines recently for its good natured spat with Storelgen, Norway over the world's largest moose title. But close to a century ago, the city was better known for its ties to the criminal underworld, crooked cops and seedy characters.

Anyone driving by the city along Highway 1 will be greeted by a sign proclaiming Moose Jaw to be the "Friendly City." Drawing inspiration from it's bootlegging and gangster-loving past, Moose Jaw will now be known as "Canada's Most Notorious City."

Jackie L'Heureux-Mason, executive director Tourism Moose Jaw, said the idea for a new slogan came after the city held professional development training on branding. 

An image of Moose Jaw, Sask. from Glen Lundeen's collection of about 7,000 old postcards and photographs. (Courtesy of Glen Lundeen)

The big take away from the training was to be unique and as L'Heureux-Mason found "The Friendly City" was anything but.

"There are over 100 places in North America that use that as their slogan, even right next door to us, Friendly Manitoba," she said. "Typically speaking, people know us for our tunnels and our spa."

L'Heureux-Mason said the new motto was leaked by someone within the city or tourism board and that it was set to be announced later this year in March. 

As a result, council, the tourist board and community members decided their checkered past would be the best fodder for the future.

The Moose Jaw tunnels were used first by Chinese immigrants who were working on CP railways. To flee persecution, and the hefty head tax imposed on Chinese workers, the rail workers fled underground. According to L'Heureux-Mason, the tunnels were built during the initial construction of buildings along the city's Main Street. 

Later, during the roaring 20s as prohibition came to be the law of the land through the United States and much of Canada, Moose Jaw became a hub for bootleggers. 

It's rumoured that Al 'Public Enemy No. 1' Capone would head to Moose Jaw by way of the Soo Rail line to lay low when things were getting too hot in Chicago. His gang the Chicago Outfit made money hand over fist running booze, racketeering and often drew the ire of police they couldn't buy.

As L'Heureux-Mason explained, gangsters fleeing north to Moose Jaw were in luck. The city's top cop Walter Johnson was known to be corruptible and retired after amassing a small fortune. 

"Not all of our history was rosy and sun shiny, and that's okay. We embrace that, we know that we have learned many things from those notorious moments in the past," said L'Heureux-Mason.

Al Capone connection

Al Capone was the leader of the Chicago based mafia and a notorious bootlegger during prohibition in the United States.

Capone's presence in Moose Jaw is only rumoured, where most accounts of him being in the city come from eye witness accounts and stories passed on by previous generations. But Al Capone's grandniece Deirdre Capone says she knows her "Uncle Al" was in Moose Jaw.

"Most people don't really understand the connection between Moose Jaw and the United States during prohibition," said Capone.

"I want people to know the truth of back then. Was there bloodshed? Absolutely." 

She did not elaborate on how she knew that Capone had been to Moose Jaw. She said she is in talks to make a movie on the history of Canada's role in bootlegging and prohibition in the United States, focusing on Al Capone's own history. 

The new motto came as a surprise to Capone but she said she is happy that city was accepting of its checkered past. 

"I'm very proud of them," said Capone. "Embrace your past, don't try and pretend it never happened. Embrace it."


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