CBC Toronto's John Lancaster reflects on mystery tunnel investigation

CBC Toronto investigative reporter John Lancaster reflects on breaking an exclusive story about a mystery tunnel discovered near a Pan Am Games venue.

Reporter Reflection: Toronto Tunnel Mystery

7 years ago
Duration 2:53
CBC Toronto investigative reporter looks back on the exclusive story he broke on a mystery tunnel discovered near York University.

Investigative journalists are a bit like detectives, but instead of having search warrants and other police tools, we rely on trusted contacts and boots on the ground. This was never more true than when we broke the news of the mysterious Toronto tunnel.

It was February and cameraman Keith Whelan and I found ourselves waist-deep in snow trudging through a forest near York University.

The tunnel had actually been discovered a couple of weeks earlier, but police weren't ready to go public.

It was apparently about eight metres long, and tall enough to stand in. The walls and ceilings were reinforced with wood beams. It even had lights. But where was it, exactly?

It took about an hour, but we found a burrow the diggers had used to hide their tools. Close by were mounds of dirt where police had filled the tunnel in.

We reported what we saw, and soon social media was flooded with chatter about the #TorontoTunnel. Our stories were picked in the U.S. and Europe.

Later that night, a contact from a previous story told me he had pictures of the inside. They revealed wooden beams, and solid walls.

The next morning, Toronto police broke their silence. But who dug the tunnel, and why?

The media buzz generated hundreds of tips. A contractor who'd recognized some of the tools from the news reports told police he'd lent them to one of his employees, who conceded that he was, in fact, the digger.

The tunnel, it turned out, was just a place to "hang out." Unusual? Yes. Sinister? No, according to police.

As for me, it was an excellent reminder to get out of the office, and always keep good contacts.


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