The 109 Street Subway, also known as the Rat Hole, was a tunnel under the original CN Rail yard in downtown Edmonton. Built in 1927 and completed in 1928, it served as a 2 lane tunnel (one lane each direction) connecting downtown and Kingsway traffic for over seven decades. There was much love for this little hole in the ground, and much hate for it as a second parallel tunnel was never built to alleviate traffic along this now bustling arterial road. The tunnel had other issues including low clearance, flooding, and dangerous pedestrian crossings.
After CN Rail closed the yard, Grant MacEwan Community College began to build its original 4 block downtown campus. The tunnel was closed in April 2000 and then mayor Bill Smith celebrated it with a car going under the tunnel for each decade it served. The project to replace the tunnel with a 6-lane 109st won an award and was 3 weeks ahead of schedule, with the road opening only 2 months after the demolition. An overpass now goes over the road as MacEwan University expanded its campus westward. Along the stretch of road there is an Aspen garden featuring indigenous central Alberta plant species. On either side of the road, dated keystones from the demolished tunnel serve as monuments to mark the historic tunnel.
Sixteen years after the demolition of the tunnel, the area hasn’t changed much except for filling up the CN Rail yards. Businesses on 109st north of the tunnel struggle as downtown still seems to end on 104av. A gas station and 7 Eleven closed on 107av and 109st several years after the project. A building at the corner of the original tunnel used for laser tag was completely demolished. Mother’s Music and Mother’s Market just a block south are both history. Several other businesses have changed hands or remain vacant just north of the location.
The east end of the railyard may be the hope for downtown expansion. There is the Epcor Tower and the Ice District filling in the space. However, that in itself may not be enough to push downtown beyond its northern boundary. Without more thoroughfares beneath the pedestrian plazas of MacEwan campus, the ghost of the railyard will continue to haunt downtown Edmonton and the Central MacDougall community for many more years to come.
The location of the monument and the Aspen Parkland Garden is accessible from MacEwan Station. Take exit A1 and walk four blocks west. If MacEwan campus is open, you can take the indoor route through the building.