Going underground

The time of year is fast approaching in which the entire population of the U of M moves underground. Naps on the quad and games of pick-up soccer are soon to be replaced with vitamin D deficient shuffles through our tunnel system.

I thought that most universities had an underground tunnel system like ours, but apparently we are one of a relatively small bunch to use such a system. A lot of universities do in fact have tunnels, but they are not accessible to students; they are for maintenance use only, venting steam and things such as that.

At over 3,657 metres in length, our tunnels reach from Extended Education section all the way to Drake, connecting almost every building to another in some way, and as such, are not only accessible, but used by thousands of students every day.

There are many pros and cons to using the tunnels. On the pro side, it is nice to have the option of not freezing my ass off in order to get to class. Once I’m inside, I’m inside. And, in some instances, it is quicker to take the tunnels than to go outside. Also, having lots of lockers down there is pretty practical, and it means that getting one near where you spend most of your time shouldn’t, in theory, be that hard.

Cons include the smell, the “rat in a sewer” atmosphere that is sometimes distressing, the lack of sunlight and the ever-annoying people who don’t follow the unwritten rules of tunnel etiquette. Don’t hold hands blocking two lanes of traffic, especially in that section between Fletcher Argue and University College. That is warrant for an “arm chopping.”

Don’t smoke inside and set of the alarms. It makes the tunnels smell even worse and causes us to go outside anyway. And for the love of all that is right in this world, keep up with the flow of traffic! Meanderers will be passed, glared at and quite possibly elbowed.

Whether you love them or hate them, everyone can agree that the tunnels have a shroud of mystery surrounding them. Coming across any information on the construction of the tunnels is next to impossible, but in my mind, that only adds to the creepiness of them.

As a fan of the tunnels, I use them almost every day in the winter, and depending on a number of factors (stress, insanity level, time of day, etc.), experience a myriad of emotions while down there. When in the tunnels alone, no matter what time of day, I can’t help but let my mind wander to the question we have all asked ourselves: “If a murderer was chasing me down here, where would I go?” That right there is why the tunnels are so creepy, because they cause our minds to automatically wander to such ridiculous horror movie situations simply due to their griminess, dankness and general murder worthy ambiance.

If I were ever getting chased by a murderer I would hide in that section between University Centre and the Russell Building, just in case you were wondering. 

Nighttime adds an extra layer of creepy onto the tunnels. As a woman, numerous people have warned me on several different occasions that the tunnels are not safe to be alone in at night.

While I have never experienced anything to confirm these warnings, or even heard of something terrible happening for that matter, I still use discretion when deciding how I want to get to the bus stop after a late class.

That extra factor of knowing it is dark outside, as well as dim inside, while still having that “where would I go if a murderer was chasing me?” question looming in my mind is enough to make me brave the cold while longing for the jam packed daytime version of the same tunnel.

In only a few hours the tunnels go from safe and warm to thoughts like “I am going to die in here.” Call me dramatic, but hearing that lone set of footsteps in the tunnel ahead of me, before being able to see the person making them, unnerves me. And there is that one pipe that is always dripping. Drip, step, drip, step . . . outside I go.

The tunnels also provide a great place for during and after school antics. My mother told me that in the ’70s, engineering students used to have tricycle races through the tunnels. While not entirely surprising, I’m not sure if this is true or not. Either way, someone should really get that going again.

Though a group of engineers on tricycles racing in the middle of the night may be just as frightening as any imaginary murderer, it adds a little bit of comfort.

And let’s not forget the barrage of bake sales that take over the tunnels during the winter months; those take the creepy factor down a notch. It’s kind of hard to be concentrating on dripping pipes and the possibility of asbestos when there is a cupcake in my hand that only cost me a quarter.

I have my own theories about the tunnels, most of which are of a conspiratorial nature, but I’m sure you can come up with your own ideas. It seems strange to me that such an integral part of our university’s physical structure is basically undocumented.

I still wonder who came up with this plan for an underground passageway? When did the tunnels begin being built? Are there more tunnels somewhere on campus that nobody knows about?

These are the questions I tried to find answers to, with little success. I guess the mystery of the tunnels is one not meant to be solved. So, we must appreciate them blindly and hope that the choice of which tunnel to hide from a murderer in is a choice that never actually has to be made.