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What’s with the mysterious bunker found underground in Toronto?

Who has thought about building a bunker underneath their home? Think of the safe room in the movie Panic Room, except it’s built underground. As you probably know, it’s not an easy project to take on – it requires careful planning, land, time and equipment. How does one even build a bunker in the first place? Here’s a look at the mysterious tunnel found near York University campus.

What and where is it exactly?

Is it a bomb shelter? A tunnel? No matter what you want to call it, Toronto police are baffled by it and are investigating what they’re calling a sophisticated work of construction. It’s a large hole that was built in a heavily-wooded area not far from the Rexall Centre, a tennis stadium located on the York University campus, north of Toronto. The builders behind the monstrosity – it’s 3 metres underground and almost 2 metres high! – covered the entrance with sheets of metal.

How was it found?

The whole point of a bunker or bomb shelter is for it to be secluded and hidden away. The construction was built at least six weeks ago – or in the summer depending on who you talk to – and remained under the radar until a Toronto and Region Conservation Authority officer found a large amount of soil south of the Rexall tennis courts. As they moved in closer to investigate, they noticed a red gas canister and piece of wood covered in dirt. What gave away its hiding spot was a three metre hole and a ladder leading down into the tunnel.

How is it constructed?

At this point in the investigation, police don’t know who dug the tunnel or bunker, but can confirm it was dug manually and very meticulously – without the use of construction equipment. The actual bunker is complete with lights, a power generator, reinforced walls and a ceiling. Some items found in the hole include work gloves, food and drink containers and lightbulbs. According to Deputy Chief Mark Saunders, who heads the police force’s Specialized Operations Command unit, the people responsible for building it had some level of expertise in ensuring its structural integrity.


But John Harrison, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto, disagrees with this sentiment and finds the structure to be makeshift, flimsy and unsafe. Upon looking at the photographs released to the public by police, he says it looks like a substantial structure with upright support, but there is actually a lack of wall support, making the tunnel susceptible to collapse at any moment.

While police think the tunnel was constructed by a meticulous professional, Harrison also disagrees, for he believes the construction of the tunnel is amateurish. “What I mean by that is it’s been undertaken by an amateur who really don’t have any idea of how one goes about creating a timbered heading [timber sets being used to support/hold up the excavation].”

From a safety standpoint, he says the timber supports are not properly holding up the tunnel.

“Would I have gone into it? I probably would have, but only after very carefully inspecting it as I went along.”

Harrison suspects due to the structurally unsound nature of the tunnel and the fact that spring is on its way, meaning the ground will unthaw and become saturated, the tunnel would have during the spring season. He compares the tunnel collapse to making sand castles on the beach. “We can’t dig the hole [with dry sand] because it just flows in. You have to have the right amount of moisture in it to allow sand to remain stable.”

That’s why he thinks the people who are responsible for building the construction excavated at a time when the soil was just right, enabling them to construct an opening and continue to dig.


How long did it take? And who did it?

The two unanswered questions – this is where the mystery lies. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories circling the web right now, but Harrison has his estimates and own ideas:

  • It could have taken anywhere from one month to three.

Harrison bases this theory on what he sees in the images. “I reckon it seems to be about 34 tonnes of material they had to excavate. If you were working hard, one person would probably be able to extract about half a ton a day, which is 70 days of work.” It would have been faster if there were three people working on the tunnel, but not all three would have been able to work simultaneously inside the tunnel without falling over each other, he says. That leads into the next question and theory: who did it?

  • It could have been a group of bored teenagers.

While this is just a working theory, Harrison has a point. “I don’t think it’s a big stretch to find yourself a group of bold teenagers one summer with nothing better to do,” he says. “The mothers have kicked them out of the house because it’s nice outside so as not to stay on the couch all day. That’s my take. I could be completely and utterly wrong.”

If you’re planning on building a tunnel anytime soon, here’s Harrison’s advice on how to ensure its safety:

  • Add more support around the entirety of the tunnel, especially because the sheets of plywood in the roof are not adequately supporting it.
  • Support the roof with uprights (or posts) to prevent the timber for caving inwards.


Stay tuned – we’ll update you with more information as we have it.

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