After 20 years of neglect, the Tunnel of Flags has returned to the collective consciousness of the residents of Greenwood.
It wasn’t until someone made a post about the tunnel of the Boundary Heritage Facebook page that Christopher Stevenson – who runs multiple community Facebook pages in the Boundary area – got the idea to raise funds to revitalize the Tunnel of Flags. He started a GoFundMe page on July 27.
“It’s probably the most photographed site in Boundary, there are always people there taking pictures and exploring it,” said Stevenson. “It’s a showpiece for our region and I think we can do better.”
The Tunnel of Flags has been a part of the City of Greenwood’s history for over 100 years. The tunnel was built in 1913 by the Canadian Pacific Railway to accommodate the booming community that had grown in Greenwood. Road access was necessary to get to Grand Forks, and the tunnel was built under a rail trestle. The single-lane shell existed before being replaced by a two-lane tunnel in 1964.
But as the mining industry in Greenwood died off during that half-century, the tunnel was filled in and forgotten. That is, until 1993, when construction on a new stretch of road inadvertently rediscovered the tunnel.
It was then uncovered and left standing as a historic structure. Over the next couple of years, the tunnel on the side of the road began being covered in graffiti. It wasn’t until then-mayor of Greenwood, Arno Hennig, decided to give the tunnel more flavour that it truly became a must-see site in the Boundary district.
Hennig began covering the graffiti with painted flags of countries from around the world. What started as a solo operation quickly turned into a community project. By 2000, 210 country flags had been painted on the outside wall of the tunnel.
Hennig passed away in 2012 at 82.
But in the 20 years since Hennig picked up his paintbrush, the Tunnel of Flags has been re-tagged with graffiti.
“It’s back to looking post-apocalyptic,” said Stevenson. “It’s run down again.”
“If it looks like something that people care about, then people will care about it,” said Stevenson. “The sites that get vandalized are the ones that look derelict.”
While the process is just getting started, Stevenson has already spoken with Greenwood officials about what this revitalization project would look like. Stevenson believes the project needs community to be involved for it to have an impact. He would like to see the city put together a plan that would lead to a process involving representation from locals.
“Greenwood doesn’t have the extra budget to do this type of thing,” said Stevenson, who served on city council from 2008 to 2011. “We won’t ask for tax dollars.”
Along with a letter of support from the town, Stevenson also got a vote of confidence from a person who knows the history and importance of the tunnel well – Julia Pedde (nee Hennig), the daughter of Arno.
Stevenson posted the full message from Pedde on the Boundary Heritage Facebook page. In it, Pedde describes how Hennig didn’t even tell his wife about the project at first. As Hennig painted, more people would pull over to donate money for supplies, drop off snacks and eventually, help out.
“Dad love[d] his community even up to his passing,” wrote Pedde in her message to Stevenson.
A look down the Boundary Heritage Facebook page shows some widespread interest in what this revitalizing project will look like. Stevenson has put up a couple of ideas for the tunnel, including documenting the tunnel as is, repainting the flags, possibly adding a mural, and using the interior of the tunnel as an ever-changing canvas that street artists can use. He also sees the value in keeping some of the graffiti up.
“It’s part of the heritage,” said Stevenson.
He would also like to see a portrait or some sort of commemoration in honour of Hennig.
At the time of publication, the GoFundMe has raised $260 of its $5,000 goal.
“This is going to work,” said Stevenson. “We’ve been through some dark times in the world and in the region with flooding. I think this could be a really positive thing.”