When I was a kid, I was enthralled by secret portals into other worlds. Books like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Secret Garden captured my young imagination. What if I could crawl into a tunnel, a cave, or an ordinary wardrobe, and enter into a secret mystical world?
I imagined carving a hole through the wall in my basement bedroom closet, where I could disappear into my secret world (aka: the storage room) at a moment’s notice. (Don’t worry, mom and dad, I didn’t touch the drywall.)
Unfortunately, knock on the back of most wardrobes in the “real world”, and you’ll find them decidedly hard and un-magical. And in the real world, my imagined secret cave in the storage room was filled with cardboard boxes and very real-world-smelly hockey equipment.
But a few years ago I listened to an episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called Secret Staircases, and my childhood dream was reborn. Charles Fleming has mapped the hundreds secret staircases that transport pedestrians between San Fransisco’s streets and neighbourhoods. Ordinary towns and cities are filled with secret portals between worlds, if you’re willing to look for them.
My prairie town of Steinbach doesn’t have any staircases, but we do have secret passages. Have you ever used one?
Steinbach’s Secret Paths
Erin Unger, writer of the food/travel/history/exploration blog Mennotoba, has long been fascinated by secret paths and lanes in Steinbach:
Well first of all, the “secret” aspect is fascinating to me — they’re not always easy to spot. Also, it’s delightful to leave the path of cars, and go my own way. I mean, when you go by foot you’re a lot more free to make your own path… but it’s always nice to know the city endorses certain ways to get around, we don’t always need to be alongside cumbersome vehicles. And it occurred to me one day, that maybe I could figure out a route in which I’d be walking the most secret paths possible. I still haven’t devised this route because I’m hoping I’ll discover more secret routes I can add to my map.
(Aside: my recent attempt to link up all the secret paths in Steinbach.)
I also asked Erin about her favourite “secret path” to walk in Steinbach:
I feel like every “secret path” aficionado will say that it’s the back lane that runs from Willow to Main, behind Southwood Drive — the way the path bends is positively enchanting!
I use a secret path nearly everyday on my walking commute, giving me a daily dose of magic. My secret sidewalk transports me from a fairly busy neighbourhood street near the highway, in between grassy and fenced backyards, and into the quiet street I call home. Most people who know this neighbourhood only through their car windshield overlook it completely (I know this because of how rarely they slow down for the pedestrian crossing).
I took some friends on a walk through my secret path a few years ago, and as we entered the “new world”, I witnessed the looks of wonder and surprise on their faces. Right in the middle of our little town, we had transported ourselves into a new world.
I’ve compiled a map of all the secret paths I’ve discovered in Steinbach, connecting paths that are mostly inaccessible to vehicles and help one see a neighbourhood from a fresh perspective. Thanks to Erin for the invaluable additions to this map, and for opening my eyes to a whole network of “garden paths” that were mostly unknown to me previously. Also included are the “secret parks” in town, which are a delight to kids and grownups alike.
(If you know of one not listed, let me know and I’ll add it.)
If you’re looking for a dose of the magical in your ordinary day, try getting outside and finding a secret path in your own backyard. You might be surprised what you discover.