Looking for something a little bit different to do the next time you visit Canada? How about visiting a series of bunkers and other sites designed to shelter people from the end of the world?! ‘In Canada?', I hear you ask. Yes, in Canada.
Canada’s Cold War Heritage
Following World War II, the world was plunged into a constant state of worry. The Cold War gripped much of the world. Powers sat, willing to press a button that would certainly mean the end of the world. During this time, countries prepared for this scenario by building numerous facilities. These were dedicated to preserving the leadership of countries in the event of nuclear annihilation.
While those fears have subsided over the last few decades, these facilities remain as monuments to a time when bomb drills were as common as fire drills. Canada, while not a super power at the level of the United States or USSR, had to be prepared for this reality due to the extreme proximity to both the major parties involved in the Cold War.
With that in mind, numerous facilities, which remain to this day, were built to preserve Canada’s government and leadership in and around the Ottawa area. While some of these places are still functioning as military facilities, some have become truly unique museums dedicated to the times.
Construction of CFS Carp was completed in 1962. The pricey structure, which was named The Diefenbunker by opposition politicians who opposed then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s spending spree on Cold War shelters, took three years to complete and came in at around 100,000 square feet. Plunging four storeys into the Earth West of Canada’s Capital of Ottawa, the structure was constructed using more than 32,000 tonnes of concrete and 5,000 tonnes of steel. This facility was the crown jewel of what the Canadian Government called the Continuity Of Government plan.
The facility itself featured massive blast doors, an air filtration system, and enough rations to house 565 people for a month. Inside, there was an emergency broadcast station for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), and a vault designed to hold Canada’s gold reserves. This facility was supported by a nearby bunker which was connected by underground landline and served as a signals station, maintaining antenna and other communications equipment from afar. The ironic thing about this facility is that it’s namesake, Diefenbaker, had major objections to the site and is rumoured to have refused to ever use it due to the fact he would not be able to share quarters with his wife. From 1959 to 1994 the bunker collected dust until eventually becoming one of Canada’s most unique museums in 1998. Visitors are able to see the Prime Ministers Quarters, the Emergency Government Situation Centre, the CBC Emergency Broadcasting Studio, the Military Federal Warning Centre, the External Affairs Ministerial Office, the Public Works Minister's Office, and the Bank of Canada Vault. Since 2012, nearly 50,000 people have checked out the Diefenbunker annually.
One of two other buildings in the Ottawa region, the Kemptville building was used in a support role to the Diefenbunker. Classified as a Federal Department Relocation Site, Kemptville remains in operation as Canada Training Centre #270. Much smaller than the Diefenbunker, the Kemptville building featured both above ground and below ground facilities. Designated commonly as a Welfare Service Accommodation Centre, meaning the facility would have been used to provide basic services to nearby residents in the event of a nuclear event.
Nearly identical in appearance and function as the Kemptville Building, the Carleton Building was also designated as a Welfare Service Accommodation Centre, and featured 12,000 square feet of space above ground, and 6,000 square feet below. Today it is known as the “Olde Barracks Office and Meeting Centre”.
The area also featured numerous small scale bunkers that were generally built in post offices and other federal buildings. While they were less durable than the military bunkers, there were all equipped with mostly underground telephone and teletype lines that connected them directly with The Diefenbunker. Towns with these facilities included Kemptville, Carelton Place, Cornwall, Smiths Falls, Pembroke, and Arnprior. Across the country several other military bunkers were built. This includes bunkers in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Penhold, Alberta, Shilo, Manitoba, Borden, Ontario, Valcartier, Quebec, and Debert, Nova Scotia. Many of these facilities periodically offer tours of their facilities.