In a small town, approximately twenty-five minutes outside Ottawa, below a non-descriptive steel structure, lies an incredible piece of history.
Seventy-five feet below ground, in Carp, Ontario, is the story of espionage, spies and a country’s survival plan during the height of the Cold War. This is Canada’s Cold War Museum: The Diefenbunker.
Shelters designed to ensure the continuity of government in case of a nuclear attack, were authorized in 1958, by then Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker. Across Canada, a total of fifty such shelters were built.
The facility in Carp was the largest. It’s four-stories deep, with enough underground storage for food, fuel, fresh water and other needed supplies, to accommodate 565 people, up to one month, without requiring additional supplies from the outside. The shelter was capable of withstanding a nuclear blast up to five megatons from 1.8 kilometers away.
Walking through the long, dark, damp tunnel leading to the bunker’s main entrance, I feel a chill and it isn't from the temperature outside. There’s an eeriness to the place. What it was. What it was constructed for. I’m a child of the Cold War. I was a paranoid kid and I lived in constant fear of a nuclear attack. It's no wonder I feel cold.
There was no bunker on the city-street I lived on. None that I was aware of, anyway. I resigned myself to my ultimate demise, were a nuclear attack to happen. But, unknown to me at the time, there was a shelter where important people, with big responsibilities would be whisked into for safety. Canada would continue to be governed. I’d be doomed, but the country would go on. That’s life.
|Most of the corridors look like this
Once inside the facility, I feel like a kid again: A kid with a map on a scavenger hunt, skipping through 300 rooms and exhibits, so full of engrossing history, it’s hard to leave.
|Prime Minister's suite
Rooms, such as the Emergency Government Situation Centre, the External Affairs Ministerial Office, The Bank of Canada Vault and the Prime Minister’s Suite, have been restored to their original condition. Many other rooms have been converted to exhibits of the Cold War era. Don't be in a hurry to leave. Take your time wandering through them. Read the stories.
|Operating room equipment
“Wow! An operating room.”
“Look, the dental office.”
“Oooh, let’s find the gold vault.”
|CBC Emergency Studio
Without any hesitation, I can say, I’ve never had so much fun in a museum and that’s because The Diefenbunker is not a typical museum. It’s historical, yes. But it’s the intrigue of the era: the spies, the double-agents, the people who simply disappeared never to be heard from again, the arrests, the trials and the jail sentences that followed.
I survived the Cold War (the Doomsday Clock still haunts me though). The Diefenbunker allowed me to relive moments I’d long since forgotten. Quite simply, this place is awesome! If you haven’t been, you really should.
There are public and group tours available throughout the year. Also, special programs are available for kids. They will learn about espionage, crack codes, make spy gadgets, dress up, and go on a mission in search of the elusive "Agent X".
Sign me up!
The museum is open year-round Monday to Sunday
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.