04 December 2011

The Diefenbunker Museum (formerly Canadian Forces Station Carp)

Construction of the Central Emergency Government Headquarters began in 1959 at an abandoned gravel pit in the village of Carp, Ontario, 30 kilometres west of Ottawa. Authorised by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1958, the facility became popularly known as the 'Diefenbunker' in subsequent years. In the Cold War context of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat, the 100,000 sq. ft., four-story underground bunker was designed to survive a near-hit from a nuclear weapon and permit the continuity of Government of Canada operations in the aftermath of a Soviet attack on the country. The Diefenbunker was equipped with thick blast doors at the end of a long access tunnel and special air filters to prevent radiation infiltration in order to protect the several hundred politicians, civil servants, and military personnel who would be living and working in the bunker for weeks after any nuclear attack.

Within its bowels, the Diefenbunker housed everything required to maintain the affairs of state, including an operations centre, government department offices, a Cabinet meeting room, a vault for the Bank of Canada's gold supply, and a CBC emergency broadcast studio, as well as all the necessary living quarters, lavatories, a cafeteria, a chapel, an infirmary, a generator and machinery room, food storage spaces, and decontamination facilities. Despite its size, space within the Diefenbunker was so tight that only the Prime Minister and the Governor General were accorded the 'luxury' of small, spartan private suites; indeed, even the Prime Minister's wife was not allowed to accompany her husband into the bunker in the event of a nuclear war, a situation that is said to have caused Prime Minister Diefenbaker's wife, Olive, to forbid him from leaving her!  The hundreds of other government officials and military personnel would have lived in even more cramped dormitory-style quarters.

The Diefenbunker was maintained in an operational state by a small detachment of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (later the Canadian Forces Communications and Electronics Branch) until 1994, when the facility was closed due to the end of the Cold War and the reduced threat from ICBMs.  Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1994, the local municipality took over control of the site and a group of volunteers created a non-profit organisation to operate the Diefenbunker as a museum beginning in 1998.  Thanks to years of dilligent work, many of the spaces within the Diefenbunker have been restored to how they would have looked during the 1960s-1980s.  The Diefenbunker, Canada's Cold War Museum is now open year-round for public tours.

Looking down the T-shaped blast tunnel designed to channel and dissipate the effect of a nearby nuclear blast. Thick doors at either end would have sealed the bunker's inhabitants off from the radiation-ravaged outside world.  

The Diefenbunker's cafeteria servery station. Feeding hundreds of military personnel, civil servants, Cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister, and even the Governor General required a large and well-equipped kitchen and cafeteria.

The Diefenbunker's cafeteria. The large mural of the Canadian wilderness somewhat lessens the sterile, institutional feel of the facility, but most likely would have been cold comfort to diners preoccupied with thoughts of the irradiated, post-apocalyptic landscape outside their subterranean haven.

The Diefenbunker's Operations Centre, where civil servants and military personnel would have maintained awareness of the outside world and coordinated the government's national emergency response operations via communications links with the network of regional government emergency bunkers across Canada.

Another look at the Operations Centre. Note the period furniture and office equipment, which the museum has sought to restore to the feel of the 1970s and 1980s.

The Cabinet meeting room where the required number of ministers and the Governor General would have met to decide on government policy, direct the federal response following a nuclear attack, and provide Royal Assent to new legislation and Orders-in-Council.  The operations room was located across the hall from the Cabinet meeting room to provide for rapid and easy conveyance of information to the assembled ministers and Governor General.
The Diefenbunker's infirmary. Although small, this facility included a pharmacy, recovery room, and even a small surgery.
One of the many corridors throughout the Diefenbunker, with the doors to government department offices lining the walls. Some departments, like National Defence and External Affairs would have been obviously important to government postwar emergency management; however, one can perhaps question the logic of including offices for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, given it is highly unlikely anyone would be concerned about mortgages on homes evaporated by nuclear blasts or contaminated by fallout.

Looking into the Diefenbunker's vault, where the Bank of Canada would have relocated its gold supply in the event of a nuclear war, thereby ensuring the country's continued financial stability.

The machinery space on the lowest level of the Diefenbunker. This room housed the generators, pumps, and ventilation equipment required to sustain the hundreds of people who would have lived in the bunker during a nuclear emergency.

The Diefenbunker's OSAX computer centre, featuring the large mainframe computers required to run the facility's communications and data systems.  Ample ventilation kept these computers cool, although a halon fire extinguising system would have put out any fire...and suffocated any technicians unlucky to be trapped in the room.    

Only the Prime Minister and the Governor General enjoyed private living quarters in the Diefenbunker, although even these were depressingly tiny and equipped with only the most basic of furnishings. Here we see the Prime Minister's small private office, adjacent to his bedroom and toilet.

The Prime Minister's bedroom and adjacent toilet.  Note the single bed--not even the PM was allowed to bring his wife with him to the bunker in the event of a nuclear war.  One wonders whether any PM could have left his wife on the surface to die from nuclear blast or radiation poisoning.  Fortunately, given the Westminster system of cabinet government, a quorum of cabinet ministers and the Governor General could have carried out decision-making with or without the Prime Minister present.

One of the women's lavatories in the Diefenbunker.