Cold War Nuclear Bunker Lures Tourists Worried About New Threats

OTTAWA — Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine final yr, Christine McGuire’s museum started receiving inquiries in contrast to something she’d beforehand encountered throughout her profession.

“We had folks asking us if we nonetheless functioned as a fallout shelter,” mentioned Ms. McGuire, the chief director of Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum. “That concern continues to be very actual for folks. It appears to have come again into the general public psyche.”

The Diefenbunker nonetheless has many of the kind and options of the nuclear fallout shelter it as soon as was for Canadian authorities and navy V.I.P.s. However the underground advanced, decommissioned in 1994, has shifted from being a functioning navy asset to being a potent image of a return to an age when the world’s destruction once more appears an actual chance with a nuclear-armed Russia elevating the specter of utilizing the weapons.

The Diefenbunker historical past isn’t just of world stress but additionally of Canada’s parsimonious method to civil protection, optimistic eager about the apocalypse and Canadians’ antipathy towards something they understand as a particular deal for his or her political leaders. Now, the privately run museum is among the few locations on the planet the place guests can tour a former Cold War bunker constructed to deal with a authorities beneath nuclear assault.

These components have made the four-story-deep, 100,000-square-foot warren of about 350 rooms into an unexpectedly standard vacationer attraction regardless of its off-the-beaten-path location, within the village of Carp inside the metropolis limits of Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

Robert Bothwell, a professor of historical past on the College of Toronto, was on the board of an Ontario cultural group in the course of the Nineteen Nineties when a gaggle of volunteers proposed turning the bunker right into a museum. At the moment, he mentioned, a number of different volunteer-based museums had failed to draw guests even with ample funding.

“So I believed: ‘Diefenbunker? Give me a break,’” he mentioned. “However I used to be completely flawed.”

Since its building started in 1959, the bunker has carried quite a lot of official names: Emergency Military Alerts Institution, Central Emergency Authorities Headquarters and Canadian Forces Station Carp. But it surely got here to be often known as the Diefenbunker after John Diefenbaker, the prime minister who commissioned it, extra as a type of mockery than in his honor.

For nearly two years, throughout its building, the bunker and 10 different a lot smaller bunkers throughout the nation have been disguised as navy communications facilities, which, in truth, was a part of their position.

However The Toronto Telegram newspaper uncovered the Diefenbunker’s true nature in 1961 with an in depth aerial {photograph} of its building website. The {photograph} confirmed that dozens of bogs have been to be put in, an indication that the advanced can be greater than a small radio base. Above the {photograph}, the headline learn: “78 BATHROOMS — and the Military nonetheless gained’t admit that … THIS IS THE DIEFENBUNKER.”

In contrast to the US, Canada didn’t set up an intensive community of stocked fallout shelters to guard civilians, mentioned Andrew Burtch, a historian on the Canadian War Museum and the writer of a e-book in regards to the nation’s restricted civil protection system.

A part of it was merely price, he mentioned. However he mentioned that the navy additionally assumed that the Soviets had reserved their then-limited variety of warheads for the US and wouldn’t “waste” them on Canadian targets. In that state of affairs, planners assumed that radiation from Soviet bombers shot down over Canada can be the principle risk. That led, Dr. Burtch mentioned, to a civil protection system during which, “for probably the most half, the general public was by itself.”

Mr. Diefenbaker acknowledged the bunker’s goal after the aerial {photograph} appeared and vowed that he would by no means go to it and would keep dwelling together with his spouse if the bombers and missiles got here. However outrage over the unique bunker — reserved for 565 folks, together with the prime minister and his 12 most senior cupboard ministers — persevered. Compounding the outcry, the federal government refused to reveal the price of the bunker, estimated at 22 million Canadian {dollars} in 1958 cash, or about 220 million right now.

From the surface, the Diefenbunker seems to be like a grassy hillside with a number of vents poking up from behind the bottom, together with a handful of antennas, one fairly tall. The doorway, added in the course of the Nineteen Eighties, is by way of a steel constructing with a roll-up storage door that opens to the blast tunnel, an space designed to soak up vitality from a bomb dropped on downtown Ottawa. Stretching for 387 toes, the blast tunnel connects to a to a set of doorways, weighing one and 4 tons every, after which subsequent is a decontamination space that opens to the remainder of the bunker.

A lot of the inside of the utilitarian and brightly lit house is a restoration of the unique, which was stripped after the advanced was decommissioned and changed with related or an identical gadgets from smaller bunkers or navy bases.

The prime minister’s workplace and suite is spartan, its solely contact of luxurious being a turquoise-colored washroom sink.

The conflict cupboard room has an overhead projector and 4 tv units. A navy briefing room instantly subsequent door has a projector that tracked planes.

The bunker is surrounded by thick layers of gravel on all sides to assist mitigate the shock of any close by nuclear explosions. Its plumbing fixtures are mounted on thick slabs of rubber and related with hoses quite than pipes for a similar cause.

Probably the most safe and finest protected space of the bunker was a vault behind a door so immense it requires a second, smaller door to be opened first to equalize the air strain. It was supposed as a spot for Canada’s central financial institution, the Financial institution of Canada, to position gold ought to an assault seem imminent. There’s no report that the financial institution ever delivered gold there, a Financial institution of Canada spokesman mentioned, and the vault grew to become a fitness center within the Seventies.

A small armory was raided in 1984 by a corporal stationed within the bunker. He stole numerous weapons, together with two submachine weapons, and 400 rounds of ammunition earlier than driving to Quebec Metropolis the place he shot and killed three folks and injured 13 others on the province’s legislative meeting.

The advanced was designed to retailer sufficient meals and generator gasoline to help occupants for 30 days after a nuclear assault, beneath the idea that by then radiation ranges above floor can be low sufficient for everybody to emerge.

However the want by no means arose, and the bunker remained scorned. Finally, the one prime minister to tour it was Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the daddy of Justin Trudeau, the present prime minister, who flew in on a navy helicopter in 1976. After the journey, his authorities minimize its price range.

Guests stream right here now from throughout Canada and overseas to expertise for themselves this window into the Cold War previous — and maybe for a way of the safety that many crave right now.

It’s additionally a uncommon alternative to step inside a bunker constructed to resist a nuclear Armageddon.

Whereas bunkers from numerous wars are dotted around the globe and open to guests, main Cold War ones are a lot much less widespread. A decommissioned bunker beneath the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia — supposed to carry all the members of Congress — provides excursions, however bans telephones and cameras.

Gilles Courtemanche, a volunteer tour information on the Diefenbunker, was a soldier stationed there in 1964, when he was 20. He labored there for 2 years as a signalman, establishing and sustaining communications and laptop infrastructure. He was one of many 540 folks, civilians and navy members, who operated the bunker on three shifts earlier than it was decommissioned.

Issues have come full circle for him and for Canada. The Cold War of his youth has mutated to new sorts of threats, he mentioned.

“It’s an essential factor that we have now right here,” Mr. Courtemanche mentioned, referring to the museum’s means to remind guests of threats previous and current. “Now, China is beginning to flex their muscle mass, and the Russians? Nicely, I don’t perceive what they’re doing in any respect. To me, it’s madness.”

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