Cold War Nuclear Bunker Lures Tourists Worried About New Threats


OTTAWA — Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine final 12 months, Christine McGuire’s museum started receiving inquiries in contrast to something she’d beforehand encountered throughout her profession.

“We had individuals asking us if we nonetheless functioned as a fallout shelter,” mentioned Ms. McGuire, the manager director of Diefenbunker: Canada’s Chilly Warfare Museum. “That worry remains to be very actual for individuals. It appears to have come again into the general public psyche.”

The Diefenbunker nonetheless has many of the type and options of the nuclear fallout shelter it as soon as was for Canadian authorities and navy V.I.P.s. However the underground complicated, 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 is not only of world stress but in addition of Canada’s parsimonious strategy to civil protection, optimistic occupied with the apocalypse and Canadians’ antipathy towards anything they perceive as a special deal for his or her political leaders. Now, the privately run museum is without doubt one of the few locations on the planet the place guests can tour a former Chilly Warfare bunker constructed to deal with a authorities underneath nuclear assault.

These components have made the four-story-deep, 100,000-square-foot warren of about 350 rooms into an unexpectedly fashionable 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 Nineties when a bunch 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 improper.”

Since its development started in 1959, the bunker has carried a wide range of official names: Emergency Military Indicators Institution, Central Emergency Authorities Headquarters and Canadian Forces Station Carp. But it surely got here to be often called 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 development, the bunker and 10 different a lot smaller bunkers throughout the nation had 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 development website. The {photograph} confirmed that dozens of bathrooms had been to be put in, an indication that the complicated 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 in depth community of stocked fallout shelters to guard civilians, mentioned Andrew Burtch, a historian on the Canadian Warfare Museum and the creator of a e-book about the country’s limited civil defense system.

A part of it was merely value, 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 menace. That led, Dr. Burtch mentioned, to a civil protection system wherein, “for essentially the most half, the general public was by itself.”

Mr. Diefenbaker acknowledged the bunker’s function after the aerial {photograph} appeared and vowed that he would by no means go to it and would keep dwelling along with his spouse if the bombers and missiles got here. However outrage over the unique bunker — reserved for 565 individuals, 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 in the present day.

From the surface, the Diefenbunker seems 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 Eighties, is by way of a metallic 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 area is a restoration of the unique, which was stripped after the complicated was decommissioned and changed with related or equivalent objects 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 warfare 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 reasonably than pipes for a similar cause.

Essentially 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 stress. It was meant as a spot for Canada’s central financial institution, the Financial institution of Canada, to put gold ought to an assault seem imminent. There’s no document that the financial institution ever delivered gold there, a Financial institution of Canada spokesman mentioned, and the vault grew to become a health club within the Nineteen 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 people and injured 13 others on the province’s legislative meeting.

The complicated was designed to retailer sufficient meals and generator gasoline to assist occupants for 30 days after a nuclear assault, underneath 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. In the end, 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 funds.

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

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

Whereas bunkers from varied wars are dotted world wide and open to guests, main Chilly Warfare ones are a lot much less widespread. A decommissioned bunker underneath the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia — meant to carry the entire members of Congress — offers tours, 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, organising and sustaining communications and pc infrastructure. He was one of many 540 individuals, 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 Chilly Warfare 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 capacity to remind guests of threats previous and current. “Now, China is beginning to flex their muscle mass, and the Russians? Properly, I don’t perceive what they’re doing in any respect. To me, it’s madness.”

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