Canada’s Cold War Museum: The Diefenbunker

Located in Carp, a quiet rural farming community some 30 minutes west of Ottawa, is one of Canada’s most unusual buildings. Built in total secrecy at the height of the Cold War, Canadian Forces Station Carp (or CFS Carp) is a four-storey underground bunker meant to house Canada’s government in the event of a nuclear war. Today it is a National Historic Site and also serves as Canada’s Cold War Museum.

In 1958, then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker authorized the construction of some 50 Government Emergency Headquarters across the country, of which the Carp refuge was the largest (and only) in the vicinity of the capital. The shelter for the central government is commonly known as “The Diefenbunker”.

In case of an attack on the capital, the bunker was meant to house a list of 535 men and women deemed essential for the continuity of government, among them the Governor General, the Prime Minister, senior cabinet ministers, and support staff – but excluding their spouses. Under a nuclear fallout scenario, the shelter was self-sufficient with enough fresh water, air filtration, and food for 30 days. Everything was thought of – living quarters, medical facilities, radio communications, a cafeteria, even CBC broadcasting facilities. And on the bottom level, a Bank of Canada vault to house the country’s gold reserves behind a huge 30-ton door – remember Goldfinger? You can now rent the vault for weddings and corporate events!

Thankfully, the bunker was never actually used for its intended purpose. Now a massive relic of the Cold War era, it offers a fascinating glimpse into a period of history fraught with intrigue, fear, and cloak-and-dagger politics. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, and subsequently the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the military facility was decommissioned in 1994 and re-opened as a not-for-profit museum in 1999. It’s one of the most popular attractions in the Ottawa area.

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