Feature Travel Blog: The Diefenbunker

Darcy, Myself and Ray at The Diefenbunker

I had never heard of this even being here. In my search for strange and interesting places The Diefenbunker popped up on my radar. I decided to travel to Carp Ontario to see what this actually is. I asked if any of my friends in the area wanted to take a look with me and Darcy and Ray thought it would be pretty interesting too. Come along as we walk back in time and check this out!

Diefenbunker Entrance

The year was 1959 and the cold war and rumors of a nuclear attack was in the air. Our Prime Minister at the time was John Diefenbaker. With a nuclear threat on Canada, Prime Minister Diefenbaker commissioned a bunker to be built to house government and military men and women to bring the country back from a nuclear disaster. This is an impressive structure. 100,000 Sq feet over four floors. As you walk up to the building you cannot even tell there is a structure, never mind four floors under the earth.

There is a bunker under there

Walking through the tunnel it really did feel as if you were walking through a time tunnel. I was not born in 1959 but close, and it was just like I was transported to my childhood. Some things a little different but the atmosphere was definitely a 1960’s feel with a military purpose.

The structure itself is four floors of survival. It was built to withstand a blast from a 5 megaton nuclear blast from 1.8 km away. It held enough rations to last 30 days for 535 people. Always stocked and ready to be locked down at any time. This incredible structure took less than 18 months to build and was a master of engineering. It was designed to be a communication hub, with computers, telephones, even a media studio. Also, it encompassed everyday living with a medical unit, kitchen and cafeteria gallery as well as separate sleeping quarters. Interestingly this fallout shelter, although thankfully never used for a nuclear attack, was used by military personel until it closed in 1994.

Let’s go in and explore.

A Tunnel back in Time

The first thing you would have done when you enter the facility is have two showers. The shower stalls were one after the other. After a sweep with a geiger counter to detect any radiation levels you may bring in with you, paper slippers were provided and you were off to the next step of entering the facility.

Geiger Counter and Paper Slippers

The medical and surgical units were on the first floor. When entering, the person would be checked out and made sure everything was OK before moving into the rest of the unit. I was impressed with the medical equipment they had on hand. This handy, not really, x-ray machine. At first I did not know what it was until I got right up to it and read the tag.

X-ray machine

The surgical unit was extensive. They seemed to be set up for any kind of emergency with a full operating theater. They had to plan to be isolated with no addition help or supplies from the outside world for no less than 30 days.

Operating room

There were two areas for patients. Regular rooms with beds side by side. I noticed with the beds that they were locked down to the floor. This was to keep them moving around in the event of the vibrations from a nuclear blast. The other room was a confinement area for people with serious illness or who mentally could not handle the strain of being in the fallout shelter and were a danger to others or themselves. No one was allowed to bring family members with them. Not even the Prime Minister. I could not imagine the decision to leave your loved ones behind, knowing their fate while you were safe underground.

Medical Patients Beds
Confinement Room

A full dentistry office was also available.

Dentistry Office

These steel doors were scattered throught the fallout shelter. I am not sure what was behind that door but I am thinking they were used to cut off certain portions of the facility in case of emergency. They were definitely a you are not going through here kind of doors. I did like the design of them.

Steel door

Teleprinters were used as the most secure type of communication for military and goverment communications around the world from the 1960’s to the early 1980’s. Communication with the outside world would have been critical in this time. Messages would come in coded and recieved by no less five people. They would then be handed through a slot in the wall to the next room where they would be decoded. The reverse would apply with outgoing messages. To keep these machines in good working order they had a Teleprinter Repair room. It was a very large room but back then they were very large machines. Interestingly enough that technology is still in use today with some aviation industries as well as helping the deaf to recieve phone calls through teletype messaging.

Teleprinter Repair Room

As we walked we noticed a hole in the wall. This was the escape hatch. If the main tunnel had collapse this was their way out. The hole at the top was covered with plexiglass and filled with pea gravel to stop any outside antigens from getting in. If after the nuclear attack, they deemed the air quality as not hazardous, (they did this with sniffers outside that would communicate with the inside of the air quality), they would open the hatch and the gravel would fall into a pot below creating a vacuum to break the glass allowing them to climb outside.

Escape Hatch

Along with teleprinter communication they installed an emergency radio room in 1984. Mainly they used it for communicating with the other Provincial bunkers. There were a total of 50 bunkers built throught Canada. There is one other Provincial nuclear fallout shelter available for tour to the public, CFS Debert in Nova Scotia. All others are either still in use for military operations or have been destroyed.

Emergency Radio Room

I kind of giggled with the next exhibit we came across. This area held some of the food and dishes and a bathroom. The bathroom, well let’s just say it is not for the faint of heart. A dry toilet with a curtain for a door. Right beside it rations and dishes to eat to those rations. A sign on the wall tells you to put lime in the bucket when you are done and put the lid down. Good thing the air is constantly cleaned but I am wondering how many people lost their appetite when walking in. Lol

Dry toilet and rations

I love the little pink cans. Hoping they wiped the dishes off before using them. Lol

Rations and dishes

A small Kitchenette is also on this level. This very much takes me home. The steal legged table as well as the vinyl, pattern covered chairs. Like sitting in my Mom’s kitchen. I love the fake window, because we are under ground with the frill curtains and the yellow canisters on the counter. Remember the dial phones attached to the wall? Hahaha! I can remember pulling up a chair under the phone in our kitchen, but you could not talk long as we were on a party line. Four different houses shared our line. A different ring for each house. If you were on there too long someone would pick up the phone and tell you about it! Lol!

All ready for coffee

Developing and communicating strategies to help people on the outside was the mission of this shelter. The next few rooms offer an inside view on those strategies. The first room is a two tiered platform with the decision makers chairs on the top row. There were five chairs on the second tier with telephones in front of them. The calls would come in to what was happening from the communication rooms and relayed to the Prime Minister and his delegates. A large boardroom with a white board listing the departments and duties for a mass evacuation of the area.

Where the decisions are made

Now I have to tell you, walking into this boardroom and working for a federal corporation for a good part of my working career I felt I had been here before. Long after the sixties. Lol. Except when I was in those boardrooms there were no ashtrays on the tables.


On the wall of the boardroom there was a white board with the mass evacuation plan of the Eastern townships in Quebec. It was interesting to read. Everyone would be freely given anything they need to get out of the area. Medical and transportation arrangements that were to be made and areas specified.

Mass Evacuation Plans

Communication was the key to the operation. Next we would come to the computer rooms. As I looked at the sheer size of these devices and look at the phone I am now holding it is incredible to remember where it all started. Remember the data cards you have to fill out in high school? Ohhh that shows my age eh! It all brings me back to also the sounds of the computers running. The whirring of the machinery and ticking as it thought about it. With all that equipment in one room and the heat they used to generate I wonder what it would be like?

A gallery of computers
Where they make it all make sense
File storage

On the wall just outside this room are the tools of destruction. In case the bunker was breached the tools and instructions were readily available. A couple of hammers, scissors, a screwdriver and wire cutters. That will do the job I am sure.

Tools for destruction

The media center would have been an important part of this shelter. To inform the people of what is happening. Remember that noise that used to come from your TV with an announcement of “This is a test. A test of the emergency broadcasting system.” This is where the announcement would come from.

Broadcasting booth

The rooms where the servicemen would stay would consist of bunk beds and lockers. A couple of dressers and night stands. The room was for just the basics.

Service men’s rooms

The Prime Ministers suite was also on this floor. It also was quite basic with a single bed (remember even the Prime Minister could not bring family), a chair and a small private bathroom. Only the Prime Minister and Govener General had private suites. There would not be much privacy for anyone down here as the secretary to the Prime Minister’s office was right outside his suite. I love the intercom over the bed. That would get you moving I bet. A voice from above with a whole new meaning.

Prime Minister’s suite

A large cantene where you could get food, drinks or snacks. Tables were set up for dining as well as counter seating. This is where the servicemen would get their meals and socialize. It was a large room with cafeteria style serving. I love the green checkered floor and the tables and chairs set out for dining. The room also had billiard table and darts for after hours fun.

Canteen and social room

At the counter you could get anything from antacid medicine to black jack gum. A small store that the personnel could get an array of items from.

Darcy and Ray waiting for snacks.

The canned food storage just behind the canteen held the food that would be served. I am just wondering how long a can of peas really lasts?? Lol

Food rations

The final level held the cold storage and the morgue. Yup one and the same. Your leg of lamb would beside the leg of a man! Haha! That’s kind of creepy. Since the idea was they would be locked in for at least 30 days if anyone had passed away they could store the body here until they got out and it could be buried. There was enough space to fit food for over 500 people and if need be a couple of bodies.

Cold food storage and morgue

I was eagerly awaiting this visit maybe because I had a small moment with Prime Minister Diefenbaker when I was a little girl. My parents had taken me on a trip to Ottawa. My father was a WWII veteran and very interested in politics. As we walked outside parlimemt my Dad recognized Mr. Diefenbaker walking across the lawn. My Dad stopped him and shook his hand and they chatted for about 20 minutes. My Dad asked if he could take a picture with myself and Mr. Diefenbaker and he eagerly agreed. I remember standing beside him and you could feel the strength and honour that came with this man. In the end he shook my Dad’s hand and thanked him for his service, shook my Mom’s hand and patted my shoulder and told me what a brave and heroic man I had for a father. Something I already knew.

Myself and Mr. Diefenbaker

This was such an interesting tour of a well preserved historical time. I encourage everyone to take a walk back in this amazing time machine.

Thanks for coming along on my Chipmunk Adventure. See you next time!


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