Diefenbunker celebrates 50th anniversary

by Leslie Hossack

Blast Tunnel, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Exactly 50 years ago, in December 1961, Canada’s Central Emergency Government Headquarters, aka the Diefenbunker, became operational. Today, Haute Vitrine launches a new series featuring photographs of Canada’s Cold War Museum, located in the Diefenbunker. Visitors enter by walking through the 378-foot-long blast tunnel seen in the photograph above. This tunnel is designed to allow the pressure wavefront caused by a nuclear blast to pass by the entrance doors of the bunker.

Built secretly between 1959 and 1961 just outside of Ottawa, the Diefenbunker was designed to protect government officials in the event of a nuclear attack. Nicknamed after Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, the Diefenbunker was a massive complex of office spaces, sleeping quarters, broadcasting facilities and decontamination chambers.

On August 21st 1958, Prime Minister Diefenbaker ordered the construction of the shelter at the height of the Cold War. The Central Emergency Government Headquarters was a four-storey underground shelter located west of Ottawa, near the village of Carp. Although its construction was to be kept secret, the size of the project forced Prime Minister Diefenbaker to acknowledge that the government was building a nuclear fallout shelter for the country’s leaders.

The Diefenbunker was designed for 535 people, with enough supplies to survive 30 days. The bunker entrance was located at a right angle midway down an open-ended tunnel. This design meant that an above-ground explosion would sweep through the tunnel without affecting the double airlock door at the front of the building. Shown in the photograph above is the view seen as you exit the bunker, turn left into the blast tunnel, and begin the climb back to the surface.

Please visit the Parks Canada site for more information about The Diefenbunker.

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