The survivors would envy the dead.

War Cabinet Room, Level 300, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

The War Cabinet Room in the Diefenbunker was located just down the corridor from the Prime Minister’s Suite, which was featured in yesterday’s post. In the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War, Canada would have been governed from the room pictured above. The War Cabinet consisted of the Governor General, the Prime Minister, and a minimum of three other ministers of the Crown.

In the 1960s, preparations for this scenario were carried out under the threat of global annihilation. In July 1963, Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev was quoted in Pravda as saying that, in the event of nuclear war, “The survivors would envy the dead.” President John F. Kennedy responded: “A full scale nuclear exchange, lasting less than 60 minutes…could wipe out more than 300 million Americans, Europeans, and Russians, as well as untold numbers elsewhere. And the survivors – as Chairman Khrushchev warned the Communist Chinese, ‘the survivors would envy the dead.’ For they would inherit a world so devastated by explosions and poison and fire that today we cannot conceive of its horrors.”

Exactly 50 years ago, in December 1961, Canada’s Central Emergency Government Headquarters, aka the Diefenbunker, became operational. During the Cold War, in the event of a nuclear attack, designated government officials would report to Canada’s flagship bunker in Carp. It contained over 300 rooms and was designed to shelter 535 individuals. Built secretly between 1959 and 1961 just outside of Ottawa, the Diefenbunker was nicknamed after Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker.

The Diefenbunker is now Canada’s Cold War Museum. For more information please visit

One thought on “The survivors would envy the dead.

  1. No wonder survivors would envy the dead. Formal composition of photo completely captures deadly sterility of war cabinet room – and the utter futility of any attempt to govern an apocalyptic world.

    Just loved the colour and composition of ‘Shower’.

    A most intriguing series. Have been to Diefen B. twice and these photos have opened up new perspectives and ideas about the bunker and its purpose.

    Moreover, Diefenbaker was such a pompous, presumptive prig that this bunker constitutes a fitting memorial. Very much a moral. A cautionary tale, maybe?

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