1962: nuclear test ban talks end in failure

Kitchen, Level 200, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Exactly 50 years ago, in January 1962, Cold War tensions increased dramatically. The January 12, 1962 edition of Life featured a cover story entitled: The Drive for Mass Shelters, New Facts You Must Know About Fallout. And at the end of January, the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union announced that their three-year-old talks on banning the testing of nuclear weapons had ended in failure.

The month before, 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 photograph above shows the kitchen in the bunker. Open 24 hours a day, this facility served four meals a day, seven days a week, every day of the year for 33 years. There was always enough fresh food available for seven to ten days; after that individual meal packets (K-rations) would be served. The kitchen had three walk-in coolers for meat, dairy and vegetables. Fresh food was brought up in a dumb-waiter from a refrigerator one floor below; this frig could also serve as a morgue.

The Diefenbunker is a National Historic Site of Canada. For more information please visit Canada’s Cold War Museum and Parks Canada.

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