Haute Vitrine

PHOTOGRAPHS by LESLIE HOSSACK

Tag: Cold War

The Cuban Missile Crisis – 50 Years Later

FALLOUT, an exhibition of The Diefenbunker Photographs by Leslie Hossack currently on view at The Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum, has been extended until 31 December 2012.

The Diefenbunker was Canada’s Central Emergency Government Headquarters throughout the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis exactly 50 years ago, the federal government made plans to move there, but never did.

FALLOUT is a collection of interpretative photographs of the Diefenbunker which became operational in 1961. It was designed to shelter 535 designated officials charged with maintaining a thin thread of government in the event of nuclear attack. And the world did come very close to the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

Leslie Hossack’s photographs explore the singular question of simple human survival. Her images are haunted by her childhood memories of the Cold War, and by her preoccupation with issues of inclusion and exclusion, change and continuity, longing and loss.

When I first visited the Diefenbunker, I felt a visceral connection. I felt strangely at home in Canada’s Cold War Museum. I have always been attracted to locations linked to the monumental events of the 20th century: Stalinist buildings in Moscow, Nazi architecture in Berlin, sacred sites in Jerusalem.  – L. H.

Iron Curtain descends and the Cold War begins; Berlin Wall falls and the Cold War ends

Blast Tunnel, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

Shown in the photograph above is the view seen as you exit the Diefenbunker, turn left into the blast tunnel, and begin the climb back to the surface. Thus, this series ends where it began – in the 378-foot-long blast tunnel designed to allow the pressure wavefront caused by a nuclear blast to pass by the entrance. The bunker doors are located at a right angle, midway down the 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 structure.

Just over 50 years ago, in December 1961, Canada’s Central Emergency Government Headquarters, aka the Diefenbunker, became operational. 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 bunker was a massive complex of office spaces, sleeping quarters, dining areas, medical facilities and decontamination chambers, all of which can be seen in previous posts.

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-story 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.

After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Cold War drew to a close. The Diefenbunker was shut down in 1994, after 33 years of operation. It is now Canada’s Cold War Museum and a National Historic Site. For more information, please visit Canada’s Cold War Museum and Parks Canada.

preventing anarchy after a Soviet nuclear attack

Departmental Office, Level 300, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

In December 1961, Canada’s Central Emergency Government Headquarters, aka the Diefenbunker, became operational. During the Cold War, in the event of a Soviet 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 image above shows one of the 18 federal government departmental offices in the bunker. Pictured here is the office of Energy Mines and Resources, outfitted with furniture and equipment from the 1980s and 1990s. (To see more details, please click on the photograph.)

Located on Level 300, near the War Cabinet Room, were offices for the departments of Agriculture, Canadian Mortgage and Housing, Public Works, and so on. Approximately 20 to 30 officials would work in each department. During a nuclear attack, these individuals would provide support to their Ministers who would brief government representatives assembled in the massive underground bunker. The Secretariat would coordinate the flow of information between the War Cabinet and the various government departments.

The Diefenbunker was shut down in 1994, after 33 years of operation. It is now Canada’s Cold War Museum and a National Historic Site. For more information, please visit Canada’s Cold War Museum and Parks Canada.

Nikita Khrushchev: we will bury you

Cabinet Secretariat, Level 300, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

During the Cold War, political rhetoric was designed to intimidate enemy governments and their individual citizens. In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev told western diplomats: “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.” Desperate times called for desperate measures.

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 Cabinet Secretariat. It is located on Level 300 of the bunker, adjacent to the War Cabinet Room. This would have been the office for almost two dozen staff from the Privy Council Secretariat, the Treasury Board Secretariat, and the Prime Minister’s Office. During a nuclear attack, the individuals working here would provide briefings and support to the government representatives assembled in the massive underground bunker. The Secretariat would also coordinate the flow of information between the War Cabinet and various government departments.

The Diefenbunker was shut down in 1994, after 33 years of operation. It is now Canada’s Cold War Museum and a National Historic Site. For more information, please visit Canada’s Cold War Museum and Parks Canada.

paper money worthless after nuclear attack

Corridor to Bank of Canada Vault, Level 100, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

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 an underground fallout shelter constructed on four levels. The photograph above shows a wide corridor located on the lowest level; it connects the main bunker to the Bank of Canada Vault, which is behind the viewer. The vault would have stored up to 800 tons of gold reserves. During a nuclear alert, the gold would have been transported to the bunker in 80 trucks from the main bank vaults in downtown Ottawa. If Canada had suffered a nuclear attack, paper money would have been worthless, and so would contaminated gold; so it was critical to protect the national gold reserve from radiation. As is evident from the figures painted on the walls, this corridor was also used as a fitness area.

The Diefenbunker was shut down in 1994, after 33 years of operation. It is now Canada’s Cold War Museum and a National Historic Site. For more information, please visit Canada’s Cold War Museum and Parks Canada.

the most dangerous two weeks in history

Main Dining Room, Level 200, The Diefenbunker, Ottawa 2010

© Leslie Hossack

The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 has been called the most dangerous two weeks in history. For detailed information about this event, please visit Thirteen Days in October. The year 1962 marked the height of the Cold War.

A year 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 main dining room. Located three levels down in the four-story bunker, it could accommodate up to 200 people at a time. The furniture seen here, none of which is original to the bunker, is typical of the mid 1980s. Just out of view is the main lounge with pool tables and other recreational activities. There is also a canteen in this area.

The Diefenbunker was shut down in 1994, after 33 years of operation. It is now Canada’s Cold War Museum and a National Historic Site. For more information, please visit Canada’s Cold War Museum and Parks Canada.

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.