Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Diefenbunker near Ottawa a Massive Monument to Canada's Cold War Era

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Diefenbunker near Ottawa a Massive Monument to Canada's Cold War Era

Article excerpt

Diefenbunker a monument to Canada's Cold War era


CARP, Ont. - Mike Braham could tell you stories all day about the life of soldiers working underground in Canada's most famous bunker.

There's the one about the two guys who lived there for two months before the military made them get some fresh air. Or the cat that broke in and took up residence in the Central Emergency Government Headquarters, better known as the Diefenbunker.

Braham knows the stories not only because he's been a tour guide at the museum for eight years, but because also at one time he was on the list of 535 men and women -- among them the governor general, prime minister and senior cabinet members -- who would be locked inside the bunker if the Soviet Union launched missiles at the Canadian capital.

Who wasn't on the list? Family of those 535 individuals.

"They didn't give too much thought to what it would be like when the doors locked down," Braham says, noting that it would have been "more than stressful" to be locked down underground not knowing how bad things were topside.

Luckily the facility was never used in an emergency and now sits as a massive monument to Canada's Cold War era.

The Diefenbunker, officially opened as a museum in 1999, is in a nondescript area of Carp, Ont., about 35 kilometres from Parliament Hill, or a 30-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. The area around it is tranquil with rolling fields where cows graze. The heart of the village and the local fairgrounds are short walks from the museum site.

Being run by a private, not-for-profit group, there is no grand building like those at nationally funded museums in and near the heart of the capital.

The Diefenbunker was an active military facility until 1994 at which time it was designated a national historic site.

Upon its closure, the military moved much of its equipment out of the bunker and let the locals in. (One farmer actually stole the bed reserved for the prime minister, which museum officials were able to retrieve and now have on display.)

The next year, locals grabbed flashlights and started leading tourists down the musty, metallic and concrete-laden blast tunnel (which, years later, actor Morgan Freeman walked down in a scene for the Hollywood political thriller "The Sum of All Fears") and through the corridors connected to, among other things, the CBC-Radio Canada transmission booth, the emergency cabinet room and smaller Canadian versions of the war room and "big board" from "Dr. …

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