Diefenbunker, new and improved!
The Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, is easily one of my favourite attractions in Canada’s capital region. Located about a half-hour’s drive west of the downtown core, in the small town of Carp, the Diefenbunker is a four-storey, 100,000-square-foot underground bunker. It was built between 1959 and 1961 to withstand the effects of a nuclear attack as the place where 535 members of Canada’s politicial and military elite could live self-contained for a month. It was named for John Diefenbaker, who was Prime Minister during its construction, but who never visited.
Because of fire and building code regulations, the Diefenbunker has been operating since 1998 with a maximum capacity of 60 visitors at a time. That meant you had to reserve a guided tour at a specific hour, and larger groups were a problem.
Now, after going through an extensive retrofit, the capacity has increased to 500! Today, June 28, they’re launching their new self-guided audio tours as part of the celebration of their upgrade. NOTE: if you visit, the temperature underground is a constant 15 degree Celsius or so (about 60 degrees Fahrenheit) so even if it’s hot hot hot outside, you might need a sweater below.
What can you see at the Diefenbunker?
- Blast tunnel – A long dark tunnel that is perpindicular to the “front door” and would have absorbed the worst of the nuclear blast. Spooky!
- Entrance door – A HUGE thick metal door (way bigger than any bank vault you’ve ever seen). Is it to keep people out, or in?
- Prime Minister’s suite – Impressive for its unimpressiveness. A private bathroom and an office area outside are the only things that differentiate his or her quarters from other senior staff. Note: it’s a SINGLE bed — spouses were not on the list!
- War Cabinet Room – Did you know that business groups can rent this out for board meetings? It’s dressed in ’60s / ’70s finery (including ashtrays at every place setting, old-style TVs mounted on wall brackets and analog clocks showing times around the world). The nearby room that shows fallout patterns across the country is also impressive.
- Decontamination shower – It actually looks more or less like a regular shower but the creepiness comes from considering its use!
- CanX – In the cafeteria, you can get a taste for life inside the bunker. Yes, you can purchase and eat military-style meal replacements… if you dare!
- Escape hatch – How do you get out of the Diefenbunker in an emergency? (HINT: it involves a narrow vertical tunnel). Nearby is also a scale model of the Diefenbunker and photos of its construction which helps you understand show how massive the structure really is. How could they have kept it a secret so long?
- Bank of Canada vault – In the event of an attack, the gold reserves of the Bank of Canada would have been transferred here by train. The coolest feature is the space around all 360 degrees of the vault, with mirrors in each corner. One guard, standing at the entrance, could see all the way around the vault (to stop anybody from trying to break in / drill through and steal the gold).
- Kids’ area (Rex Zero headquarters) – Based on a children’s book series by Tim Wynne-Jones about the Cold War, it’s a room done up as a child’s bedroom from the late ’50s / early ’60s. It’s often used by school groups.
- Exterior – The exterior is really not that spectacular (as it was a SECRET bunker for decades — they didn’t want to draw attention to it!) — just a metal shed surrounded by fencing but with a helicopter landing pad in the parking lot.
- Cold War Store – The store has great souvenirs, from model planes to old Cold War posters to gas masks and dosimeters (a device to measure the radioactivity in the air).
Enjoy your visit!