Diefenbunkers: Inside Canada’s Emergency Government Headquarters

Canada's Emergency Government Headquarters aka Diefenbunker (Image: Z22; Canada’s Emergency Government Headquarters)

At the height of the Cold War, when Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker authorised the construction of more than 50 emergency bunkers across the vast North American country, the Liberal opposition would ensure that his name was given to the facilities, also. They were called “Diefenbunkers”.

(Images: Iouri Goussev)

When the Emergency Government Headquarters were built in the 1960s, their construction was a closely guarded secret. The so-called Diefenbunkers were designed to withstand a nuclear blast, and each one was adequately outfitted to ensure the survival of those who took shelter there. Most could support a few dozen people for a period of several weeks, but the largest bunkers were designated shelters for all critical Canadian governmental operations.

(Images: Iouri Goussev)

The biggest bunker in the chain of Emergency Government Headquarters was outside of Carp, Ottawa. Others – in Nanaimo (British Columbia), Penhold (Alberta), Shilo (Manitoba), Borden (Ontario), Valcatier (Quebec), and Debert (Nova Scotia) – were designated Regional Emergency Government Headquarters, or REGHQs.

(Images: Iouri Goussev)

The CFS Carp facility could support 535 people for 30 days, and it remained an active communications hub even after the Cold War ended. It wasn’t until 1994 that the nuclear fallout facility was finally decommissioned. It’s since been opened to the public as a Cold War museum (more here).

(Images: Iouri Goussev)

Other Diefenbunkers have apparently witnessed a stranger post-Cold War life. One, Alberta’s Penhold location was decommissioned and sold to a public figure. When it went up for sale again, it was rumoured that an outlaw biker gang was looking to purchase it for their club headquarters. The government bought the abandoned fallout facility back and demolished it.

(Images: Iouri Goussev)

Those visiting the CFS Carp facility outside Ottawa are in for a fascinating – and chilling – glimpse into Canadian Cold War history, where retro computer consoles, dated conference rooms, ration packs, and alarming diagrams all tell the story of what would have prevailed (hopefully) in the event of a nuclear strike.

Fan of Cold War history? If so, don’t miss our feature covering 10 Abandoned Nuclear Bunkers, Missile Silos & Ammunition Dumps across the world.



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