Canada’s Forgotten “Little Bunkers”
1 Since the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, there has been a growing interest in the history of the Cold War. The work of authors Sean Maloney and Paul Ozorak, among others, has drawn attention to the Canadian government’s role in national and civil defence measures during this period.1 The “Diefenbunker” at Carp, west of Ottawa, now being restored and operated as a museum, serves as a fascinating reminder of the Canadian Government’s efforts to defend against nuclear attack. This complex, massive by Canadian standards, was never large enough to accommodate all the personnel and operations that would have been necessary during a national emergancy. Maloney and Ozarak allude to a network of other, smaller, facilities distributed throughout the Ottawa area. The “Diefenbunker Tours 1997” pamphlet refers to “some smaller bunkers” and to “a variety of relocation sites dotted throughout the country.” The purpose of this article is to explore the role of these smaller installations within the civil defence network in the Ottawa area and illuminate an important but neglected aspect of Canada’s Cold War preparations.
2 The Cold War developed from mutual distrust and hostility between the Soviet Union and its former Western Allies as they faced each other across a divided Europe following the Second World War. When the Soviets seized power in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and blockaded Berlin in 1948-49, the Allies responded in April 1949 by forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to present a united front against communist aggression. After the explosion of the first Soviet atomic bomb in August 1949 the possibility of a devastating nuclear attack became an omnipresent concern of both sides in the Cold War.
3 In Canada, preparations against Soviet attack began as early as October 1948 with the appointment by the federal government of recently retired Major-General F. F. Worthington to the position of Civil Defence Coordinator. The office initially operated within the Department of National Defence, but in February 1951 was transferred to the Department of Health and Welfare.2 Concern over possible Soviet attack increased after the successful explosion of their first atomic bomb as tension increased during the Korean War of 1950-53. The Soviets successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb in 1954, one year after the Americans. Not only was this device vastly more powerful than the previous atomic weapons, but the adoption of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to replace manned bombers as the main delivery system meant that an attack could be completed with considerably less warning than was previously the case.
4 In 1956 the Liberal government of Louis St Laurent appointed an intergovernmental departmental working group to investigate Canada’s civil and military preparedness. Its report, presented in January 1957, recommended the construction of an emergency headquarters for the federal government near Ottawa, and smaller regional headquarters in each province. It also recommended that the civil defence organization within the Department of Health and Welfare be reorganized into a larger agency with responsibility for co-ordinating overall “Continuity of Government” planning, and report directly to the prime minister.3
5 Within one month of winning the election of June 1957, the new Conservative government, under the leadership of John Diefenbaker, accepted the recommendations of the 1956 working group and established the new co-ordinating agency called the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO). Its Director, R B. Curry, reported to the Clerk of the Privy Council. In 1959 the government expanded the EMO’s mandate to include the protection of the civilian population as well as continuity of government.4
6 The new Conservative government also approved the construction of the Diefenbunker, a huge, self-sufficient, shock-resistant, reinforced, radiation-proof underground complex with an elaborate protected communications network, built between 1959 and 1962.5 Its official name, Project EASE (Experimental Army Signals Establishment), was intended to disguise its actual role as Canadian Emergency Government Headquarters (CEGHQ). Here the prime minister, Governor-General, senior government, civil defence, judicial, police and military officials would be housed in relative safety during a nuclear attack.6
7 EASE was the nerve centre of the Emergency Radio Relay (ERR) system that linked the Diefenbunker to its regional counterparts in Debert, Nova Scotia; Valcartier, Quebec; Camp Borden, Ontario; Penhold, Alberta; and Nanaimo, British Columbia (plans for comparable facilities in Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba were never implemented). These had been built under Project BRIDGE and were known officially as Regional Emergency Government Headquarters (REGHQs). It also provided communication with NATO and North American Air Command (NORAD) headquarters as well as with air surveillance (radar) tracking stations and air defence units.
8 Each REGHQ was the focal point of its own regional communications and public emergency broadcasting network. The Canadian Army’s 1st Army Signals Squadron, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS), operated all communications systems, using the new STRAD (Signals Transmission Receiving and Distribution) computer system in the Diefenbunker. Two unattended antenna yards at Dunrobin and Almonte picked up incoming signals and relayed them through buried land lines to the main receiver inside the Diefenbunker. A third underground cable connected the Diefenbunker to a radio transmitter station at the “Richardson Detachment,” located between Perth and Smiths Falls. This facility consisted of a two-story bunker and a transmitter antenna yard, manned by about twenty army communications personnel. A fourth underground cable connected Richardson to the Federal Department Relocation Site (discussed below) in the basement of the Federal Building at Smiths Falls.7
9 Nuclear tension between the two super powers reached a peak in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of war over the presence of Soviet nuclear warheads in Cuba. Once the Soviets agreed to withdraw their weapons, tensions began to ease as the two superpowers contemplated the consequences of their brush with mutual annihilation. In 1963 they signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and ongoing negotiations ushered in a decade of détente. Canadian civil and national defence budgets, which had increased annually throughout the 1950s to peak in fiscal year 1961/62, declined thereafter as steadily as they had risen.8
Continuity of Government
10 “Continuity of Government” (COG) was defined as those measures taken to keep the essential functions of government operating during a nuclear attack, and to restore order after the emergency had subsided. Project RUSTIC provided plans for designated government officials to escape to safe havens, such as the Diefenbunker, once a nuclear attack against Ottawa was confirmed. Here, they would be accommodated during the initial “shock” phase of up to fourteen days, and then be in a position to manage the re-establishment of civil authority during the ensuing thirty-day “recovery” phase. EMO co-ordinated the overall civilian COG component, identified areas of responsibility for various departments and encouraged them to develop emergency plans, identify and store essential records and provide instructions and postings to key officials according to departmental “manning” plans.9
11 Following the Berlin Crisis of 1948-49, the Canadian army adopted informal plans to use a number of sites in the Ottawa area as emergency headquarters in case the capital was attacked. Constructed in 1954 as a site for training civil defence workers, the Canadian Civil Defence College in Arnprior, north of Ottawa, the site of an old airfield, became the temporary emergency government headquarters. In 1957, when the decision was made to build the Diefenbunker, the Canadian Army base at Petawawa was designated interim CEGHQ until die Diefenbunker opened in 1962. This facility combined the functions of both DND military headquarters and civilian COG emergency headquarters.
12 Even as construction of the Diefenbunker began, COG planners clearly realized that the new complex would be too small to accommodate the required number of essential emergency personnel, since the search for alternate accommodations began almost immediately. A separate but related requirement was space to stockpile supplies for the relief of civilian evacuees from Ottawa in the after math of a nuclear attack. To minimize costs they considered basements in existing buildings such as schools, churches and community centres. Closer examination showed most of these buildings to be too crowded or already in use, so EMO decided to construct two entirely new buildings for this purpose, called Federal Readiness Units, in Kemptville and in Carleton Place.
13 Being above ground, these buildings were only suitable for use during the recovery phase of an attack, leaving open the question of how to accommodate additional federal emergency personnel during the shock phase. To secure the necessary “Relocation Sites,” EMO devised a four-part strategy. First, it identified temporary unprotected basement accommodations in existing federal buildings in Renfrew and Pembroke. Second, it arranged for future federal buildings in suitable locations to be built with special protected basements. For example, the basement of the new Federal Building in Smiths Falls, then under construction, would become a relocation site. Third, it developed specifications for a protected basement to be included in a new building planned for the Canadian Civil Defence College in Arnprior. Fourth, two more relocation sites, each capable of accommodating forty people, were excavated beneath the Readiness Units already under construction at Kemptville and Carleton Place in 1961, at a cost of $25 671.10
14 Relocation sites served as rallying points for departmental officials with assignments under RUSTIC’S manning plans and formed centres from which these officials could carry out essential government operations and provide support to the group at the Diefenbunker. RUSTIC planners chose locations west of Ottawa, upwind of the target, to avoid radiation from the fell-out pattern, expected to be carried east of the city by the region’s prevailing westerly winds. Logic dictated that they should be far enough away from the target to be immune from the immediate effects of the detonation. They should also be close enough that assigned personnel could reach them by motor vehicle in about an hour and have basic operations and communications set up within three hours.11 (Fig. 2).
15 Designated personnel were expected to report to their emergency assignments using their own automobiles, if possible, especially if an alert was broadcast outside normal working hours. Advance and intermediate parties could board special buses marked “RUSTIC” at the Supreme Court Building on Wellington Street in Ottawa and be driven to their designated emergency assignments. Alternatively, they could flag down a bus at any point along the route, using a flashlight at night. In the event of a “crash action” alert, the highest level of emergency warning, special trains would depart Union Station, the major railway transportation hub in downtown Ottawa (across from the Chateau Laurier Hotel), to take personnel to their designated relocation sites along Canadian Pacific Railway lines.12
16 The Kemptville and Carleton Place Relocation Sites were originally intended to accommodate forty people for up to fourteen or fifteen days. To maximize the use of this space, EMO adopted the “hotbed” system, rotating twelve-hour shifts so that two people shared one bed, that allowed eighty people to be sequestered under austere conditions, since only forty would be on duty or sleeping at any time.13
17 In 1961, EMO recommended to an Interdepartmental Committee on Civil Emergency Planning that the underground facilities in Kemptville and Carleton Place both be enlarged to accommodate an additional 100 people, for a total of 180 people each.14 At the same time, it arranged for the Department of Public Works to proceed with the construction of a bunker under the Canadian Civil Defence College in Arnprior, which was to accommodate 100 emergency personnel. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, however, the government had only two protected Relocation Sites in the Ottawa area other than the Diefenbunker: those at Kemptville and Carleton Place. Cabinet ministerial personnel were to be divided among the three locations to ensure continuity of leadership should one or even two be disabled in an attack. Only later, some time during 1963 or 1964, did the third relocation site in Smiths Falls become operational as well.15
18 As seen above, expenditures for COG measures declined after 1962. Significantly, in 1963 EMO was moved from the Privy Council Office to the less central Ministry of Defence Production. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson, which replaced Diefenbaker’s Conservatives in 1963, continued to develop and refine plans for civil defence involving EMO, but little of significance was accomplished between then and 1967, when the government embarked upon serious budget cutting to deal with mounting inflation.16
19 In 1964, EMO disposed of plans to expand the Kemptville and Carleton Place basement units, and instead proposed that plans for the bunker at Arnprior be revised to provide accommodation for 200 or more people. At the same time, shrinking budgets made it necessary to cancel plans to enlarge the Diefenbunker at Carp.17
20 For a time, EMO considered an alternate long-term plan to construct Relocation Sites in the basements of federal buildings in Cornwall and Almonte. EMO soon ruled out Cornwall as the location for a relocation site because of its proximity to the Moses-Saunders Hydro-Electric Generating Plant, a likely target for nuclear attack.18 Nor was a relocation site ever constructed at Almonte. The Royal Military College, Old Fort Henry in Kingston, and the Federal Building in Brockville were for a time considered as alternatives, but were rejected because the facilities were too intensively used and too far from Ottawa.19
21 In 1966, EMO recommended that, pending more satisfactory economic conditions, unprotected above ground accommodation at the Canadian Civil Defence College in Arnprior be used as a Relocation Site until its underground bunker was completed. At the same time, RUSTIC personnel were also authorized to occupy the above ground, or “general areas,” of the units in Kemptville and Carleton Place if radiation levels remained at acceptable levels. EMO estimated that each site could house up to 243 people, if they used the unprotected above-ground portion as well as the eighty places in the protected bunker below ground. In addition, it proposed that staff could use off-site storage and living accommodation as long as it was close enough to reach the shelter quickly in the event of a fallout warning. The Smiths Falls relocation site was reorganized to accommodate eighty people (up from its original sixty) but, since the above ground portion was already occupied by the Post Office and a number of other government offices, arranging for use of the building’s unprotected areas was more difficult. Officials hoped that, once the Arnprior Relocation Site was completed, assignments could be redistributed so that Kemptville and Carleton Place would only be required to house a maximum total staff of 168. In the interim, EMO had no choice but to settle for significantly reduced operational capacity should an emergency occur.
22 After closer examination, EMO analysts questioned whether the Kemptville and Carleton Place building systems had the capacity to accommodate such large numbers of people. Would the wells, storage capacity, sewage and air conditioning systems be adequate to support eighty people over fourteen days when they had originally been designed for only forty, let alone a further 200 or more people above ground?20 Such concerns resulted in plans to install a relocation site in Pembroke. This would ease demands on the existing sites, and further disperse the program. The distance of Pembroke from Ottawa and its direction upwind were within guidelines.
23 Under a new prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, EMO’s budget was slashed and its staff cut by a third in the federal budget of 1968/69. In July 1968, responsibility for the organization was moved yet again, this time to the relatively junior deputy minister of national defence. Serious thinking began as to what sites could be maintained and it was about this time that the term Public Service Training Centre (PSTC), presumably to refer to the above ground portion, begins to appear in government documents with reference to the Kemptville and Carleton Place sites.21
24 As of September 1968, official documents refer to five protected relocation sites planned for the Ottawa region:
- Public Service Commission Training and Development Centre — Highway 16, Kemptville.
- Public Service Commission Training and Development Centre — Highway 29, Carleton Place.
- Federal Building — Market Street North, Smiths Falls.
- Federal Building — Mackay and Pembroke Streets, Pembroke.
- Canadian Civil Defence College — Arnprior 22
25 Only the first three sites would ever be operational. The proposed relocation site at the Canadian Civil Defence College in Arnprior, intended to house up to 280 people and planned for completion in 1967, was plagued by funding shortages and labour disruptions, and was never completed.23 Also, the proposed relocation site in Pembroke never progressed beyond the planning stages. Basement space in federal buildings in Smiths Falls was reassigned and the access tunnels filled in. Only the Kemptville and Carleton Place sites managed to survive. Government reports from 1968 reveal that by then, both buildings, or at least their basements, were showing unmistakable signs of neglect.24
The Kemptville and Carleton Place Buildings
26 The buildings at Kemptville and Carleton Place are the only Canadian Cold War installations in the Ottawa area, apart from the Diefenbunker, to survive to the present time. They are also an interesting case study as they incorporated most of the varied operations associated with both civil and national defence that COG installed to the west of Ottawa, beyond the Diefenbunker. Each is a two-storey frame structure resembling a military barracks, occupying 12 000 square feet above ground and 6 000 below ground. Even today, they are virtually identical in appearance. As to the operations carried out there, both primary and secondary sources tend to use a number of terms interchangeably and obscure their complementary but very distinct roles. The following, it is hoped, will help clear up some of the confusion.
Welfare Service Accommodation Centre (WSAC)
27 Ozorak points out that this was the term first used to designate the Kemptville and Carleton Place buildings. It most likely came into use before 1957, when the Department of Health and Welfare was still responsible for civil defence. With the formation of EMO in that year, COG reassigned many of those responsibilities to other federal government departments, and probably introduced the term Federal Readiness Unit to reflect this shared responsibility under EMO co-ordination. Health and Welfare officials, however, continued to refer to both buildings as WSACs throughout the period.
28 The Welfare side of the Department of Health and Welfare retained responsibility for activities consistent with its peacetime mandate. In a national emergency. Welfare was responsible for assisting provincial and municipal governments in feeding, clothing and lodging evacuees, providing emergency aid in cash or in kind, and ensuring the continuity of normal welfare programs, such as the Canada Pension Plan, Family Allowances and Old Age Security. In addition, the Registration and Inquiry Service was mandated to facilitate the reuniting of separated families (e.g., to register and find missing persons), to register evacuees from the disaster area, to register injured persons, and to identify the dead. Welfare planners developed several forms (or rather adapted them from American samples) that included an Unidentified Person Form, a Missing Person Form, a Missing Person Report, a Change of Address Form, and a Safety Notification Card. Each WSAC stockpiled a supply of these forms in the Readiness Unit to be used during the recovery phase to track the changing demographics of the disaster area and to care for those affected.25
Federal Department Relocation Site (FDRS)
29 Also called Federal Relocation Sites or Central Relegation Units, these protected “fallout shelters” were invariably below ground level. When applied to the Kemptville and Carleton Place buildings, the term properly refers to the basement portion only. Because they were intended to house manning personnel for the duration of the two-week shock phase, they had to be self-contained, reinforced against impact, and radiation proof. Hence, the walls were constructed of thick reinforced concrete. Each shelter had an operations and information display centre, work areas, a kitchen, dining room, dormitories, and a sickbay. Storage rooms contained food, equipment. and supplies to sustain eighty people for fourteen or fifteen days. The message and communications centre and essential records vault were centrally located. Access could be gained only by passing through a decontamination area with a disrobing area, showers, a supply of clean clothing, and a dressing area. It was located at the bottom of the stairway that led down from the front entrance on the ground floor. The facility drew electricity from the local commercial power supply, but standby power was available from an emergency generator. Life support systems included a heating system with fifteen days supply of fuel, air conditioning, and a ventilation system designed to filter outside air for radioactive particles. Relocation sites were constructed on solid bedrock for maximum stability. Occupants drew water from on-site wells.26
30 Two tunnels led from the exterior to the decontamination area. Personnel could enter or escape the bunker through heavy steel interior doors, while it remained sealed off from the readiness unit. Sand was packed into the tunnels to prevent collapse and provide an airtight seal against radiation, but could be removed to facilitate access or egress, and the tunnels refilled.
31 Both sites still contain their original diesel generators. The one in Kemptville was still working during the ice storm in 1998. The original furnace is still in use at Carleton Place, although a modern burner has been installed. Much of the old drainage equipment is still operational, but both basements have had periodic problems with water seepage and flooding over the years.27
32 The personnel of a relocation site included an administrative element made up of a site manager, a Department of Public Works engineer, an administrative support person, plus a communications staff of between seven and ten people. In addition, an operational element included a National Health Services home economist, a medical doctor, and an officer from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The remainder were essential personnel selected from specific government departments (including several ministers and deputy ministers) and given assignments according to the department’s manning plan. The total was not to exceed eighty, assuming that only the protected portion of the building was to be occupied.28”
33 Should the officials occupying the Diefenbunker at Carp be unable to carry out their duties for whatever reason, the ministers assigned to the Kemptville relocation site would become the Federal Emergency Government of Canada The larger relocation site at Arnprior, once completed, was intended to assume this “standby” role.29
Federal Readiness Unit
34 A Readiness Unit was distinct from a relocation site in that it was above-ground (in the two two-storey wooden structures at Kemptville and Carleton Place) and was intended to assist the civilian population during the recovery phase. As noted previously, they could be occupied by Relocation site personnel during the shock phase as long as relatively low radiation levels made this feasible.
35 Evacuees would need to be fed and sheltered following an attack on Ottawa, and many would have been injured. Space was allocated to store army ration packs, medical kits, sleeping supplies (mattresses, pillows, linens, towels) and clothing. Each building had a hospital unit containing medical equipment, a well-equipped and provisioned kitchen suitable for feeding hundreds of people, and cabinets for reference materials and maps. EMO appointed a site manager (building administrator) to ensure a constant state of readiness. As the number of staff required to coordinate the recovery effort would have increased during an actual emergency, the site manager maintained office space, work areas, meeting rooms, dormitory areas, and storage space for supplies and equipment for their use.30
36 In peacetime, the site manager ensured that the equipment and supplies necessary for recovery would be available on very short notice. Routine duties included acquiring and storing office supplies and furniture and maintaining the equipment (typewriters, duplicating equipment, telephone, teletype, and generator) in good working order. He inspected medical kits every six months and replaced dated or deteriorated components, rotated perishable office supplies and emergency ration packs, ensured that an updated supply of maps and Dominion Bureau of Statistics publications was available, and managed first aid, food handling, sanitary, and radiation reporting procedures. He was also required to “set up and maintain… nuclear reporting post equipment provided by the Army,” and to prepare and implement “nuclear reporting procedures.” The significance of this will be seen when Nuclear Detonation Reporting Posts (NUDETs) are discussed later on.31
Communications Relay Unit (CRU)
37 A dispersed network of small short-wave radio transmitter/receiver stations called Communications Relay Units (CRUs), also referred to as Communications Centres or Message Centres, was intended for the Ottawa region. These “terminals” had been among DND’s earliest priorities, and were to be located, where possible, inside protected facilities. Accordingly, three were installed, one in the each of the protected relocation sites at Kemptville, Carleton Place and Smiths Falls in addition to a number of other locations. The one at Smiths Falls was of particular importance because of its direct link by underground cable to Richardson Detachment. CRUs kept the relocation sites in constant communication with the Diefenbunker, which, in addition to co-ordinating communications at the national and international levels, served as the hub of a local dispersed communications network channeled through Emergency Radio Relay (ERR) System at the Richardson Detachment. While the relocation site was a civilian RUSTIC installation under EMO, the Communications Centre was a military operation that was part of project EASE, its communications specialists being members of 1 Army Signals Squadron. CRUs were equipped with a normal telephone service through the local civil telephone exchange and with special telephone circuits from the Diefenbunker switchboard linked to the local civil telephone exchange. They also had a teletype service through a network of telegraph lines leading to the Diefenbunker. Communications were kept secret through the use of cipher equipment.32
Nuclear Detonation Reporting Posts (NUDETs)
38 The Nuclear Detonation and Fallout Reporting System and the National Survival Attack Warning System provided instruments to determine and report the location of ground zero, the height of the burst, the yield of the weapon, the time of detonation and the intensity of the radioactive fallout. Trained specialists would analyze this information to allow for the latest known meteorological data in order to predict and monitor the fallout pattern and issue warnings to the public by means of radio broadcasts or sirens. NUDETs surrounded the sixteen Canadian cities considered potential targets. There were between three and five for each city located in a circular pattern at distances from the target of between 48 and 128 kilometres. For Ottawa, the designated locations for NUDET posts were Arnprior, Carleton Place, and Kemptville.
39 In an emergency, NUDETs were to be monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. An organization in the immediate vicinity, usually a nearby government agency (federal or provincial), national defence installation, police force or other body acceptable to EMO, had responsibility to maintain the apparatus. At Kemptville and Carleton Place, the Department of National Defence assigned responsibility to EMO. As noted above, this equipment and the operations associated with it were the responsibility of the site manager at both readiness/relocation units. The “manning” agency at Arnprior was to comprise staff of the Canadian Civil Defence College.33
40 After the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962, cautious optimism replaced the paranoia of a few years earlier, even as the superpowers were developing more powerful nuclear warheads and more sophisticated delivery systems. The protective measures included in Canada’s COG program came to be seen by Canadians as futile, so they turned to the only alternative that made any sense under the circumstances: finding ways to prevent rather than survive international nuclear conflict. Civil Defence in Canada entered a decade of benign neglect. Severe budget cuts beginning in 1968/69 forced EMO to abandon all plans for further development and to maintain those systems and installations already operational.34
41 The Kemptville and Carelton Place facilities were now used primarily as government training centres, providing classroom space to various government departments for training and development programs throughout the 1970s. The RCMP used the Carleton Place PSTC as a training facility from about 1986 to 1990. Following that, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Services (CSIS) occupied it for a number of years. In 1996 it was purchased by the Olde Barracks Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization whose mandate is to provide community services, which rents out office space and conference facilities.35
42 The RCMP acquired exclusive use of the Kemptville site during the early 1980s and continues to operate it as a training facility.36 In January 1998 the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history occurred when an ice storm caused massive interruption of electrical power for several weeks, affecting not only southern Ontario, but much of Quebec, the Maritimes and the northeastern United States. The government of Ontario declared a state of emergency and Emergency Preparedness Canada, a successor organization to EMC, whose prime focus is on relief from natural rather than military disasters, deployed army reservists to establish emergency shelters and assist civilian authorities throughout tire affected area. Canadian Forces personnel engaged in relief operations used both the Kemptville and Carleton Place buildings as command centres.
43 The Diefenbunker remained operational until decommissioned by the federal government in 1994. The Municipality of West Carleton purchased the complex and is currently restoring it and operating it as “The Diefenbunker Museum.” The Richardson Detachment transmitter site has since been dismantled, but the building was still in place in 1995 when Paul Ozorak took photographs of it to include in his book Bunkers Bunkers Everywhere.37
44 It is difficult to resist the temptation to compare Canadian Cold War bunkers with their American counterparts which, like Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, were virtual underground cities. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once wrote that “Canadian leaders had a narrow margin for maneuver that they utilized with extraordinary skill.”38 The same could be said of Canada’s civil defence planners as they attempted to implement a practicable continuity of government program without the vast resources available to the Americans. With restrictions on the size and number of centralized facilities that could be built, they opted for the next best alternative. They dispersed COG operations over a broad area to minimize the possibility of the entire system being put out of action at once, and used existing accommodation whenever possible to minimize the expense.
45 Despite these preparations, Canadian military analysts for the most part continued to believe that the main targets of a Soviet nuclear attack would be in Europe or the United States and that strikes against Canada, if they occurred, would be limited, diversionary, or even accidental.39 Increasingly, they came to the view that if a concentrated attack on the national capital did occur, the destruction would have been massive. One veteran of the program assured the author that it was generally accepted by informed insiders by the mid-1960s that even a “tactical hit” on Ottawa by a Soviet weapon of the magnitude readily available, would have left little of Canada’s COG infrastructure intact.40 There is, perhaps, an irony in the timing of Canada’s Cold War preparations. The establishment of a functioning COG network and the peak of federal defence spending coincided with the height of international tensions in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. But virtually the moment they became operational the crisis passed, other priorities intervened and they began their decline into obsolescence.
46 The “little bunkers” served their purpose for a brief period of time. But, with the advent of more sophisticated military technologies, the shifting realities of international politics and changing fiscal priorities, they quickly outlived their usefulness. They were successful in one major respect. Given the paramount importance of secrecy for any program of civil defence, they never became well enough known to be forgotten.
I would like to express my appreciation to the following people for their generous help in preparing this research report: Cold War Historian Paul Ozorak; Brian Dewalt, Curator of Communications Technology at the Canada Science and Technology Museum; Sandra Salmins, Building Manager of the Olde Barracks Conference and Meeting Centre; Doug Hildebrand, Curator of the Canadian Forces Communications and Electronics Museum; Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sergeant Ed MacDonald, and especially Historian Cameron Pulsifer from the Canadian War Museum. The essay is dedicated to the late Bruno Besner, one of the workers who participated in the excavation of the Kemptville “bunker.”