The Continuity of Government Program was conceived in the late 50s (during the height of the cold war) in an attempt to provide for a “thin thread” of continuous government in the event of a nuclear attack on North America. The threat at that time was primarily concerned with manned bombers originating in the Soviet Union, carrying large yield nuclear weapons targeted against military installations, economic/industrial infrastructure and population centres. Thus at the height of the Cold War, the Canadian government decided that leadership was essential in a nuclear crisis. This was announced in the House of Commons by then Prime Minister Diefenbaker (Hansard 1957) and agreed to by the leader of the Opposition Mr. Pierson. To ensure continuity of authority in a war emergency, plans and preparations were approved and developed. Central to their viability was the creation of a system of emergency government facilities. Originally about 60 of these installations were envisaged and vigorous construction activity in the early and mid 1960s led to the establishment of a nucleus of such shelter facilities.


The five principles of the Continuity of Government Program were as follows:

1. Protection of key government elements to ensure continuity of a recognized and duly constituted governmental authority.

2. Government had to be able to operate on a decentralized basis with Central, Regional and Zonal elements.

3. Governments located in areas with risk for direct attack had to be relocated to safer areas and be provided with fallout protection.

Those governments located in areas where the principal risk was radioactive fallout only had to be provided with fallout protected accommodation.

4. Lines of succession for senior elected officials and selected government officials had to be established.

5. Essential government records required for survival and recovery were to be identified and made accessible to wartime governments. 

The provision of protected locations from which a small number of selected elected and appointed officials with essential functions to perform and with special expertise and authority to respond to the effects of a nuclear defence crisis touched on each of the above principles, in particular the first three.


In the event of a nuclear defence emergency elected officials with the responsibility and the authority to legally govern the nation (i.e. the Governor‑in‑ Council) would have been deployed to various of the protected facilities. They would have been accompanied by selected elected and appointed officials of the federal government with responsibility for a number of functions essential to survival and recovery. They would have come, for the most part, from departments and agencies in the National Capital Region. Additionally a military and a small civilian staff would have been required to provide administration, maintenance and communications support. 

Officials would have been selected on the basis of the functions they were required to perform and not on the basis of “rank” or influence. General expertise and proven ability to work under operational pressures were required characteristics of this staff.

Roles and Hierarchy 

Generally the role of the various emergency government headquarters across the nation was to provide protected locations from which selected elected and appointed officials could have provide at least some government direction, coordination and information to the Canadian public and to those agencies attempting to help them. The regional and zonal facilities would have been more directly concerned with coordinating the required immediate response, whereas the Central Emergency Government Headquarters (CEGHQ) at Carp would have been primarily concerned with longer term post attack recovery.

The Central Emergency Government Facilities comprised the blast protected CEGHQ at Carp, Ontario with capacity for over 535 people plus Central Relocation Units (CRUs) at two specially constructed fallout protected building in Kemptville and Carleton Place and four fitted up basements of federal buildings in Cornwall, Smiths Falls, Arnprior and Pembrooke. The CRUs would have housed up to 600 additional officials and staff.

It was recognized that because of the limited space available at the CEGFs departments and agencies could not have operated in their usual manner from these facilities. Their main activities would have centred around collecting, collating, analysing, and assessing information from all available sources in order to brief and advise the Governor‑in‑Council (the GG, PM and War Cabinet) and departments and agencies, to the extent possible, on the impact of the attack on the population, the national infrastructure, and the nation’s ability to fight the war. This was intended to enable the cabinet to direct the fighting of the war and to begin preparations for the eventual recovery of the nation in the post attack period.

Considered as extension of the CEGHQ, the CRUs supported the activities of the CEGHQ by providing protected locations for additional supporting staff. However, the CRU at Smiths Falls was, primarily dedicated to providing an absolute minimal backup CEGHQ location. It provided only “lip service” attention to representing all departments and agencies, in the event that the CEGHQ was destroyed (or isolated by the telecommunications outages).

The Regional Emergency Government Headquarters (REGHQs) in the provinces had two primary roles. Firstly, they reflected the roles and functions of the Central EGFs by concerning themselves with national and regional policy matters and performing the executive functions of the Lieutenant‑Governor including preparations for eventual recovery. Secondly, the REGHQ was the highest level where detailed coordination of survival operations and other such assistance to the population would occur. Some REGHQs would have had Regional Relocation Units ( RRUs) to assist them in this task. The RRUs had the additional staff to provide support and backup of the REGHQ.

Zone Emergency Government Headquarters (ZEGHQs) would have existed in most provinces. They were primarily intended to reduce the number of municipalities reporting directly to REGHQs. While ZEGHQs had a role in preparations for eventual recovery, their most important work would have been the detailed coordination of resources and activities between municipalities in support of survival (including re‑entry) operations especially in the immediate post attack period.

Municipal Emergency Government Headquarters (MEGHQs) were based upon the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) concept which already existed (and continues to do so) in many municipalities. In times of crisis it was intended that these would be upgraded to provide some fallout protection. It would be at this level that the actual survival, re‑entry, rescue, assistance to survivor type operations would have been coordinated and actioned in detail. This was primarily because municipalities are where most of the resources actually existed in terms of people and materiel.

Departmental Functions

The basic role of officials of the various departments and agencies located at the EGFs was one of collecting, collating and briefing and advising the Governor‑in‑Council/War Cabinet on the impact of the nuclear attack on the civil population, the national infrastructure, and the conduct of the war.

In effect they could not have fully functioned in the usually accepted meaning of the term but they could have received information, analysed it and presented it (in brief) to the Cabinet as well as to other department and agency representatives. Departments would then have been in a position to assess the implications in their areas of concern and provide assessments to the Cabinet.

The Cabinet would then have been in a better position to be able to make decisions and provide direction to departments and agencies to facilitate the immediate response and longer term recovery in the post‑attack period.


It was considered quite unlikely that the occupation of the CEGHQ and CRUs would have been a sudden, hurried event. Rudimentary plans existed to cater to such an eventuality. More likely an increase in international tension would have led to a gradual build up in the staffing of these facilities. This would have put the facilities in an enhanced state of readiness and permitted the pre-positioning of people (with appropriate information and other support) to protected locations. Their role would have been to monitor the situation, to receive updating information on a continuous basis, and to form the informed core staff needed to advise the Governor‑in‑Council (or alternate) when it assumed leadership at the facility. It should be emphasized that the CEGHQ supported by the CRUs, would not have been performing its main role, that of advising the PM and the Cabinet as to the impact of the attack on the population and the infrastructure of the country during this time. They would only have been getting ready to perform this role during the period of increasing tension. Departments and Agencies would be continuing their normal operations from their usual office locations (or perhaps even special locations) up until the last possible moment.


While completion of the building of protected facilities and equipment necessary for implementation of the program was put on hold in 1968, accompanying cabinet direction ordered that the then existing emergency communications and protected facilities be maintained in a manner which would permit their rapid restoration to full operational condition in a matter of a few hours or a few days. However, detente and a scarcity of funds precluded further significant progress. In 1974 the central and six regional emergency government headquarters existed; the same number as 11 years earlier. To fill the gap, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick had been supplied with interim emergency facilities. Because it was concluded that Saskatchewan would be least affected by fallout in a nuclear attack it remained without provincial government emergency installations. The 1970s also revealed little progress in the construction of zonal emergency government headquarters (ZEGHQ). In 1974, Canada EMO’s last year of operation, seven permanent installations and five interim ZEGHQ’s were in existence. In addition, one regional and four central relocation units were operational.

In the intervening years facilities and their supporting communications, and other associated equipment, were maintained but to widely varying standards of readiness. Although much had been done in the early sixties it was evident there was considerable work to be accomplished before government could function effectively in a nuclear crisis

The threat changed considerably, especially in the later years of the Program It became more of a Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) / Sub-Surface Launched Ballistic Missile (SSLBM) low yield, militarily (especially strategic response capability) and industrially targeted type attack. Such an attack was not expected to be deliberately aimed at population centres. Furthermore the ever increasing accuracy of missiles, and the proliferation of warheads began to cast serious doubt on the survivability of any fixed location facility, no matter how much physical protection it afforded its occupants.