Looking for Something Off the Beaten Path? Try the Diefenbunker Cold War Museum
This article is part of the momondo experience series where momondo challenged me to find the quirkiest place to visit in Ottawa. I’d say this is it.
When most people come to Ottawa they plan on visiting the Parliament buildings, riding a double-decker bus or maybe even joining in on a yoga class on Parliament Hill. Ottawa is one of Canada’s crowning jewels and a fascinating city to visit. Loaded with history and fun things to do, you won’t regret making plans to visit. If you’re coming this far though and looking for something truly unique then you simply can’t miss the Diefenbunker Cold War Museum.
In 1958, at the height of the Cold War, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker commissioned several bunkers to be built across Canada that would serve as hubs for the government to continue operations in case an ICBM missile strike should come. The biggest of all these bunkers was built in Carp, just outside Ottawa and was only decommissioned in 1994, a mere twenty years ago. A long time resident of Ottawa, I had never visited before but as part of my Momondo challenge, I knew this was definitely the quirky adventure I needed to write about.
So what are my thoughts on Diefenbunker after spending half a day exploring it’s subterranean depths with my family? I have three words for you; creepy, amusing and hopeful. Let’s break it down.
This 100,000 square foot chemical, biological, and nuclear fallout shelter, travels four stories underground. The creepiness starts at the guard house. In the event of a nuclear attack, who ever was on guard had a mini bunker directly beneath them that did not join in any way with the main bunker. These guards would be completely isolated and cut off and when the food and water ran out, well that’s a little creepy to think about.
Entering into the small building that houses the blast tunnel is incredibly eerie. One can only think of what it must have been to live with this as an actual alternative. Living under the threat of sirens wailing only to race to be locked behind 14 inch thick, 4000 pound doors must have brought chills to even the most hardened federal employee. Make no mistake this 300 room building was made for only top level military and government officials. They wouldn’t even have time to kiss their family goodbye before entering into the unknown. Considering how close we came in 1962, it must have been wildly stressful to be employed at this top secret base.
I felt chills down my spine looking at the fallout maps on the wall, the medical handbooks to deal with radiation sickness and that great big old nuke before you enter the blast tunnel.
The sterile, void of any creature comforts environment, leaves you feeling cold as you explore the base. There is not a soft blanket, cushy couch or soft item to be found. You’ll only find wool DND blankets to snuggle up with and bunk beds that required you to “hot bed” (sleep in shifts) with your fellow captives. You can feel the lack of children’s laughter, the absence of joy and fresh air and immediately feel that being locked behind these steel doors might be a fate worse than death.
Stepping into the Diefenbunker offers amusement on so many levels, you many find your head spinning. The retro feel and antique technology will have you giggling. That phone in your hand might have more power than the computer server they used.
I couldn’t help but think of LOST with the huge radio equipment where the CBC Radio Studio would continue to play music in the event of nuclear attack. Who was supposed to be listening above ground, I’m not quite sure.
Perhaps what struck me as the ultimate irony was the ashtrays sitting on every desk, conference table and sidetable. How funny to be locking yourself underground to avoid being killed but bringing your smokes with you.
Since the Diefenbunker is now run as a museum, they are creative at coming up with revenue generators. Perhaps most amusing is that they run a Zombie Apocalypse every October. If you’re planning on visiting in the fall and you love to be scared then you’ll probably want to work your schedule aroud this. As one of the undead you become one of the last great hopes to save the world from a Zombie plague that starts somewhere within the bunker. Participants must uncover three elements to stop the world from meeting total annihilation. If you don’t find these elements in time then the zombies will escape the bunker and destroy the world. Of course as you’re searching for these elements the zombies are after you in what I believe to be one the creepiest environments there is. I am totally out on this one by the way. But you go ahead, let me know how it works out for you.
Then there’s Spy Camp for Kids which is pretty much the coolest thing ever in my opinion. Doesn’t every kid want to learn the fine art of espionage? Run during school breaks, this might just be the best way to amuse kids off of school hours.
Finally, you may want to throw your birthday party here. Seriously. Talk about the most unique environment possible to open your presents. The kids will be talking about that one forever.
It’s closed! That’s gotta be a good thing, right? Or maybe the Diefenbunker got so old they’ve built a top secret facility somewhere else that will remain top secret for thirty years or so. Either way, I take comfort in knowing it’s closed and nothing more than a fun excursion now.