Emergency Government Headquarters
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Emergency Government Headquarters are nuclear fallout bunkers built by the Government of Canada at the height of the Cold War during the infancy of the ICBM threat. Scattered across the country, the shelters are popularly known as "Diefenbunkers", a nickname coined by Liberal opposition politicians of the early 1960s, and was derived from the name of the Prime Minister of the day, John Diefenbaker, who authorized their construction. Over 50 bunkers were built, including the many redundant Relocation Unit locations as well as retrofitted buildings that comprised many Zone Emergency Government Headquarters locations.
Most of these facilities were built, often in great secrecy, at rural locations outside major cities across Canada. The majority of the larger facilities were two-story underground bunkers while the largest at CFS Carp had four floors; these facilities were designed to withstand a near-miss from a nuclear explosion. Each underground facility had entrances through massive blast doors at the surface, as well as extensive air filters and positive air pressure to prevent radiation infiltration. Underground storage was built for food, fuel, fresh water, and other supplies for the facilities which were capable of supporting several dozen people for a period of several weeks.
Different levels of command centres included:
- CEGHQ, Central Emergency Government Headquarters, located in Carp, Ontario, in the National Capital Region. Designed for use by senior federal politicians, civil servants, and monarchy.
- REGHQ, Regional Emergency Government Headquarters, of which there were seven, spread out across the country. Each of these had a RU backup bunker (see below).
- IREGHQ, Interim Regional Emergency Government Headquarters
- MEGHQ, Municipal Emergency Government Headquarters
- ZEGHQ, Zone Emergency Government Headquarters, built within the basements of existing buildings, generally designed to hold around 70 staff.
- RU, Relocation Unit, or CRU, Central Relocation Unit. Often bunkers built as redundant backups to REGHQs and MEGHQs were given the RU designation.
The largest "Diefenbunker" was located at CFS Carp in the village of Carp west of Ottawa, within the National Capital Region. In the event of a nuclear event, it was expected to shelter many of the most important federal civil servants and politicians and senior military officials. This location was the second chosen. The original location was approximately six miles west of Almonte. That site was abandoned when ground water proved impossible to remove. There have been rumors that a tunnel leading to an alternate exit/entrance of the bunker was dug under the Ottawa River. This entrance was said to be in Pontiac or Aylmer, Quebec. However, this entrance was never discovered.
The six smaller bunkers were designated as Regional Emergency Government Headquarters (REGHQs):
- Nanaimo, British Columbia (Camp Nanaimo) – REGHQ
- Penhold, Alberta (CFB Penhold) – REGHQ
- Shilo, Manitoba (CFB Shilo) – REGHQ
- Borden, Ontario (CFB Borden) – REGHQ
- Valcartier, Quebec (CFB Valcartier) – REGHQ
- Debert, Nova Scotia (CFS Debert) – REGHQ
- Nanoose Bay, British Columbia (Nanoose Bay Transmitter Station transmitter for CFS Nanaimo)
- Penhold, Alberta (Penhold Transmitter Station transmitter for CFB Penhold)
- Hughes, Manitoba (Camp Hughes Transmitter Station transmitter for CFB Shilo)
- North Bay, Ontario (RCAF Station North Bay, later 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay) Canada's NORAD Bunker, backup for NORAD Bunker at Cheyenne Mountain
- Edenvale, Ontario (Edenvale Transmitter Station transmitter for CFB Borden)
- Perth, Ontario (CFS Carp Richardson Detachment) – Transmitter site (T1) for the CEGHQ at CFS Carp
- Great Village, Nova Scotia (Great Village Transmitter Station transmitter for CFS Debert
- Saint Raymond Portneuf, Québec. Transmitter for CFB Valcartier.
Other bunkers in Ontario included Central Relocation Units (CRUs) to supplement the CEGHQ. These were not "true" bunkers for the fact that they were simply reinforced underground rooms located in basements of post offices and other federal government installations. They were connected by phone and teletypewriter lines to the main bunker at CFS Carp. They were located in:
Similar sites were chosen to accompany the REGHQs elsewhere in Canada. These would be located in close proximity to the REGHQs. These Regional Relocation Units (RRUs) would be used as a backup to the larger equivalent (for redundancy).
There were also MEGHQs and ZEGHQs in Canada, not supervised by the federal government to help with rescue and reconstruction efforts over time of crisis.
Douglas Stewart, head engineer for the Canadian National Defence, was key to the design and engineering for the Diefenbunkers.
Decommissioning and legacy
Following the end of the Cold War, most of the Diefenbunkers were decommissioned. Several of the facilities on active Canadian Forces Bases, such as CFB Borden and CFB Valcartier, remain in government control. Diefenbunkers located on smaller Canadian Forces Stations were mostly sold off or demolished.
The only Diefenbunker which members of the public may visit is the one at former CFS Carp, which stood down in 1994 and has been converted into a year-round Cold War museum. However, the Canadian military cleared out the bunker as it was decommissioned, so the museum has had to try to reacquire the original furnishings that were disposed of.
A Diefenbunker located at CFS Debert was opened for tours for several years. As of 2005 it was home to the cadet regional gliding school in the summer, and was also occasionally used as a barracks by military units in transit across Nova Scotia. In 2009, it was sold to a data firm. The bunker has since been bought by another individual with the intention of re-roling it as the Debert Military Museum.
One interesting footnote surrounds the Diefenbunker that was located at CFB Penhold in Alberta. This facility was decommissioned and at one point a movie studio expressed interest, but it was ultimately purchased by a member of the public. When subsequent owners of the Penhold Diefenbunker advertised the facility for resale, there was a rumour that a chapter of an outlaw biker gang, possibly the Hells Angels, was expressing interest. This prompted the federal government to repurchase the facility and have it systematically demolished and hauled away at considerable expense.
In popular culture
The film The Sum of All Fears has a scene that was shot on location at CFS Carp's Diefenbunker. The scene consisted of the President of the United States, James Cromwell, and his political advisors performing a war game scenario.
The finale of the second season of The Amazing Race Canada featured a task completed at CFS Carp's Diefenbunker. One member of each team had to search among the bunker's vast array of rooms for three of five hidden souvenirs: a helicopter, a tank, a jeep, a plane and a compass.
- Base Borden Military Museum
- Canada in the Cold War
- Canadian War Museum
- Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum
- CFS Debert
- Elgin Military Museum
- National Air Force Museum of Canada
- Organization of Military Museums of Canada
- Royal Canadian Regiment Museum
- The Grey and Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum
- The Military Museums
- The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada Museum
- Ark Two Shelter
- The Diefenbunker Cold War Museum
- History of the Canadian Forces Museums 1919-2004
- The CBC archives video of inside the Diefenbunker at CFS Carp
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