Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum
The Diefenbunker was commissioned by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1959, as part of his government’s reaction to escalating tensions in the Cold War. The purpose of the bunker was to house key members of the government and military in the event of a nuclear attack on Canada. The safety of its nuclear roof would allow the Canadian government to operate safely underground for 30 days in order to assist with the governance and rebuilding of the country. A series of Emergency Government Headquarters bunkers were built across Canada and, as the largest, the federal government bunker would come to be known as the Central Emergency Government Headquarters (CEGHQ Carp).
The site was completed and began operation in 1961, and remained in continuous operation until it was decommissioned in 1994. During those 32 years, it was also Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Carp, with a staff of 100-150 people and a 24-hour shift rotation. It was the site of some of Canada’s most top-secret communications throughout the Cold War. At all times during its operation, the cupboards and pantries were stocked with enough fresh food and rations to feed 535 people for 30 days and the building was prepared to go into lockdown at any moment.
The Diefenbunker was given National Historic Site status in 1994, and CFS Carp was closed the same year. The building remained empty until the foundation of the museum in 1997.
With the dedication of a group of volunteers, many of whom were former employees of the bunker, the Diefenbunker incorporated as Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum in 1998, a private, non-profit and registered charity. In 1999, the Diefenbunker Museum was open to the public year-round, operated entirely by volunteers.
In 2010, the Diefenbunker underwent a massive capital campaign to retrofit the building’s fire systems. Because of the unique design of the building, fire code had limited it to a capacity of 60 people. After the building retrofit, the Diefenbunker was able to increase its capacity to 460 people. At this point, the Museum began to offer self-guided tours, audio guides, large events, rentals, and increased operating hours.
The Diefenbunker is still a private, non-profit and a registered charity, with a team of over 50 dedicated volunteers. It is operated year-round by a full-time staff of eight, and a governing Board of Directors.