In the days when nuclear weapons were deemed an imminent threat, when Cold War tensions were running high and morale was running low, the Canadian government braced itself for the worst-case scenario. If an atomic bomb were to be launched toward North America, Canadian government officials would burrow deep underground, hibernate, macramé some friendship bracelets, and regroup. The bunker built to receive them—whose chambers and tunnels lurk four storeys deep in the earth and stretch over more than 100,000 square feet—was named Diefenbunker.
Today, Diefenbunker’s 1960s-era cryptographic areas, computer room, Emergency Government Situation Centre, and living quarters ask visitors to muse on what could have been had a humanity-uniting alien invasion not brought an end to the Cold War. Guests walk the chilly hallways on their own or follow a tour guide, listening to echoes bounce off the ribbed steel of a cylindrical blast tunnel, wending their way through the prime minister’s personal quarters and the Bank of Canada vault, and gazing at a CBC radio studio, whose signals never needed to take over the airwaves.
The nuclear-shelter-cum-museum uses educational programming and events, such as a children’s spy camp, to educate those who remember the Cold War and those for whom it is as distant in history as the day George Washington announced that curlers were not just for women. Visitors to the national historic site can take a piece of their experience home by stopping in at The Cold War Store, where they can pick up nuclear-protest buttons, spy toys, and Cold War–era military-surplus items such as ration packs.