My week in Ottawa and Montreal passed in the usual hurly-burly of business meetings and family reunions, but one excursion is worth a mention: a trip to the village of Carp, pronounced ”Kearp”, home to the Central Emergency Government Headquarters, better known as the Diefenbunker. Built during the height of Cold War paranoia, this super-reinforced four-story underground bunker is where Canada’s government would have huddled had Armageddon arrived. It was finally retired as obsolete in the 1990s, and as their last task, the Feds ransacked the place, ripping out not just their super-secret Captain Crunch decoder rings but even the bunk beds in the barracks and the umpteen-ton generators each the size (and several times the weight) of a small car. But shortly before it was scheduled to be demolished, it was listed as a historic site and handed over to a dedicated bunch of local volunteers, who then spent the next decade reconstructing it into its 1960s prime. And “reconstructing” here didn’t mean slapping a few posters on the wall: for example, they “had” to haul back in those same umpteen-ton generators to restore the engine room, located on the 4th level below ground.
So one of the volunteers took two and half hours off his Sunday afternoon to give a guided tour going over the complex in lovingly obsessive detail (“…and these cafeteria chairs, produced from Outer Wumpscut, Manitoba by my uncle’s cousin Bob, are exactly identical to those that were used in the 1960s!”). And it really was something else to walk in through those doors and realize that, if nuclear holocaust had actually occurred, this claustrophobic cube of gray bureaucracy would’ve been the only place left standing in Canada. War games maps (some of them authentic) showed predicted impact sites for Soviet nukes: every Canadian city of significance (including metropoli like Thunder Bay) had a couple of megatons keyed in, and much of the endless prairie would have been contaminated by the fallout clouds from the hundreds of megatons aimed squarely at North Dakota (just what were the Yanks hiding there?). The only fly in the ointment was that pictures were not allowed: not because there was anything of military importance left, but because the volunteers tried to supplement the already steep entry fee by selling pictures. Boo.