Ottawa is a city that is home to many historic locations. Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall, and many more are just a few examples of this.
But none of them are quite like the Diefenbunker Cold War Museum. Imagine walking through 100,000 square feet of metal and concrete, and seeing all sorts of military equipment and government documents.
It makes you feel like you’ve traveled back to the 1950s when tensions between the world’s superpowers were high. It’s a truly remarkable place that you will want to experience for yourself.
Now, allow me to give you a detailed guide to the Cold War Museum and the things that you will find as you explore the Diefenbunker.
History of the Diefenbunker
In the 1950s, the former Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker, commissioned the construction of a nuclear fallout shelter known as the Diefenbunker.
Construction of the Diefenbunker began in 1959 and was completed in 1961. A small village called Carp, which was just outside of Ottawa, would be the site of construction for the bunker.
The reason why Carp would be chosen as the site for the bunker would be its strategic location. The area was far enough from major urban centers to ensure its safety from potential nuclear strikes and minimize casualties.
In official parlance, it was referred to as the “Central Emergency Government Headquarters,” and it was one of six shelters that were constructed in the event of a nuclear assault.
To ensure the safety of government officials, the bunker was created using the most advanced technology at the time.
Its nuclear roof would allow Canadian officials to operate safely underground for 30 days in order to assist with the governance and rebuilding of the country.
When the Cold War tensions began to ease in the 1990s, the Diefenbunker was decommissioned in 1994, after it served for a grand total of 33 years.
However, recognizing its historical and cultural significance, the facility was preserved and transformed into a museum, allowing visitors to explore its unique history and experience a glimpse into the fears and strategies of the Cold War era.
In addition to that, its significance to the country resulted in its designation as a National Historic Site of Canada.
Today, the Diefenbunker Museum serves as a fascinating testament to Canada’s preparedness during a tumultuous time in world history.
Tourists can take guided tours that take them through the various rooms and corridors, showcasing the bunker’s original equipment and artifacts from the Cold War period.
The museum provides an immersive educational experience, shedding light on the political climate, national security measures, and human stories associated with this intriguing underground facility.
In more recent times, the Diefenbunker has also been the setting for quite a number of movies. You may recognize titles such as “Sum of All Fears,” “Zygote,” and even the most recent “Fatman.”
You also have one of the highlights of the exhibition, “Lost Nuke: The World’s First Broken Arrow.” It explores the story of the first nuclear weapon that was “lost” and features relics that were discovered at the crash site of the infamous airliner.
How much does it cost to visit the Diefenbunker?
A ticket to the Diefenbunker costs $18.50 for adults and $17.00 for seniors. For younger visitors, it costs $14.00 for students 18 and above, $12.00 for youth ages 6-17, and children aged 5 and below are free.
You also have the option to do a self-guided tour, which is cheaper by 50 cents.
Here’s a table for reference that you can use to know how much you will need to pay.
|Type||Guided Admission||Self-Guided Admission|
|Family Rate (2 Adults, 5 Youth)||$49.50||$49.00|
|Child (5 and under)||Free||Free|
What to Expect When Visiting the Diefenbunker
There are quite a lot of things to do in the Diefenbunker. The first time I visited this place, I was amazed at how big it was and how much history it contained.
If you want to know what you can expect when visiting the bunker, here’s a quick rundown of what you can find there.
As per standard with any museum, the Diefenbunker offers guided tours for its visitors. When you arrive, you can participate in a guided tour of the facility that will give you an in-depth look at the bunker.
You will have knowledgeable guides who will share historical facts, anecdotes, and insights regarding the bunker’s construction, function, and significance during the Cold War.
Diefenbunker is a four-story underground facility comprising roughly 100,000 square feet. You’ll get a sense of what life was like in a nuclear fallout shelter as you explore the complex.
The tour will take you through several areas, including the Prime Minister’s Suite, the CBC television studio, military dorms, the medical section, and the communication center.
While I think visiting the Diefenbunker is quite a fascinating and informative experience, the underground setting may not be suited for anyone who is claustrophobic or has mobility concerns.
Cold War History
The Diefenbunker is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn about the Cold War and Canada’s role in it.
Expect displays and exhibits that illustrate the era’s tensions, the arms race between superpowers, and the tactics used to safeguard key officials and maintain government continuity in the event of a nuclear strike.
The museum has interactive displays that give visitors a hands-on experience. You can put on military outfits, use vintage communication equipment, or take part in simulations of emergency procedures.
Educational events are available at the Diefenbunker for students and other organizations.
These classes dive deeper into the Cold War’s historical backdrop, creating a better understanding of the influence it had on Canada and the rest of the world.
Events and Special Exhibitions
From time to time, the museum offers events and special exhibitions relating to the Cold War or other historical issues. Check the museum’s website or ask about any future events while you’re there.
Escape the Diefenbunker
The Deifenbunker has partnered up with Ottawa’s premier escape room company, Escape Manor, to bring you a unique experience!
Your main goal here is to escape the Diefenbunker as you find clues, solve puzzles, and get out before time runs out. This activity will be available from Thursday through
Sunday evenings and will span over 25,000 square feet of the bunker.
Prices start at $34 per head, with the activity lasting 60 minutes maximum.
At the end of the tour, there will be a gift store where you may buy souvenirs, books, Cold War memorabilia, and other items relating to the Diefenbunker and the era it depicts. These make for perfect gifts too since they’re pretty affordable!
The Exhibits and Artifacts of the Diefenbunker
As a historical site, the Diefenbunker is rich with artifacts and exhibits that narrate the events of the Cold War. You can find different pieces of equipment that the government and soldiers used, as well as various exhibits that tell more about Canada’s history.
There are two permanent exhibits in the Diefenbunker that are available for public viewing. These are the “Canada and the Cold War” and “An Inuit Story: The DEW Line” exhibits.
The former goes into detail about the events that transpired in Canada during the Cold War. Meanwhile, the latter describes how the Inuit and indigenous groups inhabiting the Arctic were affected by the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line.
Canada and the Cold War
The Canada and the Cold War exhibition will take you through key stages in Canada’s Cold War history, examining how community and government responses at the time shaped our country into what it is today.
To many, the Cold War still remains one of the most influential events in human history, one in which Canada participated.
It was a harsh and chilly struggle between the world’s superpowers. While the countries were technically at peace, this period was characterized by an aggressive arms race, several proxy wars, and ideological bids for world dominance.
Canada offered troops as well as technological breakthroughs for the military and its peacekeeping mission to prevent things from escalating further. The threat of nuclear war was apparent at home, and it struck ordinary Canadians as both real and terrifying.
The exhibition follows a timeline of events from the mid-to-late 1900s to the present day to provide a comprehensive view of Canada and Canadians’ roles in the Cold War. This chronological timeline begins in the year 1900.
Canada and the Cold War explores themes of achievement and tension, preparedness and fear, and Canadian identity both at home and abroad.
It also follows the doomsday clock, which slowly marches down to midnight. The exhibition serves as a chilling reminder of how close the world came to a global nuclear disaster.
This newly updated exhibition includes enthralling narratives from Inuit and other diverse perspectives, as well as compelling audio and video content and interactive activities for visitors of all ages.
The exhibits are drawn from the Diefenbunker’s substantial holdings. They consist of five exhibition chambers that served as sleeping quarters for military personnel during the Diefenbunker’s active period.
With that being said, “Canada and the Cold War” makes us think about what we can learn from current occurrences in terms of life lessons. All the compiled artifacts and history help us prevent another incident like this from happening again.
An Inuit Story: The DEW Line
An Inuit Story: The DEW Line reveals the long-term harmful impacts of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line on Inuit villages in the Arctic, ranging from forced relocations to toxic waste.
Between 1955 and 1957, the US and Canadian militaries built an Arctic radar network to identify enemy bombers. It was known as the DEW Line or Distant Early Warning System.
While the DEW Line’s construction, operation, and subsequent abandonment continue to have an impact on Canada’s North, the Inuit have increasingly taken charge of their own future.
You will be able to witness firsthand accounts and stories from Inuit people affected by the DEW Line in this exhibition. Learn from Canada’s Cold War past to see how you can contribute to Canada’s reconciliation with the Inuit.
This exhibition was created in conjunction with the Government of Nunavut and is available in English, French, and Inuktitut to accommodate different audiences.
It features oral histories and written testimonials from members of the Inuit community in an entire gallery dedicated to Inuit voices and experiences.
To add to that, it has dramatic visuals and films, an interactive exercise, and a large-scale floor map of Canada’s North to further enhance your experience.
As a historical site, the Diefenbunker is home to plenty of artifacts from the Cold War era in Canada. Here are the types of artifacts you will find as you explore the bunker.
The bunker features a variety of communication devices used during the Cold War. You can find equipment such as radios, telephones, teletype machines, and encryption equipment.
The museum showcases a collection of military vehicles, including transport trucks and an armored personnel carrier, which were part of the bunker’s operations and emergency response capabilities.
Cold War Memorabilia
Tourists will be able to look at a wide range of Cold War-era memorabilia, including propaganda posters, ration kits, gas masks, and other items related to civilian preparedness and the cultural atmosphere of the time.
Interested in seeing documents that the government used for planning? You can take a look at the original government documents, files, and other artifacts from the Cold War era.
These papers provide insights into the planning, strategies, and decision-making processes that officials used during the Cold War.
The museum features displays of emergency supplies and equipment that would have been stored in the bunker, such as food rations, medical kits, radiation detection devices, and survival gear.
Due to how well-maintained the bunker is, you will have a chance to see the actual infrastructure and equipment that kept the bunker operational. These include ventilation systems, power generators, water storage facilities, and decontamination chambers.
Useful Tips for the Best Difenbunker Experience
To ensure you have the best Diefenbunker experience, here are some useful tips you can follow.
1. Plan your visit in advance.
Check the Diefenbunker’s website or contact them to find out about their hours of operation, special events, and other guidelines in place. It’s always a good idea to plan your visit ahead of time to make the most of your experience.
2. Give yourself enough time to explore the bunker.
The Diefenbunker is a vast underground complex with multiple levels and exhibits. Plan to spend at least a couple of hours exploring the site to fully appreciate its historical significance and the wealth of information it offers.
3. Take a guided tour.
Join a guided tour run by the museum’s knowledgeable staff or volunteers to make the most of your visit. They can provide valuable insights, answer questions, and help you navigate through the exhibits.
Guided tours often offer a more immersive experience and ensure you don’t miss any important details.
4. Dress appropriately.
The Diefenbunker’s underground environment is rather cool and damp at times, so it’s a good idea to dress in layers. Wearing comfortable shoes is also recommended, as you’ll be walking through and exploring different areas of the bunker.
5. Bring a camera.
The Diefenbunker is a unique and historically significant site, so you’ll likely want to capture some memories. Make sure to bring a camera or use your smartphone to take photos, but be mindful of any photography restrictions in place.
6. Engage with the exhibits.
The Diefenbunker features various exhibits, displays, and interactive elements. Take the time to read the information provided, interact with the exhibits, and engage in the activities available.
This will enhance your understanding and make the experience more enjoyable.
7. Ask questions for the staff or volunteers.
If you have any questions during your visit, don’t hesitate to ask the staff or volunteers. They are there to assist you and provide further insights into the history and operations of the bunker.
8. Explore the entire facility.
The Diefenbunker is not limited to just one level or section. Make sure to explore all the areas accessible to visitors, including the government offices, living quarters, communications rooms, and the emergency broadcast studio.
Each section offers a different perspective on the Cold War era, and I’m sure you will find all of them to be quite interesting.
9. Take your time in the Cold War Museum.
The Cold War Museum within the Diefenbunker is a must-visit area. It provides a comprehensive overview of the geopolitical climate, the arms race, and Canada’s role during the Cold War.
You can spend time reading the displays, watching videos, and absorbing the historical context.
10. Respect the rules and artifacts.
The Diefenbunker is a museum, so it’s important to respect the rules and regulations in place. Avoid touching or tampering with any artifacts or exhibits unless explicitly allowed to help preserve the site for future visitors.
Remember, the Diefenbunker offers a unique opportunity to explore a significant part of Canada’s history. By following these tips, you can have a memorable and enriching experience during your visit.