“Diefenbunker” Guides – Aide-Memoire(1999)

Webmaster Note: The following was drafted about 15 Apr 1999, and was used as an input to a more comprehensive tour aide-memoire that was used to train volunteer guides -and later to instruct paid summer student guides. I’ve included it for the somewhat detailed information it contains, especially regarding areas of the bunker that for some reason are not included in the tours that are now offered to the public. Eventually self-guided, audio tours were set up which presumably including some of the information from this draft. Note that many of the exhibits mentioned below have been removed or in some ways changed since this piece was written…in my opinion not necessarily for the better!)



  • Please feel free to draw on your own experiences and anecdotes to make the visitors experience more interesting and to help create a rapport between yourself and those you are guiding
  • This document should only be used as a reference; it is not intended that you attempt to pass all the information it contains on to the visitors, however you may find it helpful in responding to questions

Not-usually-included Areas

The following areas are not always included on tours.

  • -Central 400 Level
  • -Building Systems Computer Area
  • -Emergency (Govt) Radio Room
  • -Women’s Quarters
  • Senior Officer’s Quarters
  • -Machine Room Mezzanine
  • -Laundry Room
  • -Storage and Maintenance Areas
  • -Radiac Room


Brief History

  • building designed and constructed on-time and on-budget 1959 to 1961 by the Foundation Company (Montreal) for the Department of National Defence at a cost of about $20 million ($1960)
  • officially called the Experimental Army Signals Establishment –EASE (primarily as a cover story)
  • also functioned as an important component of military strategic communications from 1961 until early into the 1990’s
  • was continually occupied by upwards of 120 military and civilian telecommunications and building operating personnel during its 33 years of service
  • was nicknamed “the Diefenbunker” after then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who authorized the construction
  • site became Canadian Forces Station Carp in 1971
  • visited by Prime Minister Elliot Trudeau and Minister of National Defence Barney Danson March 15th, 1977
  • CFS Carp and the Central Emergency Government Headquarters were decommissioned in 1994
  • bunker and a small portion of the surrounding land was designated a National Historic Site in June 1998

Purpose of the Facility

  • to provide a relatively secure facility from which elements of the federal government could function during a nuclear war and to serve the Canadian Forces requirements for telecommunications
  • its principle function as the Central Emergency Government Headquarters, was to provide a secure place from which the government could attempt to provide a “thin thread” of continuity of legitimate government and avoid anarchy in the event of a nuclear war
  • rising international tensions would have seen numerous pre-designated government officials arriving from Ottawa to begin readying their departmental offices
  • an imminent nuclear attack on North America would have resulted in very senior officials and the War Cabinet moving to the bunker along with the Governor General or designate


  • a monolithic concrete box (154 ft square) surrounded by 5 ft bed of gravel to absorb the blast of a nearby nuclear explosion.
  • approx. 32,000 tons of concrete and 5000 tons of steel (5 times normal) were used
  • floor and roof slabs are 5 ft thick; walls are 2.5 to 4 ft thick
  • columns (62 of them) are approx. 4+ft in diameter and flare out into 10 ft cones at top and bottom to spread very high overpressure loads into the floor & roof slabs


  • intended to withstand a 5 megaton ground burst at 1.1 miles (or 1 megaton at 1.1 km) from ground zero and 100 pounds per square inch (7.5 tons per sq ft) overpressure
  • blast wave of over 1000 miles per hour would have passed over structure destroying everything on the surface
  • provided complete protection against radioactive fallout; air filtered to remove nuclear, chemical and biological contaminants
  • could accommodate over 535 people for up to 30 days

Outside Features

  • hill contoured to ease passage of blast wave.
  • exhaust and intake vents double as escape hatches and are visible on the hill over the structure.
  • garage shelter for helicopter & bulldozer, has 120 ton door
  • guardhouse has small fallout shelter with periscope.
  • only one antennae (used by the local firedept) remains of many that existed (including a 350 ft long-wave tower).
  • the Prime Minister and other VIPs would have landed at the helicopter pad (the large “H”).
  • sewage lagoons below the guard hose were filled-in in 1998

Blast Tunnel & Entrance Doors

  • 378 ft long, open-ended with right-angled turn to blast doors entrance
  • tunnel configuration would have reduced overpressure on doors by allowing blast to pass freely through
  • freight door (right) 12inches thick open only if no danger of attack
  • main doors (left) on air-lock system could pass 400 people per hour
  • inner door (lead & steel) closed if fallout contaminated people entering; they would then pass through the decontamination area.

Building Layout

  • approx. 100,000 on 4 levels, square floor plan 154 ft on a side
  • 400 level (top floor/entrance) telecommunications operations & maintenance, medical centre, administrative offices, governor-generals suite, telecomm centre
  • 300 level (2nd down) government operation centres and offices
  • 200 level (3rd down)sleeping quarters, cafeteria, mechanical systems
  • 100 level (4th down) mechanical systems, stores, maintenance areas, military sleeping quarters


Decontamination Area (413B)

  • first shower with clothes on, the remove clothing and place in lead-lined bins prior to moving to next shower
  • shower again until radiation monitors declare free of contamination
  • then issue with coveralls and slippers before entering main building and moving to medical centre for check-up

Control Room (sometimes referred to as the black platform)

  • all building systems and sensors were manually controlled from this location until 1984
  • in 1984 a master computer system was installed with the coordinating computer located in the Construction Engineering office (where it remains today)
  • at that time an auxiliary backup system was located in the main machinery room (100 level)

Medical Centre (402A)

  • a hospital with limited operating capabilities would have been staffed with medical personnel from National Defence Medical Centre
  • consisted of an operating room, laboratory, small pharmacy, male and female wards, X-ray equipment
  • kept at slightly lower air pressure than rest of building to reduce spread of contagious diseases.
  • last doctor on-call was Barry Bruce, now the president of the museum.

Isolation Bedrooms (403A and 403B)

  • two bedrooms without handles on the inside of the doors would have doubled as isolation wards for hospital overflow or lockups if necessary.

Secure Telecommunications Area (424B)

  • used for operation of special high security telecommunications equipment.
  • the physical and electronic keys to operate it, were kept in the adjacent vault
  • note the “silhouette” board with space for tools that could be used to destroy secure devices should there be risk of their falling into the wrong hands.

Escape Hatches (in rooms 417A and 477B)

  • two of these are located on this floor (air intake and exhaust ducts on the 100 level can also be used for escape)
  • when the steel inner door is opened a lever is revealed which when pulled drops the approx. two tons of loose gravel comprising the fallout protection down through the grate at the bottom of the shaft, allowing egress up the steel ladder to the surface

Central 400 Level

  • CFS Carp administrative offices, telephone switching equipment and secure telecom maintenance shops used to occupy most of this area
  • currently museum support offices including collections management, the Cold War Research Centre reference library and museum administration offices.

Building Systems Computer Area (436A)

  • this area has been the Construction Engineer Offices since the building’s construction was completed in 1961
  • as of the installation of the environmental system’s control computer in the early 1980s, it has been the location of the main primary co-ordinating computer
  • left in pieces after the departure of DND in 1994, the computer (nicknamed “Mrytle”) has since been reassembled and now continues to perform its original function
  • this general area of the building was once highly secure as the site of the massive main-frame computer called STRAD

Emergency (Government) Radios Room (466A)

  • low, high and very high frequency radios located in this room were used to provide contact with other protected continuity of government headquarters facilities
  • included were specially built or fitted-up shelters in the Ottawa Valley and in provinces across Canada as well as those in the US and UK

Governor General’s Suite (462A)

  • the G.G., representing the Crown would have occupied these rooms
  • as part of the Governor-in-Council (minimum of 4 ministers), the G.G.’s Royal Assent would have been required to give legitimacy to regulations passed by the War Cabinet

Orderly Room (461B)

  • used for general administration purposes by the station during years of its operation
  • would have been the joint civil-military administration area in the event of activation of emergency government
  • has a walk-in combination locked vault for high security essential records


War Cabinet Room (313A)

  • here the Prime Minister and small cabinet of 10-12 ministers would have been briefed on the civil and military situations and received reports from various departments
  • this would have enabled their making plans and decisions to deal with response and recovery matters
  • only those with direct responsibilities concerning the conduct of the war, support of the military, civil survival operations and planning for post attack recovery would have been members of the War Cabinet

Military Information Centre/Federal Warning Centre (343A)

  • the Federal Warning Centre originally operated from this location.
  • in the late 1960s it moved to the NORAD underground facility in North Bay where it functioned until the mid 1980’s whereupon it was relocated back to CFS Carp
  • its main function was to be prepared to trigger alerting siren systems, directly in some cases but mostly through Provincial Warning Centres located in fallout protected facilities in each of the provinces
  • at the same time, military personnel in this room would have monitored the military situation and prepared briefings (information summaries)for cabinet and departments
  • the room layout was reconfigured numerous times over the 33 years of its existence to meet these changing requirements

Emergency Government Situation (Civil) Centre (331A)

  • was composed of two civil assessment areas and a closed circuit TV control console
  • an Infrastructure Assessmentroom which monitored the state of road, rail and air transportation systems, food stocks, telecommunication networks, ports and harbours, housing, hospitals and medical support systems, law & order, industrial production, agriculture, energy sources, etc.
  • a Casualty & Damage Assessment room for tracking the impact on the civil populace of direct attacks on targets within Canada as well as the effects of the widespread fallout much of which would have resulted from massive attacks on the multitude of strategic missile fields in the US mid-west
  • sitcen and departmental staff would have provided regular briefings to Cabinet and departments over the closed circuit TV system
  • currently a re-creation of this room as it was in 1984 is being constructed

Cabinet Secretariat Area (332A)

  • a joint group of about 20 staff from Privy Council and Treasury Board Secretariats would have co-ordinated government operations including input of information to, and outflow of decisions from the Cabinet and departments

Departmental Offices (303 A and B for example)

  • offices on this and the 400 level would have been used by the 12-15 departments that had functional responsibilities in support of the Continuity of Government Program and the War Cabinet
  • on average 20-30 people per department would have been available to provide 24 hour/day service to their respective ministers

Ministerial Offices (362A for example)

  • each of thirteen ministers “suites” had an outer office (for staff) and 2 small inner offices for a minister and deputy
  • most of these offices are designated as part of the museum’s exhibit area and will house a variety of Cold War related

Prime Minister’s Suite (363A)

  • outer personal secretary’s office; inner office for PM
  • single bedroom with original bed (no spouses or other family were permitted, including the PM’s)
  • small dressing room and private washroom with shower

OSAX Area (307B/327A)

  • replaced the STRAD (Signal Transmitting Receiving and Distribution) on the 400 level. In the late 1970’s changing technology and a revised mission resulted in the Ottawa Semi-Automatic Exchange (OSAX) being installed in this specially constructed room
  • the OSAX area is a Faraday Cage (an screened, electromagnetically impervious area) which, once the special doors are closed prevents any electronic emissions from entering or escaping
  • this was needed to prevent highly classified telecommunications traffic from getting into the wrong hands

CBC Studio and Control Room (344A)

  • information and messages would have been broadcast to the nation from this area
  • likely both the G.G. and the P.M. would have made statements however CBC staff would have done most of the announcing
  • this was the lead station in the Emergency Broadcasting System. It would have been able to alert all other CBC stations by activating one switch
  • survival messages, giving advice as to what to do, would have been of great priority

Women’s Quarters (347A and B for example)

  • initially most of the secretarial and clerical positions identified to support ministerial and departmental staffs would have been women.
  • when military personnel were billeted in the bunker, this area was reserved for the females
  • from the late 1970s on no attempt was made distinguish between the sexes in planning the allocation of sleeping quarters

Museum Exhibitions

  • most of the ministerial offices are now designated for various Cold War displays
  • currently the exhibits in this area include; -walk-in home basement fallout shelter / support display (364A) -a model community shelter (365B) -West Carleton High School OAC history students’ Cold War project display (365A) -“Requiem”: a photo exhibit of the aftermath of the World War II atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (366A)



  • could seat approx. 150-200 persons per sitting, 4 meals a day
  • in a shut-down, would have served fresh food for approx. a week, then individual ration packs would have been used for up to 3 additional weeks
  • this completely equipped kitchen was in continual use by the military through the facilities 33-year operation

Senior Officer’s Quarters (226A and B for example)

  • these 28 small rooms were for ministers and deputy ministerial level civil and military senior officers
  • they had a small common room for meetings

Sleeping Quarters (227A and B are examples)

  • in general, people assigned to the bunker slept in double or triple bunks with between 9 and 21 to a room.
  • in a shut-down, personnel assigned to the bunker would have “hot-bunked” and shared bed-space alternately with someone else

Machinery Room Mezzanine (243B)

  • occupies about 20% of the 200 level
  • houses the very large mufflers for the four diesel generators, many of the air intakes and fans, sensitive air quality measuring devices and a small workshop for the maintenance technicians

Laundry Room (226A)

This small laundry room had four washing machines and dryers.


Main Machinery Room (131A /104A)

  • contained a small control room with a backup computer for the building’s operating systems, four 245 KW electrical power generators, chillers to keep the building cool, a boiler for domestic hot water, water pumps for potable water and for fire fighting purposes, and a multitude of controls for the extensive electrical system.

Filter Room

  • these chemical, biological and nuclear radiation filters are in a special radiation shielded room
  • outside air would have been periodically “gulped” into the building through these sophisticated filters to refresh the buildings air supply
  • equipped with a decontamination shower

Bank of Canada Vault

  • intended to secure Canada’s gold reserves
  • Canada was on the gold standard when the bunker was built
  • vault tunnel slices across and underneath the blast tunnel and the vault is below the helipad/parking area(outside of the bunker)
  • vault is, in effect, a room-within-a-room
  • corner mirrors permit a sentry to see all around the perimeter of the vault
  • the main door weighs 15 tons and would have required 6 people with the right combinations to operate it; the smaller safe-like door may have served to equalise air pressure to facilitate opening of the main door

Military Sleeping Quarters (example) (147B)

  • this particular bedroom was ‘missed’ when the building was stripped of its contents when the military closed the facility in December 1994
  • bunks in the rooms on this level would have been designated as hot-beds
  • the two pull down bunks in the outer sitting area would have been used as well for a total room occupancy of 20 persons

Refrigerated Area/ Morgue (161D)

  • this refrigerated area would have been used to store vegetables and could have served as a temporary morgue, if needed

Storage and Maintenance Areas(133A,134A and 194A are examples)

  • larger rooms on this level would have been used for stores including spare parts for telecommunications and building systems equipment, food, clothing, office supplies, medical supplies, back-up equipment, batteries, tools, etc.
  • the area with the vault-type door would have been used for the storage of security sensitive and rare/valuable essential records
  • a fairly large area was the Construction Engineering Workshop,
  • the room under the ramp was used to store a small quantity of personal weapons

Radiac Room (100 level, off stairwell #3)

  • the blast, flash and radiation detection devices required to detect a nearby nuclear explosion and to close (within a third of a second) blast valves that would shut down air intake and exhaust valves were calibrated and maintained in this area