In Canada, the Ukrainian conflict revives the ghosts of the Cold War

In Canada, the Ukrainian conflict rekindles Cold War ghosts< /p> UPDATE DAY

A few kilometers from the Canadian capital, sinking several hundred meters underground, hides a bunker frozen in the past, like a relic of the nuclear threats of ancient times, threats that seem to be resurfacing.< /p>

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, “it became a real question: people wanted to know if they could come and take refuge here,” says Christine McGuire , director of the Diefenbunker which became a museum at the end of the Cold War.

However, although it has retained most of the characteristics of the fallout shelter it once was for the Canadian high command, “it could not resist current nuclear weapons”, underlines the person in charge of the complex.


Secretly built in the heart of the Cold War in a peaceful village about 30 minutes from Ottawa, the bunker could house more than 500 people, including the Prime Minister, in the event of a nuclear attack. Families, however, were not accepted.

Surviving the apocalypse

From the outside, the more than 9,000 square meter complex, the equivalent of two football fields spread over four levels, is nothing more than a small shelter metal and a mound of earth. Inside, a long blast tunnel leads to a maze of narrow white corridors dotted with black vertical stripes.

“The tapes are there to prevent you from feeling like the place is closing in on you,” says 67-year-old guide Graham Wheatley, pointing to the long cold hallway. “They give the illusion that the ceiling is higher than it really is. At least that's what the psychologists say,” he adds, laughing.

Room after room, the volunteer takes visitors on a journey through Canada in the 1960s, highlighting the specificities techniques of this exceptional installation.

A cafeteria, an operating room, a control center, a studio for the national radio or even a strong room to accommodate the Bank of Canada's gold, everything has been designed so that more than 500 people survive 30 days under earth. “It's time for the radiation to dissipate,” says the museum's director.

“The fear is still very real”

Demilitarized at the end of the Cold War , the Diefenbunker reopened as a museum in 1998, welcoming more than 70,000 people a year.

It is a “meaningful reminder of how close we came to annihilation during the Cold War,” says Christine McGuire.

En Overall, about 2,000 government and private bunkers were built in Canada, far fewer than in the United States or Europe, estimates Andrew Burtch, Cold War historian at the Canadian War Museum.

< p>“In Canada, much of the planning was based on the assumption that radioactive fallout would be our primary threat, and not necessarily direct strikes on Canadian cities,” the expert adds.

“ The idea was that the Russians would not waste their bombs or missiles on Canada, but rather target the United States.”

< p>With Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, “we now find ourselves in a similar situation”, laments the expert. “It's a somewhat disconcerting time.”

As a sign that these tensions are still alive, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that Moscow was suspending its participation in the Russian-American New Start treaty on the nuclear disarmament, saying she is also ready to reconnect with atomic tests.

“This fear (of a nuclear attack) is still very real,” says the director of the Diefenbunker, who says she is receiving more and more calls about it.

“The anxieties are coming back. Current global tensions are bringing back ghosts of the Cold War,” says Christine McGuire.