Preparation, Propaganda or Paranoia: Canada & The Cold War
Located beneath a nondescript building in a small Central Alberta town are the remains of a forgotten military bunker, constructed during the paranoia charged days of the Cold War. Today, the silent halls are sealed up and known only to a select few, in stark contrast to the floors above, busy with the comings and goings of people, most unaware of what lies beneath. This is typical of many Cold War structures that lie abandoned across the Canadian Prairies. Join us, in cooperation with the Canadian Civil Defense Museum Association, The Big Doer and researchers from UofC as we document the motivations of the Canadian government & civilians in their quest to counter the Soviet threat.
Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?
Chris is a historic journalist and a researcher, with a camera. He does it for the thrill of the hunt and the curve of the story. His research, in a unique interesting story format, can be found at thebigdoer.com. Connie Biggart is his sidekick and also an avid adventurer. Chris brings to the table a knowledge of history, a unique skill of finding the unfindable, a passion for all things quirky. He has connections in Western Canada to many, many unknown and mysterious places, including Cold War Civil Defense infrastructure and an uncanny knowledge about them that may still be classified.
Fred Armbruster is passionate about one thing, CANADIAN CIVIL DEFENSE HISTORY. Yes, to him history about Canadian Civil Defense is all caps. Fred has facts about what Canada did during the Cold War that would probably raise eyebrows of some historians. For example, when you look at Edmonton from birds eye view, you will notice train tracks going from the legislative grounds in very specific directions. The city is laid out accordingly. Our story will tell you why. He runs the Canadian Civil Defense Museum Association. Recently, they have become proud owners of the Alsask Radar Dome.
John Ferris is a Professor of History at The University of Calgary, where he also is a Fellow at The Centre for Military and Strategic Studies. He received an MA ( 1980 ) and a PhD ( 1986) in War Studies, from King's College, The University of London, United Kingdom. He has published four books and sixty academic articles or chapters in books, on diplomatic, intelligence and military history, as well as contemporary strategy and intelligence. Among other research, he comments on national and international media, on Canadian foreign and military policy and nuclear weapons.
Adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa where he teaches courses on intelligence in the department of political science, career foreign service officer who specialized in security and intelligence, deputy director of foreign intelligence at the Department of Foreign Affairs, author of Cautious Beginnings: Canadian Foreign Intelligence, 1939-1951 (UBC Press 2008).
A bunker, half built for a specific purpose during the Cold War. Some say to store valuable documents, others say communal living spaces for rent during a nuclear holocaust. We will get to the bottom of it, so to speak.
Cold War bunkers had to have showers to rinse off the radioactive dust kicked up by the nuclear blast. Depending how far away and how big the blast was the fallout could be much more devastating to the surrounding area than the blast. The underground bunker may need to be lived in for an extended period of time.
Built heavy to withstand a nuclear blast, but also to withstand the elements. The building itself was not intended to be maintained or upgraded. If anything was going to happen, chances are it was going to happen right away, with force, and once. Cold War bunkers were constructed with necessities to sustain life, but sitting abandoned now. This building is almost like an archaeological site where building materials, infrastructure and design take us into the minds of the society.
Built in the 1950's to detect Soviet Bombers, one of the last Pine Tree Line Antennas, near Alsask, Sask. now owned by The Canadian Civil Defence Museum. This type of technology was controversial at the time. Built shortly after the cancellation of the Arrow program, it was part of NORAD, which controlled the new SAGE & Bomarc missile systems. Whether the technology was intended to be constantly upgraded (which is what happened) or was iron clad (because it cost a lot of money and took a long time to build) is up for debate. This is one of the nubs of our story.
There is some controversy that millions of dollars may have been spent on technology that was obsolete by the time it was put in use. Maybe it was difficult to tell whether the technology worked, and the only way to find out was the build it. The antennas were designed to work in conjunction with each other in a line, these ones were part of The Pine Tree line. Eventually three lines of defense would be built, The Pine Tree Line, The Mid Canada Line and The Distant Early Warning DEW Line in the Arctic.
Once the previously mentioned antennas detected a threat, a series of sirens across the country were activated by the military on the orders of the Prime Minister. The sirens were connected by telephone line. Canada had programs in place where communities across the country had organizations that trained and knew what to do in event of a disaster. The sirens wailed that dreaded, eerie sound that many considered inevitable as they waited to spring into action.
The trick to surviving a nuclear war is to be prepared. This information was supposed to prepare specific groups and and the general population for the worst. Some of the pamphlets can be downright questionable. How do we know this for a fact? Whether the information in the communications was tested is debatable, but there is a definite trajectory in the evolution of the message, (explained in the film).
Hindsight is 20/20. There was a time when the world didn't have nuclear weapons. Then there was a time when the world had nuclear weapons but very little was known about them. Nuclear weapons are extremely heavy. There was a time when delivery of the weapons was very slow. Then delivery became very fast. What do you do when an enormous amount of destructive energy comes at you in a very short period of time? This film chronicles the evolution of the question to that point. Defenses and communications evolved as the technology, but more importantly information about the technology evolved.
To be prepared means to know what to do during a nuclear event. The Air Raid Precautions booklet gives detailed instructions in the event of a catastrophic Air Raid event (apparently written before the age of ICBM because it still uses pictures of airplanes). Number 7 "Take the dog to the refuge room, but not the cat, cats go insane". How was this step tested? If it wasn't how do we know? Is it assumed? If so, what else was assumed?