Touchstones Museum has opened up Nelson’s Cold War bunker to the public. The unique exhibit includes artifacts from the 1950s and 60s. Photo: Tyler Harper

Touchstones Museum has opened up Nelson’s Cold War bunker to the public. The unique exhibit includes artifacts from the 1950s and 60s. Photo: Tyler Harper

Take cover! Cold War bunker opens to public in Nelson

The shelter was built in 1964 in case of nuclear fallout

If Canada had ever become targeted by nuclear attacks during the Cold War, approximately 70 people would have been sent in secret to live and work in a bunker located in downtown Nelson.

Those attacks, obviously, never happened. The bunker has remained empty even as life continued above in the Gray Building, which is currently home to tenants including a Canada Post office located next to Touchstones on Vernon Street.

“Certainly everyone who worked in the building knew of the existence of the bunker,” says Touchstones Museum executive director Astrid Heyerdahl. “It was sort of like, ‘oh yeah, just the bunker in the basement.’”

On Saturday, Touchstones Museum opened the bunker to the public after a three-year effort to renovate what is a time capsule of a fraught period in the 20th century.

The approximately $320,000 project, which was funded from grants by every level of government, provides a glimpse of a place few people would have seen at the peak of tensions between Western countries and the then-Soviet Union.

More than 50 of the so-called Diefenbunkers, nicknamed after Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, were built across Canada. Six such bunkers were constructed in B.C. including Nelson’s very own shelter in 1964.

Touchstones archivist and collections manager Jean-Philippe Stienne said having a bunker located in Nelson made sense in the 1960s. Cominco in Trail was still producing heavy water, which is key to nuclear weapons production.

Even if an attack had occurred outside the Kootenays, Stienne said the bunker would have been key to Canada’s communications network. He noted at the time Nelson had plenty of residents who worked for BC Tel.

“The idea behind this bunker was that it would keep life going on,” he says. “It would be about continuation of government.”

Nelson’s bunker featured decontamination showers, a water and food supply, a generator, two large dormitories for men and, perhaps tellingly, one small dorm for women.

No children or families would have been allowed in the bunker, which would have housed municipal government officials like the mayor, emergency operations and civil defence staff and communications experts. But their stay would have been brief — the bunker only had resources to provide shelter for two weeks.

Heyerdahl says the history of the bunker offers lessons relevant in 2020.

“Why talk about it? Because this can teach us about the future and how to move forward in a better way,” says Heyerdahl.

“It can create critical dialogue within our community … Even in a Cold War heritage site, we can have these kinds of conversations. So for us it’s very much about heritage always being relevant for critical dialogue.”

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

 

L-R: Touchstones Museum archivist Jean-Philippe Stienne and executive director Astrid Heyerdahl show off some of the items included in the opening of Nelson’s Cold War bunker. Photo: Tyler Harper

The exhibit features plenty of items from the 1960s that would have been used in the bunker. Photo: Tyler Harper

The exhibit features plenty of items from the 1960s that would have been used in the bunker. Photo: Tyler Harper

Just Posted

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A living wage sets a higher standard than the minimum wage; it is what a family needs to earn to provide the basic needs based on the actual costs of living in a community.
Fruitvale now a living wage employer

“I’m really excited that Fruitvale is leading the charge for municipalities locally,” Morissette said.

Nelson police say a man attacked two people downtown with bear spray on Wednesday afternoon. File photo
Two people attacked with bear spray in downtown Nelson: police

Police say the three people know each other

Rotary eClub of Waneta Sunshine, alongside members from the Kootenay Native Plant Society and Trail Wildlife Association, joined together for a day of planting at Fort Shepherd. The Waneta Sunshine eClub was granted funds through an Express Grant from District 5080 to plant 50 shrubs which support pollinator opportunities at Fort Shepherd. Photos: Submitted
Kootenay conservation partners plant pollinator ‘superfoods’ at Fort Shepherd

TLC welcomes community groups to Fort Shepherd who would like to help local ecosystems thrive

Harold and Sadie Holoboff are bringing great food and service to the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant at Champion Lakes Golf and Country Club. Photo: Jim Bailey
West Kootenay golf course welcomes father-daughter team to restaurant

Chef Harold Holoboff brings comfort food to another level at Champion Lakes Eagle’s Nest Restaurant

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Most Read