The Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum began operation in June 1998. The site was owned and operated by the Government of Canada, Department of National Defence from 1959 to 1994. The site was nicknamed after John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister at the time the government decided to construct the facility. Should nuclear war have broken out or seemed imminent, the Diefenbunker would have been the safe haven for those providing the thin thread of continuity of government. For the 33 years it was in operation, day-to-day operations made it the key strategic communications facility for the Canadian Forces.
In 1994, the government sold the site to the local Township of West Carleton (now the city of Ottawa). The local community rallied the municipal government to allow them to run tours of the mysterious secret bunker, before its fate was decided, to raise money for a new library. These initial tours were an overwhelming success! Members of the community worked to have the site designated a National Historic Site of Canada. It was dubbed as the most important surviving Cold War site in Canada by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board.
These members of the community who were volunteering their time to raise money for the library then recognised the significance in keeping the site open to the public. They lobbied the local government and won in council the right to purchase the property and operate the facility as a museum. The museum opened its doors in its new role, under community ownership, as a not-for-profit charitable museum.
In 2000, the museum began to grow, hiring part-time staff throughout the year (while maintaining the Curator) to assist not only in interpretation but in the upkeep of the museum. Nearly 15,000 people came to see the museum in 2000 -- far more than predicted.
Since then, visitor numbers have continued to increase, to the point that the Diefenbunker now averages about 25,000 visitors each year. The museum currently operates with four full-time staff, nine part-time staff and numerous volunteers.
2008 represented the 10th anniversary of the Diefenbunker as a museum, and big changes were afoot. New funding resulted in ambitious projects to maintain and improve the building for visitors and posterity, and create new programming. We're looking forward to our next ten years!