Every February, the nation’s capital hosts Winterlude, a festival to celebrate the best winter has to offer. The first Winterlude was hosted in 1979, but before then, Canadian Forces Station Carp (CFS Carp, aka the Diefenbunker) had our own way of getting out into the snow.

While in operation, military personnel stationed at the Diefenbunker spent long days underground. To help alleviate the inevitable cabin fever that came with working in such enclosed spaces, the Diefenbunker hosted an annual 3-day long Winter Carnival in February.

In the beginning…

We’re not entirely sure which year the carnival started, but by 1970 the winter exploits were in full swing and continued until the Bunker’s closure in 1994. Captains were chosen for four teams and drafted staff, regardless of rank, for their team. Full-time staff were given time off for the Carnival, but shift-workers had to choose competitions to compete in that weren’t scheduled during their shift. But the Carnival was not exclusive to soldiers, as the civilians of Carp participated in events as well.

The Carnival began with a torch relay. The torch was lit from the centennial flame at Parliament Hill and then run the 26 miles from Ottawa to Carp. Each of the five runners would run two miles before passing the torch off to the next person. When the torch lit the brazier at the Diefenbunker, the Carnival officially started. The best marathon time recorded was 2 hours and 13 minutes in 1984.

About that Cabin Fever…

If you think the games could be won by the best athlete of CFS Carp, then you’d be in for a shock. The activities that took place during the Carnival included tobogganing races, ice-sculpture contests, bobbing for apples, and curling. These were the fairly normal activities, but stranger and more ridiculous games were included as well. Competitors would down a beer, eat four crackers, then, with a very dry mouth, do their best to whistle. Another game was attempting to sew a patch onto their partner’s ‘derriere’ without pricking them. Balloon shaving had one person sitting beneath a water-filled balloon, nervously watching their team member attempt to shave it.

Teams also played golf in the snow. But instead of a golf ball and club, players used an egg and a hammer. Volleyball was played over a high fence, which made it impossible for teams to see where the ball would come over the wooden “net.” The blow ball competition had teams kneeling opposite each other across a pool table, and blowing a ping pong ball into their opponent’s pocket to score.

The Grand Finale…

The final day of competition included a male and female member of each team preparing a skit with costumes and props. The winner of the best skit would be crowned the king and queen of the Winter Carnival. Then the points from each contest were tallied and the winner announced. For top-secret reasons, we need to keep those photos locked in the Vault…

Winterlude at the Bunker in 2020

While none of these more unusual events will be featured this year at our Winterlude at the Bunker celebrations, you can take part in blow ball (yes that’s what it was actually called!), darts, bean bag toss, cards, paper airplane target practice, and more!

Join us each weekend during Winterlude at the Bunker to experience some of these fun activities, Feb 1 & 2, 8 & 9, and 15-17.

Special thanks to Jennifer Pett for authoring this post. Jennifer is currently working once a week at the Diefenbunker for her practicum with Carleton University where she is persuing a BA in history with a French minor. She is interested in how historical information is communicated to the public.

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