During the height of the Cold War, in the 1950s and 1960s, nearly 50 bunkers were constructed across Canada. Their purpose was to shelter up to 8,000 officials in the event of a nuclear war, and they were commonly found in secure locations in a well constructed federal building, such as the Nelson post office.
Few people knew about the existence of Nelson’s bunker until 2013 when Touchstones Nelson began offering private tours. Since then the museum board and staff have been working to preserve and prepare the space for public viewing.
After many years of planning, the Cold War bunker is opening to the public as a permanent museum exhibition and heritage site.
“The Touchstones Nelson team is thrilled that after renovations, the development of an exhibition and educational programming development, new collections storage, an updated HVAC system to meet museum-standards, updated washrooms, new lighting, and more, the bunker will open in October,” says Astrid Heyerdahl, executive director of Touchstones Nelson.
“This project has been a tremendous team effort spanning many years. We have so many people to thank — past staff and board members; current volunteers, board and staff; the Gray Building owners; the City of Nelson; our many funders, and more. We look forward to welcoming you to the space.”
“It has been fascinating uncovering the story of this largely unknown part of Nelson’s history,” says Jean-Philippe Stienne, archivist and collections manager at Touchstones Nelson. “I am delighted that we are able to finally share the secrets of the bunker with the community, and welcome visitors into this Cold War era time capsule of the 1960s.”
The exhibition explains the role of the bunker in the context of the extraordinary world wide tensions at that time. Among the items preserved from the original bunker, visitors can view a mobile feeding unit’, a self-contained ration kit that converted to a table; a Geiger counter, and many cold-war related items from the Touchstones Nelson collection, and on loan from other museums.
The bunker kitchen and Civil Defence co-ordinator’s office have been recreated, and
include many items that were originally found in the bunker.
“The current board of directors, as well as all past board members, have been fully supportive of this incredible heritage project,” says Sheila Achilles, chair of the board. “We are greatly looking forward to opening the space to the public to offer more educational and history interaction. We are proud of the staff and volunteer team who has made this project happen.”
The bunker opens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 2 p.m., with a members-only showing from 11:30 to 2. Due to distancing restrictions, tours of 10 are booked for 30 minute time slots, which must be registered in advance by visiting Eventbrite or calling 250-352-9813.