“Artifact Revival: Enriching Artifact Records in a Community Museum & National Historic Site” a Two-Part post by Kaitlyn Dubeau, Programs and Exhibitions Intern

Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship post-graduate program is an Ontario College Graduate Certificate.  The unique an intensive structure of this program provides 75% of class time at the Peterborough Museum and Archives in Peterborough, Ontario.  In addition to the fast-paced 8-months of course work, there is a 14 week internship where each student chooses a location to spend their summer interning and producing a major research project.  As an upcoming graduate of this program, I chose to intern at the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War and have enjoyed working as the Museum’s Programs and Exhibitions Intern since earlier this summer.

I undertook this research project as a requirement of the College’s internship program, but also as a way to help the Museum prepare for the upcoming launch of an online database for the Ottawa Museum Network.  The project intends to define the importance of community museums and the need to share local history and culture. The outcome of this project is a manual on how to catalogue and enrich artifacts from a museum collection. A well-researched artifact will provide researchers as well as the public with accessible information and perhaps a desire to visit the Museum and National Historic Site.

The core of the project includes ten artifacts that were chosen from the Diefenbunker’s collection to enrich, photograph, and provide a condition report. This will allow the Diefenbunker to upload well-researched records with photographs for researchers or individuals wishing to look through the different artifacts the museums have online.

Each artifact chosen has a copy of the original cataloguing sheet, a digital copy of the newly completed cataloguing worksheet, a condition report, and photographs. Some artifacts have additional content. If original photographs were found during research, they were included as part of the file for research purposes. Upon researching all the chosen artifacts, there were 2 I found particularly fascinating and integral to the Bunker’s history as a military base as well as a Museum; the Diefenchunk and a can of dehydrated milk.  I will share my findings on these artifacts in a two-part blog post, starting today with the Diefenchunk.


The Diefenchunk was donated to the museum in May 2002 as a gift.  On the front of the packaging it reads, “Genuine DIEFENCHUNK From the site of the Diefenbunker Carp, Ontario October 1995.” On the back of the paper packaging, “Thank you for supporting the WEST CARLETON TOWNSHIP PUBLIC LIBRARY”.  The chunk in its packaging is 13.3 cm in length, and 12.1 cm wide.

Diefenchunk front

Diefenchunk back

History of Object/Use

John Diefenbaker was the Prime Minister of Canada from 1957 – 1963, a time in which North America faced the greatest period of nuclear threat and warfare. Canada itself faced the height of nuclear threat during the 1950s and 1960s, reaching a climaxed period during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; a time when a very possible nuclear war almost erupted between the United States and the Soviet Union. Diefenbaker ran Canada in its heightened time of fear and near conflict (Jeffrey, Brian, The Guide’s Guide to the Diefenbunker, Carp, ON: Diefenbunker, 2011).

CFS Carp, or the Diefenbunker, was commissioned in 1959 under the rule of Prime Minister Diefenbaker – hence the nickname. The construction of the 100,000 square-foot nuclear fallout shelter was designed for continuity of government. It was used as a communications facility during its 33 years of operation – between 1962 and 1994. Approximately 535 of the most important individuals were chosen to come to the bunker should there be a nuclear attack on Canada. Individuals including the Prime Mister, Governor General, a CBC radio representative, RCMP, medical staff, various ministers, and military and government were chosen to escape to the bunker in the event of a nuclear attack. The Canadian government was forced to consider civil defense upon entering the 1960s when nuclear war seemed imminent. The plan was to provide a continuation of a functioning government should the worst-case scenario occur – a Soviet attack on Canadian soil. As a result, Emergency Government Facilities/emergency fallout shelters were built across Canada to accommodate federal, provincial, and municipal governments for up to thirty days at a time. The largest bunker built, the central federal government bunker, was built in Carp, Ontario, just west of downtown Ottawa. The reason for not constructing the bunker downtown in Ottawa was due to the fact that should a bomb fall on Ottawa, the government would be safe from the fallout since the wind blows towards the east in Canada – essentially blowing fallout towards Quebec rather than west towards the bunker site (Jeffrey, Brian, The Guide’s Guide to the Diefenbunker, Carp, ON: Diefenbunker, 2011).

The Bunker has a very unique construction. There are 32,000 cubic yards of poured concrete and 5,000 tons of steel used to construct it. The entire bunker is shock mounted and is designed to sway and move with any vibrations or movements caused by an earthquake from a nuclear blast. It is designed to withstand a 5-megaton nuclear bomb from approximately 1.8 kilometres away.  There are 5 inches of gravel surrounding it to help with movement – a floating foundation. All 90 miles of cables used for communications are buried underground and shock resistant as well.   All concrete was poured using wheelbarrows working at a constant rate. Approximately 900 concrete samples were taken to ensure accurate mixture, texture, consistency etc. Out of the 900 samples only 5 were rejected (The Nuclear Roof, DVD, 1963, Carp, ON : Canadian Forces Joint Imagery Centre).

In 1994, the Bunker was decommissioned and completely stripped bare of all its contents before the doors were to be sealed. In 1995, tours of the empty bunker began as a way of fundraising for the West Carleton Public Library. The tours given over a very short period of time amounted to $79,000 in funds. Other fundraising events were created to help with the library fundraiser. The “Diefenbooker” was created and hosted in Carp, ON. It is a chance to join a walk, run or cycling of varying distances as a way to raise money. Winners of the Diefenbooker received Diefenchunk awards.

Jewelry and other souvenirs were created and sold as a way to raise money for the library before the Bunker was a museum.  Earrings were a popular item made and sold on site.  This Diefenchunk is a perfect example of one of the various souvenirs sold for this National historic Site before it was a museum. Have you seen any other kinds of bunker jewelry?

chunk earrings

The Diefenbooker still occurs every year. As part of the award, winners receive medals with Diefenchunks mounted inside. Due to the success and popularity the Bunker earned from the tours and fundraising events, it was made into a museum in 1998 and now operates 363 days a year (Brown, Dave, “Diefenbenders,” The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, ON, Apr. 17, 1996).

Stay tuned next week for my findings on a very special can of dehydrated milk!


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