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

As promised in last week’s Diefenchunk post, I’m happy to share my findings on a special can of dehydrated milk from the Bunker’s collection.


The milk can is a cylindrical can of dried or dehydrated milk in powder form. The contents of the can are still intact, as the can was never opened.  The label includes the “11 Steps to Survival” instructions with suggestions for food for a fallout shelter on the back of the can.  There are also mixing instructions and  the 14 day milk requirements according to number of people.  The can is 15.2 cm tall, 12.7 cm in diameter and weighs 1 lb.

This can of Mil-ko was given to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker November 9, 1961 as a gift from Ray H. Bissell. It was the first special Fall-out Safety Pack to be produced. The Emergency Measure Organization (EMO) helped fund the production for the manufacturing labels.  Ray Hartley Bissell was the inventor of this process and method of dehydrating milk for the use of survival packs.

milko 1milko 2

History of Object/ Use

Ray Hartley Bissell filed for a patent for the process of increasing the solubility of powdered milk November 21, 1955. Bissell is the assignor to Mil-ko Products Limited in Hamilton, Ontario.  The invention is a specific processing of powdered milk that allows for lactose particles, leading to a better taste when mixed in water. The idea was to provide a milk that can instantly dissolve and taste fresh. Mil-ko Products Limited became a registered company October 3, 1958 – a month before the can was given to Prime Minister Diefenbaker. The company’s current owner is Agropur Cooperative in Longueuil, Quebec. 

In the event of a nuclear blast, nuclear fallout was a great concern for water and food supplies. If fallout particles do not mix directly with the food, then the food is not harmful. Food and water needs to be in dust-tight containers in order to preserve the content against nuclear radiation fallout. Peeling fruits and vegetables removes essentially all fallout as well as removing the top several inches of grain or similar food supplies that may have been touched by fallout. Water from various sources – such as deep wells, covered reservoirs, tanks, and containers – would not be contaminated by the fallout. Water contaminated by radioactive elements that have been dissolved can still be drinkable if it filtered through earth properly.

Food rationing was a reality of bunker-life. The cafeteria in the bunker was fully equipped and provided 4 meals a day, every day: breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as an overnight dinner for those working the night shift. Once a week fresh ingredients were delivered to the bunker. There were three walk-in coolers in the bunker kitchen – one for meat, one for dairy products and a third for vegetables.  The kitchen was used every day for 33 years. Should there be a 30-day lockdown situation, fresh ingredients could last about one week before military personnel had to switch to eating ration packs. Garbage would have been compacted and stored in room 251 until it was safe to move outside. 

The EMO, Emergency Measures Organization was the association of preparedness for civilians. Emergency preparedness was a prevalent matter in the 1950s. The idea of planning for civilian defence and preparedness began at the Federal – Provincial Conference in August, 1950.  The federal and provincial governments agreed on a plan to set up training schools for leaders, and to publish information brochures for the public.  They also established the “11 Steps to Survival” pamphlet which was distributed across Canada. It was rare for a household to not have at least one copy. 6 It was in part by the EMO that CFS Carp (or the Diefenbunker) was commissioned and constructed – as well as help from the Foundation Company of Canada under the direction of the Department of National Defence. 

This Mil-Ko can, and the support of the EMO for the production of the product, is indicative of the government’s efforts to prepare the civilian population for the aftermath of a nuclear attack during the Cold War.


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