The Diefenbunker – Canada’s Cold War Museum

Yesterday (18th) I was about to be on the move again. I was headed to Denver a couple of days ahead of Stuart to visit my Denver Family. Unfortunately, the first leg of my one-stop flight (out of Ottawa) was first delayed then cancelled. So, making the connection in EWR (New Jersey) was impossible. Stuart circled back to the airport to pick me up after I changed my flight to the same as his on Thursday afternoon (the 20th). Instead of going to Denver, I went to the Tuesday Night Kanata Cruise-in car show, which was pretty cool anyway. But why is air travel so unreliable nowadays?

Entrance to the Diefenbunker

The pictures today are from the Diefenbunker, which is The Canadian Cold War Museum. It is located very close to Ottawa in a small town called Carp. If you have the chance to visit this museum, it is well worth your time. The Diefenbunker was built under the purview of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker as a response to increasing nuclear threats during the Cold War involving the West and the Soviet Union. The bunker is buried 75 feet in the ground with 4 levels of work- and living-space totaling 100,000 square feet. Its blast-proof roof construction was built to withstand a 5-megaton bomb falling a mile or so away. Construction began in 1959 and was completed in 18 months. After completion, the facility was used as a small military station with a staff ranging from 100 to 150 people living on site. However, the facility was intended to house approximately 550 people who were to keep the Canadian government going and support restarting the country after a nuclear war. The Diefenbunker became a historic site in 1994. It was most likely acknowledged as a folly years before that, since the chosen people would not have time to get to the bunker before nuclear obliteration, nor would 30 days of sequestration be long enough for them to hunker down before emerging to rebuild.

Diefenbaker himself never entered the bunker, even at the ribbon cutting. According to the guide, he said he would never be going there once he learned that his wife Olive was not on The List. The List had back-up people for each of the 550-odd positions, so if Person 1 didn’t make it, Person 2 took his/her (mostly his) place, etc. How Person N would know Person N-1 wasn’t going to arrive? What happened if Person N-1 arrived late and Person N already was inside? Were cabinet ministers cross-trained as cooks?

The contents of the bunker have been updated since 1961. For example, there were desktop computers that could read 5-inch floppy discs, and IBM Selectric typewriters in some of the offices – and not a keypunch machine or card sorter to be seen. We were told the museum is working to recover artifacts, which is great.

Blast tunnel

The entrance to the Diefenbunker looks like a large garage with a hill behind it. Upon entering the side door, you see the blast tunnel, which designed to direct the atomic blast energy through and away from the bunker. The inside of the bunker, which is a square underground building, is a warren of hallways, workrooms, living quarters and meeting rooms.

Office space with IBM Selectric and cubicles

The color scheme of the hallways, walls and furniture were in what interior decorators believed to be “calming colors” (in the 1960’s) and the striping of floors and walls was thought to give the illusion of space.

The change to blue in the hallway signified the entry to the women’s quarters.

The picture below is of the Prime Minister’s bedroom. Single bed. No Olive. Note the calming effect of the orange drawer.

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Northern Flicker – Mont Ste. Marie, Quebec

This is a male Northern Flicker, spotted on a pine tree. (You can tell it is a male because of the black “mustache” by it’s beak.) We found it on a walk around the chalets (privately owned cottages) near the ski hill at Mont Sainte Marie in Quebec, where Stuart has a chalet. Northern Flickers eat ants (a favorite), beetles, caterpillars and termites, but also eat berries, fruits and nuts in the Fall. This one appeared to be listening for critters creeping under the bark of the tree, but it might just have been keeping an eye on us as we circled around, trying to get a good shot.

This is the Time of the Black Flies; The females bite because they need blood to reproduce. I have a number of bites near my ears, acquired when sweeping leaves off the front deck. Dreadful creatures. Possibly well loved by Northern Flickers? There are more than 1000 (some sources say more than 2000) species of black flies, of which only 15 are extinct (hard for me to be too sad about that.) There are about 110 species in Canada. I don’t know what species bit me, but I have welts and they itch. Folks, these flies are a nasty piece of work. They can kill cattle, even.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is a tourist town with preference for tourists with money to burn. Nearly everything costs and is more dear than it should be, which is how it is in tourist towns. The town sits at the elbow of glacially-formed Lake Wakatipu, which has an interesting Z shape viewed from above. We may view it from above when we leave tomorrow from the Queenstown airport.

The main activities in addition to shopping, eating and hotels in Queenstown involve action sports such as skiing and bungie jumping. There’s a gondola car system to the top of the large hill behind the town where you can take in the views but also race around on a luge in a wooden cart. And there are theme tours such as Lord of the Ring tours. The town didn’t start this way. In 1860 a man named Rees and another named von Tunzelmann started sheep stations in the area. A few years later, there was the mid-60’s gold rush and Rees turned his sheering shed into a hotel, bending to twig that shaped the tree.

The town now boasts the most expensive real estate in New Zealand due to scarcity of land for development and appeal to foreign investors.

One of my fellow travelers and I went tramping (hiking) in the botanical garden called Queenstown Garden, with an additional excursion through the shopping areas. The Garden was established in 1867, with the usual intent to test which European and North American species of trees could be challenged to grow in the area for commercial purposes. Thus there are many very large non-native trees such as Douglas fir and Sitka pines. The setting is beautiful, on a peninsula extending into Lake Wakatipu, with views toward Cecil Peak, Walter Peak and the group of mountains where the ski hills are, called the Remarkables.

Cecil Peak from the Lake Wakatipu wharf, Queensland, New Zealand

The park trails are easy walking, surfaced partly in asphalt and partly in gravel. It is getting cool here in the South, with morning temperatures in the 40s F and highs of about 55F today, with sun and clouds. It’s colder when it’s raining, which it does often at this time of year.

Queenstown Garden pathway

Hokitika, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Hokitika was the jumping off point for a gold rush in 1864. It is located at the mouth of a river of the same name, and the would-be miners used the river to get to the gold fields, at least at first. Hokitika was a big, wealthy town, briefly. After the gold rush finished, which they inevitably do, Hokitika fell back to a small community supporting the lumber, farming and remnant gold industry. It shrank to a one-horse town, essentially, and has remained so. In fact, after logging of native species of timber was highly restricted, the West Coast was in some economic distress, such that the government stepped in with investments to develop tourism in the area.

Hokitika is still on a river (currently grey with silt due to the heavy rains) and is still a one-horse town, but has some statues and an hour and a half guided tour. As you can imagine, the tour doesn’t cover much ground, and you don’t want to go there. We found good food this evening at a pub, and some street art and beach art to enjoy.

The gold mined properties around Hokitiki were inexpensive for many years. A community of eclectic free souls, artists and other off-grid people developed there, alongside the farmers, loggers and such. Currently the town has at least 6 jade stone jewelry stores and even more carvers that supply them, plus stores selling stocks, camping equipment, souvenirs, blown glass objects, photographs, wood carvings, and so on.

Although it showered throughout the day, we decided to trust our usual good luck with weather and took our coach (bus) up to Hokitika Gorge path. The rain stopped long enough for us to walk down into the gorge and back. The path is maintained very well, well graveled, stump and rock free, and well drained. There is a very sturdy suspension bridge across the gorge and a well-situated lookout over the river at the end of the path. The river is grey with silt that has washed down from the mountains in the center of the South Island due to the great amount of rain that has been falling. The path is a walk through a temperate rainforest.

Wellington Harbor

Wellington harbor has great places to eat, walk and shop. It has a boat painted with penguins and seals, each unique and personalized. (Do they each represent individual people?) It is a charming contrast to the military boats, yachts, working boats and ferries, a caution against taking ourselves too seriously. If the penguin-seal boat is not sufficient to deliver the message, there is the painted piano, the painted bollard (that thing you moor a ship to), and a graphic graphic explaining the location of the gentlemen’s loo.

This strikingly painted food truck below sells very popular street food called a fritter (but actually a kind of pancake) containing your choice of chopped abalone, a tiny fish called whitefish, or chopped mussels – specifically, green-lipped mussels. The fritter cake is served on white bread of the “wonder” sort that has been heavily buttered. The green-lipped mussel one is open-faced. I can testify to that because I ate one.

The national museum, called Te Papa Tongarewa (“Te papa” means “our place” in Maori) is on the harbor, too. It is attractive outside and inside, and costs $20 per person. It tries so very hard to tell the story of the Maori and the history of white settlement, so the walls are thick with signs. I won’t try to explain the Maori settlement or the British invasion, land theft and ethnic cleansing, since this is a blog not a book and I don’t know enough to get the facts and figures right. It is sufficient to note that the Maori, who arrived from Polynesia about 800 years ago, were nearly wiped out by the British, who arrived in 1840. The Maori wiped out the moa, the large flightless bird. The British nearly wiped out everything else, between the clear-cutting of forests and burning to create grazing fields and the introduction of everything from pinus radiata (California pines – which grow better in New Zealand than they do in California) to rats.

The objects below are Maori – a carved canoe, a piece of fabric, and a stone.


Wellington Botanic Garden and the City to Sea bridge

The Wellington Botanic Garden and the City to Sea pedestrian bridge are two nearly free places to visit in Wellington. Actually, if you don’t care to walk up a very steep hill, then the best way to reach the Wellington Botanic Garden from the central business district is by cable car. It will cost you $5 one way, but hey, the view at the top of the hill is spectacular (well worth $5), and the hill is Really Steep.

Wellington Harbor from the terminus of the cable car

The walk down the hill on which the Botanic Garden is perched is steep, tranquil and very green. There are many sections to the garden, including a fern garden, a succulent garden, a rose garden, and sections devoted to native plants. And if you follow the Orange Path through the garden, you will go through the Old Burial Ground, which has some very interesting monuments, including a naked guy right at the top of the hill.

Harry was the leader of the New Zealand Labor party, and a businessman and the owner of a newspaper. Which explains nothing at all about this nude guy.

The original purpose of the garden when it was started in 1868 was to serve as a trial garden to test out imported plants to see whether they could be grown as crops in New Zealand. Thus the garden began with plantings of conifers.

I wish I could tell you the botanical or even common names of the plants above, but there are no labels or identifying signs.

The photo above is of the Peace Garden, with an eternal flame in the pagoda shaped ornament in the middle of the pond.

The City to Sea Bridge, seen across the Whairepo Lagoon, looks from some angles like a patched together bunch of old weathered wood. It is a sculpture acting as a platform for other sculptures and artworks, in addition to reconnecting people to their harbor.

Windy Wellington

Wellington is one of the windiest places in New Zealand, due to its location on the Cook Strait that runs between the North and South islands of New Zealand. Wellington is at the southern tip of the North Island.

We arrived in Wellington at about 3PM and it took some time to clear customs and immigration. We reached our hotel by bus, riding along the bay. One hint of the windiness could be found in the three wind sculptures we passed on our way in to the central business district (CBD).

Tomorrow we will begin to get acquainted with New Zealand in much more detail.