The DND should consent to the NORAD Complex being designated as a national historic site

There are many abandoned forts across Canada that have become national historical sites. People are fascinated by military history, which make forts popular places to visit.

It is unlikely that you know about the latest Canadian military fortress to be abandoned.  Until recently, it was a high security military installation.  It is also the best fortified.  The Underground NORAD Complex is a sprawling, three-story, modern-day fortress built under 600 feet of granite directly below Armed Forces Base North Bay.  Built to withstand a direct hit by a 4-megaton nuclear blast, and protected by three 19-ton steel blast doors, it was designed to provide life support for 400 people following a nuclear attack. 

The Complex became ground zero in the most dangerous military conflict the world has ever seen, the Cold War.  Lying between the United States and the former Soviet Union, it is where Canada maintained world peace by preventing nuclear war.  Does history get more momentous?  Due to its historical importance, the Complex has been designated as a “Classified Federal Heritage Building” by the National Historic Sites Directorate.

With development of the hydrogen bomb and advanced missile technology, NORAD determined that the Complex no longer serves a viable military purpose.  In 2006 it moved its air defence operations above ground.  The Complex is sitting vacant.

In 2019, I applied to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) to have the Complex designated as a national historic site.  Clearly, it satisfies the HSMBC’s criteria.  It is an exceptional achievement in concept, design, and technology.  How many other buildings in Canada are designed to withstand a nuclear blast?  Further, it is explicitly and meaningfully associated with a significant historical era.  It should have been a slam-dunk.  However, the Department of National Defence (DND) would not consent to the site being designated.  No reason was given.

Designation is honorary in nature and commemorative in intent.  It does not affect ownership of the site, provide legal protection to the site, or give the public a right of access to the site.  All that happens is that a commemorative bronze plaque is installed.  Why would the DND withhold consent?

That question was answered when the DND recently announced plans to decommission the facility.  Likely, this means that the Complex will be demolished and allowed to flood.  Demolishing a newly designated national historic site would be awkward to justify. 

The Complex, which would cost over $500 million to build today, has enormous potential as a tourist destination.  It could be developed into a national historic site or park by Parks Canada.  Alternatively, it could be developed into a national museum – perhaps a Museum of Modern History – by the Ministry of Heritage. 

The federal government should commission a feasibility study into preserving the Complex and developing it into a tourist destination as a national historic site, park, or museum – before the DND floods it. 

If you agree that this extraordinary Canadian heritage site should be preserved, please email Nipissing–Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota at Anthony.Rota@parl.gc.ca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at pm@pm.gc.ca, and let them know.