Open Letter to the Minister of Environment

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, PC, MP
Minister of Environment (Parks Canada)
Government of Canada

Dear Minister:

Are you aware that the Department of National Defence (DND) has announced plans to decommission Classified Federal Heritage Buildings “53/Power Cavern and 55/Control Building”?  Likely, they will be demolished and allowed to flood.  You might not know about these two buildings.  Until recently they formed a secret military installation, the Underground NORAD Complex.

The Heritage Character Statement, created by Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO), Parks Canada, states the following:

FHBRO number: 03-110
DFRP number: 11377
Resource name: 53/Power Cavern and 55/Control Building (2-Building Structure)
Address: Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS) Complex, CFB North Bay, Ontario
FHBRO status: “Classified” Federal Heritage Building
Construction: 1959-1963
Designer: RCAF Construction Engineering Branch
Original function: Headquarters of the Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS) of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD)
Current function: Unchanged
Modifications: None significant
Custodian: Department of National Defence

Ironically, “classified” in FHBRO speak does not mean “secret”.  Rather, it refers to the highest level of protection accorded to heritage buildings.  

The Complex was ground zero during the Cold War against the former Soviet Union, the most dangerous military conflict the world has ever seen.  The Heritage Character Statement states that:

The CADS complex is one of the best examples of the national theme of Canada’s joint participation with the USA in the air defence of North America during the Cold War and illustrates more specifically the country’s commitment and participation to NORAD (the North American Air Defence Command), created in 1958. … The bunker made the town of North Bay a “hot spot” and potential target of the Cold War, and also contributed to its physical transformation, as the rock excavated to create the cavern was used to improve the town’s waterfront.

The United States paid two-thirds of the $51 million total cost of building the Complex.  Today, taking inflation into account, it would cost about $500 million to build. 

Under section 6.1.10 of the federal government’s Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property, the DND is required to consult with Parks Canada before demolishing a heritage building.  Further, the DND is required to use best efforts to find alternative uses for surplus heritage buildings.

As the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, please tell Canadians whether the DND consulted with the agency in a meaningful way about demolishing and flooding Classified Federal Heritage Buildings 53 and 55.  Further, please tell Canadians whether Parks Canada has considered how it might utilize this remarkable facility. 

The Complex, which was built 600 feet below a hill covered by hundreds of acres of forest, could be developed by Parks Canada into a national historic site or park.  It is accessed through two portals connected by a three-kilometer tunnel.  Visitors could enter through the South Portal, situated on the picturesque shores of Trout Lake, and walk down the tunnel to the three nuclear blast doors.  Parts of the Complex, such as the NORAD Command Centre and Power Cavern, could be made accessible to visitors. 

Why is it important to preserve the Complex?  Beyond maintaining two heritage buildings that have global historical significance, it would educate both Canadians and foreign visitors about the continuing dangers of nuclear war.  The threat of nuclear war has not gone away and in recent years it has increased.  However, it is difficult for people to comprehend the danger that nuclear war represents.  There is no better way to appreciate the magnitude of the threat than by visiting the Complex and seeing the nuclear blast doors in person.  It makes it all very real.

As the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, please champion the Underground NORAD Complex.  Commission a feasibility study into preserving the Complex and developing it into a national historic site or park – before the DND floods it.  This is a reasonable and affordable request. 

Other readers, please email Nipissing–Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota at Anthony.Rota@parl.gc.ca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at pm@pm.gc.ca, to let them know that you support this initiative. 

Follow this campaign on Twitter @NoradComplex, on Facebook @NORADComplex or at the Underground NORAD Complex blog.

Yours sincerely,

Trevor Schindeler

Campaign to Save the Underground NORAD Complex

North Bay, Ontario