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Cold War: Tocsin B - This is not an emergency

With superpowers in the east and west testing powerful new weapons, the Canadian race for self-preservation took off in the early 1950s. The rising of the Iron Curtain intensified the threat of mass destruction, as communication between the Americans and Soviets came to a screeching halt. In this volatile new world, Canadians fretted about fallout shelters and the government prepared to go underground.

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"My fellow Canadians, you have just heard the siren sound the national alert," says a solemn Prime Minister Diefenbaker following a series of blasts from an air raid siren. Canada has been attacked with nuclear bombs in this simulated attack coordinated by the Emergency Measures Organization. The exercise, named Tocsin B, is broadcast across the country. Civilians listen to instructions at home while federal, provincial, territorial and municipal government officials and cabinet ministers coordinate communications and emergency systems.
• The word 'tocsin' is defined as an alarm sounded on a bell or an omen or warning.
• In the simulated attack, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls were completely destroyed. The imagined destruction was widespread with 1.5 million injured and 2.5 million dead. In this fake scenario, Prime Minister Diefenbaker was killed in his fallout shelter outside Ottawa.

• Many of the government officials were pleased with the exercise. "I found that the exercise was very enlightening and it was indeed satisfying to learn of the degree of efficiency that was reached by all departments," said Walter Matthews, MP for Nanaimo, BC.
• Civilians said in some areas sirens didn't function at all or they wailed for an undue length of time. Following the exercise, critics raised the issue that the plan didn't make provisions for those who couldn't afford fallout shelters.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News Special
Broadcast Date: Nov. 13, 1961
Duration: 12:50

Last updated: May 3, 2013

Page consulted on July 23, 2014

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