Sudbury

How do you dismantle an underground bunker? DND studying how to decommission North Bay 'hole'

The Department of National Defence (DND) is looking into how it will dismantle an underground bunker in North Bay, Ont. The complex is located 180 metres below surface and was meant to accommodate up to 400 people for more than a month, in the event of a nuclear bombing during the Cold War.

Complex, 180 metres below surface, meant to accommodate 400 people in event of nuclear bombing

An underground bunker at CFB North Bay hasn't been used since 2006. Now the Department of National Defence is studying how it can be fully decommissioned and dismantled. (Supplied by Canadian Forces Museum of Aerospace Defence)

The Department of National Defence (DND) is looking into how it will dismantle an underground bunker in North Bay, Ont., which was once used during the Cold War.

The complex, located 180 metres below surface, was meant to accommodate up to 400 people for more than a month, in the event of a nuclear bombing.

Located at 22-Wing/Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay, the bunker was used by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) between 1963 and 2006, when it was partially decommissioned. It has sat empty since then.

"It's heritage, it's part of North Bay," Colonel Mark Lachapelle, Commander with 22-Wing, told Up North host Jonathan Pinto.

"A lot of people that have lived there their whole lives always talk about the base and the hole," he added.

Colonel Mark Lachapelle is Commander at 22 Wing/ CFB North Bay. (Supplied by Canadian Armed Forces)

The large complex housed not only the operations room, but a power cavern to power the entire space, eating facilities, office space, areas for briefings, and even a barbershop.

For Lachapelle the space is nostalgic since he started his military career in the complex back in 2003. 

"It's literally a hole in the ground. I think of it as a cavern, and then they built a building down there," he said.

The tunnel underground at CFB North Bay. The Department of National Defence is studying how the bunker complex can be dismantled. (Supplied by Canadian Forces Museum of Aerospace Defence)

The museum at CFB North Bay includes exhibits, information and even a model of the three-story underground complex.

"You can watch a video of what it's like to drive down there," Lachapelle said.

The bunker hasn't been used by anyone in 15 years, but it has been in what Lachapelle calls caretaker or safety status.

"To make sure we kept all the things running that needed to be for the underground infrastructure to remain in place," he said. 

"But nothing more than that. So it's really not for people to go down and actually physically work down there full time."

Several third parties had expressed interest in repurposing the underground facility, but since the complex is located beneath an active military base, that's not possible for security reasons.

"It's just something that we cannot achieve right now because of the actual security required for the current operations we do right now," Lachapelle said.

Military personnel at work in the surveillance room at the underground complex at CFB North Bay in 1963. (Supplied by Canadian Forces Museum of Aerospace Defence)

The DND plans to complete several studies looking at options to fully decommission the bunker.

An environmental study will look at whether there are any substances or hazardous materials within the complex.

"Because obviously this was built back in the day and they used the different materials than are to code today. So they're looking at what's down there, and try to get an idea what the abatement would be for some of those things," he said.

Another study will look at the cost and timeline to decommission.

"And make sure that the hole — the cavern underneath — that it's completely enclosed," Lachapelle said.

The completed report is expected by the end of the year, and then the DND will contract someone to complete the decommission work.

It's been sitting empty since 2006 - and now, the Department of National Defence has started the process of fully closing the giant underground complex at CFB North Bay. Jonathan Pinto talked about the situation with base commander Colonel Mark Lachapelle. 7:45

With files from Jonathan Pinto

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