Still Standing

Small towns in Canada with neat things underground

You never know what's lurking beneath Canada's small towns

You never know what's lurking beneath Canada's small towns

Scientists at work inside SNOLAB.

You may have heard about Northern Ontario's famous "Hole," the former NORAD bunker underneath North Bay, Ont. It was home to military supercomputers as well as an office complex, gym, and even a barbershop, all safely hidden away in case of a Russian missile attack.

Well it turns out small towns have some surprising things underneath them as well. 

In fact, there's a whole world out there under Canada's small towns.Check out these totally cool places that caught our eye.

The community icehouse, Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

Behind the white door is the entrance to the town's underground communal freezer. In 1963, the small community in the Northwest Territories' Inuvik Region built a vast network below the Earth for people to store food. The freezer is nine metres underground, straight down, via a metal ladder a visiting photographer described as "treacherous." At the bottom, there are 19 rooms,  mostly storing game meat. The meat is kept cold by the permafrost. Oddly enough, in the summer, food stays cold, but in the winter, it warms up enough that meat has to be removed to prevent mold. This unique space was once popular with tourists, but it was closed to non-residents in 2016 due to safety concerns.

The Diefenbunker, Carp, Ont. 

Inside the war room at the Diefenbunker, Canada's Cold War Museum. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In the late 1950s, Cold War paranoia was at its peak. Canadians, including government officials,  were terrified of Soviet missiles raining down from above. Officially named the Central Emergency Government Headquarters, or CEGHQ Carp, the structure known as the Diefenbunker was meant to act as a shelter for key government and military personnel in the event of an ICBM attack. Located in the small Eastern Ontario town of Carp — now part of the amalgamated City of Ottawa — it was evacuation distance from the capital, was built to withstand a five-megaton nuclear blast from 1.8 km away, and had enough supplies to sustain 535 people for a month. It also featured a CBC emergency broadcast studio and a vault to store Canada's gold reserves

The CEGHQ Carp was shut down in 1994, as was the attached military base, CFS Carp. It was named a National Historic Site that same year, and re-opened as Diefenbunker: Canada's Cold War Museum, in 1998.

(Note: several other government bombshelters from the same era are also referred to as Diefenbunkers, but when people say "The Diefenbunker" they usually mean this one.)

Winter snake dens, Narcisse, Man.

The Narcisse snake dens are the winter home of tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes. (CBC)

If you have ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes), Narcisse, Man. may not be the place for you. The small town 90 minutes north of Winnipeg, is the winter home to tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes. From early fall to spring, the snakes live underground in the fissures and crevasses of limestone bedrock. But every year, in late April or May, the snakes emerge, to take part in their annual mating ritual, forming what's known as a mating ball, where one female snake is surrounded by up to 100 males. People actually come from far and wide to witness this phenomenon.

SNOLAB in Lively, Ont.

SNOLAB's SNO+ neutrino detector. (SNOLab)

This is going to sound like the start of a science fiction movie, but Northern Ontario is home to a science laboratory that 2 km below the ground. It's hidden under Lively, a community of around 5,600 that's now part of Greater Sudbury. Opening in 2012, work here focuses on neutrino and dark matter physics, very complex stuff that has to do with subatomic particles and material in the universe that can't directly be observed.

But why is it underground? The experiments need to be shielded from cosmic radiation that hits the Earth's surface. One of the neat projects SNOLAB is working on now is genetic experiment that "studies the impact of working deep underground using fruit flies as a model organism."