Why it matters:
This high security military installation was built between 1959-1963 as part of Canada’s significant commitment to NORAD (the North American Air Defence Command). The 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 was designated as a “Classified Federal Heritage Building” due to the central role it played in Canada’s contribution to the air defence of North America during the Cold War. The bunker made the city a potential target of the Cold War, and remains a well known local landmark. It is still the largest construction project to have been completed in the region, and lead to a significant period of development for North Bay in the 1960s. Its construction also contributed to the physical transformation of the city , as the rock excavated to create the cavern was used to improve the waterfront- a focal point of the lakeside downtown.
Why it’s endangered:
NORAD determined that the Complex can no longer serve a viable military purpose due to the development of the hydrogen bomb and advanced missile technology, rendering the technology onsite obsolete. In 2006 it moved its air defence operations above ground.
The Complex is currently sitting vacant, while DND continues to provide the basic necessary power to continuously pump out the groundwater that would otherwise flood the subterranean facility. Without a modern military use for the complex, it risks being decommissioned and either demolished or allowed to flood unless an acceptable third party tenant can be found to provide alternative uses for the purpose built bunker.
What Needs to Change:
While this site is unique it also holds potential for creative and innovative reuse. Despite being vacant, the complex is in good condition and offers more than one accessible entrance, with possibilities for more than one tenant to adapt the space for a variety of uses.
The opportunity for innovation has drawn the attention of the Canadian Broadcasting Museum Foundation, which is in need of a physical archive space for its collection of national digital materials. The NORAD complex would provide the perfect opportunity to reuse a heritage site for a modern technical purpose. The Foundation sees potential in using the Complex as a state-of-the-art repository and digitization centre for archival audio and visual material, to be accessed easily online across Canada. The archives would benefit from the insulation of the Canadian Shield, protecting digital resources from harmful electromagnetic fields, a necessity that creates high building costs in new archival structures.
The National Trust believes the federal government needs to provide bold leadership in the reuse of existing buildings and structures and retention of cultural assets helping address the climate crisis. The reuse of the NORAD complex by the Canadian Broadcasting Museum Foundation and other tenants would provide an innovative second life for the complex, prevent the construction of a new facility – contributing to urban spread, and create jobs in northern Ontario.
What you can do:
Location: North Bay, On
Endangered Places List: 2021