The Research Challenge

I began on this quest when I initially volunteered to work in the Archives of the Diefenbunker Museum, and could not locate some of the material relevant to the design and construction phases of the Bunker.

After digging through some of what was available there, I proposed the research and writing project to the Museum Executive Director and her staff, and to some key Bunker volunteers with encyclopedic knowledge of that collection.

With huge if unrealistic optimism, I launched on a grander research scheme to see if I could find the so-far missing pieces.

I had to quickly put aside the notion that one undiscovered box of documentary gems would fall into my lap with all the data.

Not likely.

So I had to move out on a broader and more structured search for archival material in a variety of sources.

There are many resources available to a researcher on a mission.

These include material physically available in inventories in archival collections, on-line searchable catalogs and databases; people with a lifetime of expertise in library and archival matters; or individuals with personal knowledge of the event in question, ideally with a personal treasure trove of documents. One can dream.

It’s particularly fortunate to be located in Ottawa. Our National Capital has a rich collection of archival holdings in several locations, and I’ve become a denizen of most of them.

The City of Ottawa Archives is in a brand new facility in the CentrePoint area. As I’ve found with all archives staffs I’ve come into contact with, the City staff are extremely helpful and responsive. The City Archive holds an interesting collection of area newspapers going back some years. I was able to look at the Carp weekly paper , but unfortunately the collection did not have the years I was interested in (1959-61).

DND’s Directorate of History and Heritage, main offices off Walkley Road, has an extensive collection of archival material going back many years, obviously with a military focus. I was able to review several boxes of material of discussions on civil defence matters in general and Operation Bridge (the Diefenbunker) specifically complete with marginal comments and doodling of presumably bored senior Defence officials.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is our national archival resource. It is in a beautiful building from the mid-60s, with enough marble to satisfy a Roman emperor.

There is a dark science associated with doing research in the LAC, starting with identifying material that is relevant, and then determining how to request the appropriate references.

LAC staff are excellent in providing pointers to aspiring researchers, including sit-down assistance sessions if arranged in advance.

One rapidly becomes conversant with terms such as FA (Finding Aids), RG (Record Group – for example, RG 24 is National Defence), and the use of a range of catalog database search tools, culminating in requests for material for examination which is generally available within a few days. It appears that much of this material remains classified, but it’s not clear yet if this is a meaningful level of security protection, or simply reflects the fact that these particular materials may not have been requested before and thus have not had to be declassified. All other material associated with the Diefenbunker that I’ve come across to this point is indeed unclassified.

I’m a long way from earning my National Archives secret decoder ring and handshake, but the route there is fascinating.

The article on this project in the Ottawa Citizen (link on side menu) provided a tremendous boost in circulating awareness of the research. In the weeks since its publication, I’ve received a number of contacts from other researchers with similar interests, immediate family members of senior military and civilian engineers on the project, individuals who worked on the design and/or construction of the Bunker in a number of areas, and many now-senior members of construction companies and associations, all with personal knowledge of the original project, and with the possibility of long-buried project documentation.

This is all very positive and supportive, and demands a good handle on managing a myriad of information, contacts, and research possibilities.

I’m learning. Be gentle.


About ottawazoe

retired combat engineer officer, former provincial public servant, currently federal public servant, with an abiding interest in our fascinating local history
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