Efforts to preserve North Bay's underground NORAD Complex got a big boost this week as the National Trust for Canada put it on its Endangered Places List.
The National Trust is a national charitable not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and renewal of heritage buildings and historic places across Canada.
"It supports what I'm trying to do," said Trevor Schindeler, who heads a campaign to save the Underground NORAD Complex.
"They have the same aim across the country trying to highlight heritage buildings and encouraging governments to help preserve them. By listing it, it shines an international spotlight on our local complex."
The sprawling modern-day fortress is built under 600 feet of solid granite directly below Canadian 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 National Trust noticed Schindeler's campaign and contacted him to ask about the building and the site and suggested it be placed on the endangered places list. "It was done very quickly and on their own initiative," the former college professor notes.
"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," says the Trust's website."The bunker made the city a potential target of the Cold War, and remains a well-known local landmark."
It points out that it is still the largest construction project to have been completed in the region, and led 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."
The National Trust notes that this unique site is in good condition and holds potential for creative and innovative reuse. In particular, the site has drawn the attention of the Canadian Broadcasting Museum Foundation, which requires a physical archive space for its collection of national digital materials.
"It's the right thing to do," Schindeler told BayToday, "I can't imagine anyone saying that it's not good to conserve heritage buildings. I continue to get positive feedback."
Schindeler believes redeveloping the NORAD complex into an archival centre provides a perfect opportunity to reuse a heritage site for a modern technical purpose.
The Museum 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 is calling on the federal government to provide bold leadership in the reuse of existing buildings and structures and retention of cultural assets," says a news release. "The reuse of the NORAD complex by the Museum Foundation would provide an innovative second life for the complex, prevent the need to construct a new facility, and create jobs in Northern Ontario.
Schindeler agrees that it would be a wonderful use for the facility. His primary goal is to preserve the complex for posterity and thinks that using the facility for archival storage is compatible with it being declared a national historic site.
While the city wrote a letter of support for a feasibility study a few years ago, neither it, the economic development department nor Tourism North Bay have shown any eagerness to lend support to the effort.
"It's more their job than mine," Schindeler muses. "It's a bit of a mystery why the city hasn't championed the preservation of the underground complex."