Not To Be Trusted With Knives

The Internet’s leading authority on radicalized geese


The Diefenbunker!

Beth at the Diefenbunker

The last time I was in Ottawa, Sarah and Dave’s attempt to bring me to the Diefenbunker was thwarted by holiday closure of said bunker. On this trip, to make it up to me, Ottawa gave Sarah & me free admission! More specifically, the Ottawa Public Library offered free admission and Sarah, a regular at said Library, picked up said free passes so that she and I could enjoy all the awesomeness of Canada’s Cold War Museum for free, free, free! Poor Dave couldn’t join us as he had to work, like a sucker!

Sarah at the DiefenbunkerThe Diefenbunker, which operated from 1959 to 1994 as previously alluded to, is Canada’s Cold War Museum. More specifically, it is a bunker that was built, under the government of Prime Minister Diefenbaker – who you may remember from my Prime Ministerial series as the blog posting guest written by the aforementioned Sarah – as a place that prominent Canada politicians – along with all the gold in the Bank of Canada – could go in the event that Ottawa got nuked with an atomic bomb. Back in those days, everyone was sure that it was pretty much inevitable that such a thing would happen, so a series of bunkers were built across the country, with the biggest and most elaborate one being the Diefenbunker, locate 30 km west of Ottawa and intended for the Prime Minister, the Governor General, various federal Ministers and military big wigs. The idea was that they wanted to ensure that Canada could be re-built and governed after a nuclear attack and so they needed the people with the power to do that to be kept safe in this bunker. Plus they needed the money to do it – hence the giant vault built to house all the gold from the Bank of Canada1.

Of course, such a bunker system was only useful in the event that there was enough forewarning of a nuke on its way that all these important people could be brought to the bunker before the bomb hit. Which was true when they started building the bunker – the delivery of bombs via plane from Russia at that time would have been slow and there would have been several hours warning of such a bomb on its way. By the time it was finished, that wasn’t really true anymore, but that didn’t stop the bunker from being staffed for many years after it was built! In fact, it was operated until 1994.

After decommissioning, the bunker was turned into a museum and much to the surprise of even the people running it as a museum, people were clamouring to see it! I mean, how often do you get to see the inside of a previously secret government facility like that? If you ever find yourself in Ottawa, I highly recommend you check it out. It feels like walking onto the set of a movie about the Cold War2 and I had to keep reminding myself, “no, this is the real deal!”

Also, in a move that I can only imagine coming from a guy like him, Dief never once set foot in the Diefenbunker. At some point, he was told that should he need to go to the bunker, he would not be allowed to bring his wife with him. The bunker was built to accommodate the government officials and bureaucrats deemed necessary, along with the support staff needed to run the bunker3, plus two CBC radio personalities who could broadcast messages in familiar and comforting voices to those left up on the ground – around 500 people in total – and stocked with enough food to sustain those people for 30 days (at which point it was felt that it would be safe to go back outside). If all those people were allowed to bring spouses (and not even their kids), it would need to be twice as big and stocked with twice as many supplies – and that just wasn’t feasible. And it was decided that if everyone else in the bunker was leaving their spouse behind, how could the Prime Minister not do the same? Dief decided that he wouldn’t leave his wife behind to get nuked and so he boycotted the facility, refusing to ever step foot into it.

Another interesting story that the tour guide told us was what happened to all the other bunkers around the country. When the bunkers were decommissioned, the government had to figure out what to do with them. After all, they couldn’t all be museums – and truly it’s just the Ottawa one that was really big and decked out – so what do you do with a series of underground bunkers designed to withstand a nuclear bomb? At first, they figured they could sell them to recoup some of the costs of building them all, and they sold one of the bunkers to a farmer. A farmer who proceeded to sell the bunker to some Hell’s Angels, who used it as a clubhouse! Realizing that they didn’t want the bunkers to fall into the hands of just anybody and that they could control what happened to them once they sold them off, they bought the bunker back from the HA and proceeded to fill them all up with concrete!

The next time you find yourself in Ottawa, I highly recommend a trip to the Diefenbunker!  They have guided tours as well as self-guide audio tours – we did the guided tour, which was cool because you can ask their tour guide questions and find out things that might not be on the audio version, and then after your guided tour you are free to roam around and check out the different exhibits!

  1. When we were talking about our trip to the Diefenbunker later at Sarah’s parents house, Sarah’s dad said his favourite part of this is that if the bunker ever needed to be used, it would take hundreds of people to get all the gold from the Bank of Canada in Ottawa onto a train, ship it to the bunker, and then load it all into the vault in the bunker. And then those men would be sent back on that train to Ottawa to wait to get nuked! []
  2. and, in fact, it as used as a set for The Sum of All Fears, because where else are you going to find a nuclear bunker that you can film your movie in? []
  3. think cooks, doctors, nurses, mechanics, etc. []


BC Premier #15 – The Premier Who Liked To Party Party

Sir Richard McBride, the 15th Premier of the Province of British Columbia.

File:Richard McBride.jpg Name Sir Richard McBride, KCMG
Born: December 15, 1870 in New Westminster, BC
Died: August 6, 1917) in London, UK
Party: BC Conservative
Held Office: June 1, 1903 – December 15, 1915
  • considered the founder of the (now pretty much defunct1) BC Conservative Party
  • September 1887: went to Dalhousie Law School. While there, he did really well in the mock Parliament and, in a bit of foreshadowing that my grade 9 English teacher would have loved, he was the mock Parliament Premier in his third year
  • 1896: ran in the federal election for the oddly named Liberal-Conservative party (no idea who their opponents were), but lost
  • 1898: elected to the provincial legislature in the Westminster-Dewdney riding; given the nickname “Dewdney Dick”
  • 1900: appointed to Dunsmuir’s cabinet as the Minister of Mines, having done a bunch of legal work sorting out mining claims in the mining boom in the northwest part of the province during recess between legislative sittings;
  • fall 1900: elected president of the BC consverative organization (not Party, ‘cuz they didn’t quite have provincial parties yet)
  • September 1901: he resigned from Dunsmuir’s cabinet when Dunsmuir appointed a Joseph Martin ally to his cabinet, as Dunsmuir had said he was going to work against Martin
  • Feb 1902: chosen to be the leader of the Opposition
  • Sept 1902: not re-elected as the president of the provincial Conservative organization, but since the guy who was elected didn’t have a seat in Legislature, he remained the leader of the Opposition.  This led to…
  • June 1, 1903: appointed Premier by the Lieutanent Governor. He felt that the no-party system was lame, so he declared his administration to be a Conservative Party one (which seems slightly odd, given that he was specifically not elected as the leader of the Conservatives, but so it was) and that he’d fight the fall election as the Conservative Party
  • October 3, 1903: won the first partied2 Government with a two seat majority (22 of 42 seats).  This party tried “to stablize the economy by cutting spending and raising new taxes”5 and implemented “progressive reforms of the province’s labour law”5– you know how Conservatives love labour and higher taxes3.  Also, like many politicians of the time I’m discovering as I write this series of blog postings, he was a big fat racist who called for “a halt to Asian immigration”6

    “He shared the widespread belief in “a white B.C.,” called for “Mongolian exclusion,” and sought to shut out the “Asiatic hordes.” His particular concern was “cheap” Japanese labour competing in the fisheries and in “everything the white man has been used to call his own.” He endorsed anti-Asian measures in order to bring the “Asian problem” to the attention of eastern Canadians, and he employed the federal government’s repeated disallowance of the province’s legislation on the matter, notably the so-called Natal Acts which imposed a language test on prospective immigrants, in his “Fight Ottawa” crusade. After the Conservatives formed the federal government in 1911, he urged Borden to honour a promise to legislate against immigration from Asia. By then McBride also perceived a Japanese military threat.”6

    On the other major racial issue that seems to come up in this period of BC history:

    “McBride’s approach to Indian peoples, whom he had known from his boyhood and legal practice and with whom he could converse in Chinook Jargon, was paternalistic. As a young lawyer he got a charge of murder reduced to manslaughter because his drunken client “was an Indian.” He believed the Indians had “been treated fairly and equitably,” and thought they “should play a very important part in the material advancement and welfare of the community.””6

  • 1907: won another election, this time with 26 of the 42 seats
  • 1908: decided that the province should have its own provincial university (UBC, which opened in 1915), because Conservatives love higher education3, and promised more railway lines
  • 1909 & 1912: kicked serious ass in these elections, which 38 of 42 seats and 40 of 42 seats, respectively.
  • was BFFs with Robert Borden’s federal Tories
  • during WWI: in response to rumours of German ships in the North Pacific, he bought two submarines from Seattle and then sold them to the federal government at the same price for which he bought them. He was accused of making some coin on the transaction, but a Royal Commission “determined that the whole transaction was “of blameless character””6
  • in addition to his racism, he was also sexist and “never believed”6 in women’s suffrage
  • 1915: called an election for April 10, then three days later postponed it indefinitely under the dubious explanation of “unexpected difficulty in revising the voters’ lists and getting ballot boxes to remote areas””6
  • 1915: UBC opened
  • as seems to be the downfall of many early BC politicians, the railway did McBride in. An economic downturn along with “mounting railway debts”5 caused the people to like his government a lot less, so he resigned as Premier on December 15, 1915 and became BC’s rep in London, UK.
  • 1917: having suffered from nephritis and diabetes for several years, McBride went blind (presumably from the diabetes, not the nephritis)
  • 1917: died in London, less than three months after resigning. His body was returned to Victoria, BC for burial.
  • things that are named after him: the town of McBride, BC; the McBride River in Northern BC; Sir Richard McBride Elementary School in Vancouver4.

In summary, a racist and a sexist (though both of those seemed to be quite common at the time), McBride did very well in politics when times were good, but didn’t seem to have the skills to pay the bills when times went bad.  Also, I suppose I have him to thank for the creation of one of my alma maters, UBC.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

1It’s not totally defunct, as you do see candidate running on the Conservative banner in elections, but I don’t I’ve seen a Conservative party candidate win an election in the entire time I’ve lived in BC. And really the conservatives MLAs are all hiding over in the BC so-called-Liberal Party.
2Is *too* a word.
3I wish there were an “I’m joking” font…
4This is where I’ve heard of him. I used to run a science outreach program that put volunteers into elementary schools to teach science to the kids, so I know the names of most of the schools in Vancouver.

5Wikipedia, the reference of that also likes to party party.
6Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online


BC Premier#11 – I’m back with Premier C.A.S.

Wow, I’ve been a total slacker in writing entries on my BC Premiers series lately.  I haven’t actually written one in more than a month.  I blame the economy. And the prorogation of Parliament.

Anyway, I’m back.  And I’m back with the eleventh Premier of the province of British Columbia – Charles Augustus Semlin.

Charles Semlin.png Name Charles Augustus Semlin
Born: 4 December 1836 near Barrie, Upper Canada
Died: 2 November 1927 in Cache Creek, British Columbia
Party: none
Held Office: 15 August 1898  – 27 February 1900.
  • had a lot of different types of jobs:
    • quit his job as a school teacher in Barrie, Upper Canada to try his hand a prospecting in the gold rush, but, not being very good at it, he became a packer (like, he carried other people’s stuff for them), followed by managing a roadhouse and ranch
    • I guess he liked running a roadhouse, ‘cuz then he bought one (1865)
    • But I guess he liked being a rancher more, ‘cuz then he traded the roadhouse for a ranch (1870)
    • in addition to ranching, he was the first postmaster in Cache Creek, became a school board member, became an MLA and got Cache Creek a school, which turned out to be controversial and closed in 1890; but then he became a school trustee for the school district created in the region after the school he got started was shut
  • he doesnt’ seem to have been a very good politician:
    • his entry to provincial politics in 1871 was kind of messed up: he was tied for third in a three-member riding, so the returning officer put their names in a hat, drew Semlin’s name and declared him the third MLA for the riding. Awesome.
    • he ran unsuccessfully in the next two elections (1875 and 1878), but then won his seat back in 1882 and retained it for the next four elections (1886, 1890, 1894, and 1898)
    • 1894: became leader of the opposition after the election of 1894, although he was widely recognized as being rather meh as a leader. Yes, meh is a word.
    • 1898: Premier Turner failed to win a clear majority, so Lieutenant Governor Thomas Robert McInnes kicked out Turner and asked Beaven to form a government. Sure Beaven didn’t even win his own friggin’ seat, but this didnt’ appear to matter to McInnes.  Not-so-surprisingly, Beaven couldn’t get enough support to form a government (did I mention that he didn’t even win a seat?), so McInnes asked Semlin, being the ineffectual leader of the opposition from the last government, if he could form a government.  And Semlin did, so then he was the Premier. Some other dudes were trying to put together a provincial Liberal party (remember, they still didn’t have political parties at this point), but they didn’t have it together yet and so weren’t asked to form the government.
    • Semlin was, did I mention, a pretty meh leader and that, combined with infighting within his Cabinet and Semlin’s attempts to initiate a bunch of reforms (people hate that) meant for a short lived (18 month) premiership for Semlin.
    • A speech given by his Attorney General, Joseph Martin, ended in a brawl that had to be broken up by the cops and Semlin demanded Martin’s resignation. So Martin was pissed at Semlin and joined the opposition.  This resulted in Semlin receiving a vote of non-confidence, but asked Lieutenant Governor McInnes for a some time to prove he could regain the confidence of the house, which he did by getting some opposition ministers to to join him. But the McInnes, who apparently liked doing weird things, ignored Semlin’s newfound confidence and asked Martin to form a government.  Which pissed off the MLAs, so they voted Martin out in no-confidence.  So, basically, it was a really big shit show. So they had an election in 1900 (in which Semlin didn’t run) and, when the dust cleared, Dunsmuir became the next Premier.
    • Semlin won a by-election in 1903, but then didn’t run in the 1903 general election. Then ran and lost in 1907.
  • And now a tidbit about his personal life:
    • Although he didn’t marry, he raised a daughter, ironically named Mary.  Her mother, according to the 1881 census, was a First Nations woman named Caroline Williams, who lived with Semlin and used the last name Semlin, but was not married to him.

In summary, he had a lot of jobs, he was a meh politician and his daughter was a bastard.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

Wikipedia, the reference that has a grand total of seven sentences about Charles August Semlin.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online