The Cold War In Canada

The Cold War (1945-1991) was a period of heightened tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union following the end of World War II. Conflict between the two countries and their allies arose out of political and ideological differences as well as geopolitical tensions, such as the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. While the Cold War never erupted into a large-scale armed conflict, it was a period characterized by numerous proxy wars around the world, high tensions, heightened surveillance, pervasive propaganda, espionage, and the rapid development of military technology as the two countries and their allies raced for supremacy.

Image of Soviet bombers heading for Canada's major cities, from 0054-07a - Survival Likely in Target Areas, 1962.

While the United States and the Soviet Union were the primary actors in the Cold War, numerous allies on both sides were directly involved and were affected by the conflict. Canada was irrevocably drawn in due to its strategic geographical position and its involvement in the American economy and air defence system. As Prime Minister Brian Mulroney stated in his 1987 white paper on defence, "Soviet strategic planners must regard Canada and the United States as a single set of military targets no matter what political posture we might assume" (National Defence, p. 10). From the beginning of the Cold War Canada firmly aligned itself with the United States and started preparing for the possibility of nuclear attack.

This display illustrates Canada's involvement in the Cold War through two collections of publications from the holdings of the Mount Royal University Archives and Special Collections: the Canadian Cold War Pamphlet Collection and the Raichman Canadian Communist Pamphlet Collection. This display will highlight examples of items focusing on civil defence, survival planning, radioactive fallout, anti-communism, and the anti-nuclear movement.

Civil Defence

Image depicting the United Nations holding back nuclear war, from 0015-03 - Our Choice: Atomic Death or World Law, 1959.

Civil defence refers to protective measures organized by and for civilian populations to defend against attack or other emergencies. On an international level, Canada reacted to the threat of nuclear attack by joining alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, and the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) in 1957. At home, Canada established a Civil Defence program and strategy that focused on detecting and providing notice of incoming threats to the public, and educating Canadians on how to prepare for and survive a nuclear attack. Civil defence pamphlets were distributed to individuals, organizations, and communities to help them prepare for disaster.

Flowcharts and organizational charts from What the Home Nursing Auxiliary Should Know About Civil Defence (1961, item 0042-15). Civilians with specialized knowledge and skills, such as medical or first aid knowledge, were asked to prepare to take on extended responsibilities in an emergency situation.
Survival Planning

Evacuating Target Areas

Major cities were considered a prime target for nuclear attack. Early warning systems, such as lines of radar stations in the Canadian north, were built to provide target areas with enough notice for civilians to evacuate or shelter in place. Civil Defence organizations across Canada published guides to prepare the public for evacuation. "If War Should Come" (0042-14), a guide published by the Calgary Target Area Civil Defence in 1962, provided Calgarians with information to create family emergency plans.

The map in the background divides Calgary and the surrounding area into evacuation zones called 'drainage areas'. Each zone corresponds to a predetermined evacuation route and safe reception point outside of the city. Calgarians were expected to evacuate to rural cities and towns as far away as Lethbridge, Cardston, Red Deer, and Kimberly, BC. Click to enlarge the images below, and see if you can find your home on the map and what surrounding town you would have been evacuated to.

Shelter in Place

The United States constructed community fallout shelters under public buildings to provide shelter for citizens unwilling or unable to evacuate. The Canadian government, on the other hand, constructed secret bunkers for government figures to secure continuity of the government, and civilian shelter construction was left up to individual Canadians. Civil Defence urged Canadians to construct family bomb shelters in their homes or backyards and distributed plans and building schematics to encourage participation.

The foreword from Your Basement Fallout Shelter (0054-04) in which Prime Minister John Diefenbaker urges Canadians to build shelters to protect themselves from radioactive fallout. The pamphlet was published in 1960.
0054-08-0002 - Plans and Specifications for: Family Blast Shelters (10 p.s.i.). Published in 1962, the above plans were supplied to build underground and above-ground blast shelters.

In addition to information on the construction of fallout shelters, most Civil Defence pamphlets also contain practical information for bunker survival and post-blast instructions. They provided advice on concerns such as bunker ventilation, heating, sanitation, equipment needs, and food supplies. In the event of a nuclear attack civilians were advised to stay in their bunkers for at least 48 continuous hours before attempting to leave, due to the danger of radioactive fallout. However, it was recommended to have at least a two week supply of food and water for each person.

Lists of recommended fallout shelter supplies from Your Basement Fallout Shelter (0054-04), 1960.
Radioactive Fallout and other Hazards

Radiation and Fallout

Aside from building a home fallout shelter, there was very little civilians could do to protect themselves from the destruction caused by nuclear weapons. The diagrams below from Survival in Likely Target Areas (1962, item 0054-07a) shows the expected damage to unprotected structures and people the closer they are to the impact site:

In the initial blast, unprotected people will be exposed to a wave of extreme heat and light, causing burns, blindness, or death.
After the initial blast one of the biggest threats would be the outbreak of fires. The likelihood of serious fires and other property damage decreases with distance.
Those far enough away to escape the initial heat and fires would still have to contend with radiation. The likelihood of survival for an unprotected individual within two miles of the blast was not high.
This chart illustrates the dispersal rate of fallout (radioactive dust) carried by winds in the hours after a nuclear attack. Towns and farms distant from the blast could still be badly contaminated as radioactive fallout settles.

While major cities were expected to be the main targets, rural communities and farms would be affected by radioactive dust carried by the wind. The below video is made up of a series of images and captions from the pamphlet Fallout on the Farm (0054-06), which was published in 1961 as a guide for rural communities on how to protect people, livestock, and crops from fallout.

Background image: 0054-07 - 11 Steps to Survival, 1961.

" When the bomb goes off, a huge ball of fire suddenly appears and a dazzling flash of light illuminates the sky and countryside for miles. Scorching waves of heat and radioactive rays shoot out in all directions. Then comes a terrific blast of air and noise." 0042-11 -Civil Defence: Personal Protection Under Atomic Attack, 1952

In the United States, the Cold War is often associated with the Red Scare and Senator Joe McCarthy, who led a campaign against purported Communist-infiltration, which saw many Americans falsely accused of treason. Canada did not experience a Red Scare to the same degree, but in the early days of the Cold War the Gouzenko Affair led to widespread anti-communist investigations. Igor Gouzenko was a cipher clerk working at the Soviet Union embassy in Ottawa who caused an international crisis when he defected in 1945 and revealed a Soviet espionage ring in Canada. The government took action by signing Order in Council PC6444 under an extension of the War Measures Act, which gave the Minister of Justice unlimited powers to arrest, detain, and interrogate without counsel any Canadian citizen suspected of being a Communist spy. The resulting investigations led to several arrests of high profile Canadians who were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act. 10 of the 23 people tried were found guilty of espionage.

Cover of The Communist Threat to Canada (1947, item 0054-09) an example of the anti-Communist fear and rhetoric that began after Gouzenko's revelations. The pamphlet presents Communist ideology as a threat to Canadian society, freedom, and democracy.

The pamphlets above and below, published by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, demonstrate how Canadian businesses sought to protect their interests by swaying public opinion with regards to Communism. The images below list some of the tactics they claim that Communists used to infiltrate Canadian society and government. The commission charged with finding Communist spies particularly focused on surveilling labour unions, student clubs, and government employees they deemed to be at high risk for blackmail or infiltration such as LGBTQ individuals. In the decades following, the Canadian government has been sharply criticized at home and internationally for abuses of individual rights perpetrated during this period, including the mistreatment and purge of LGBTQ government employees.

Pages from How Communists Operate! A Brief Memorandum on Communist Tactics (1948, item 0054-10) lay out common methods employed by Communists to infiltrate and disrupt Canadian society.
Anti-War and Anti-Nuclear Movements
Image from Our Choice: Atomic Death or World Law (0015-03) a lecture delivered by chemist and peace activist Linus Pauling at the 5th World Conference Against A and H Bombs in 1959. This print copy was published and distributed by the Canadian Peace Congress later the same year. Pauling went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962.

Unsurprisingly, given the dire threat of nuclear war, many Canadians joined anti-nuclear and peace movements, which were heavily surveilled by the government as they were suspected of supporting or sympathizing with Communist ideology. Despite the risk of expressing dissenting or holding 'subversive' views, many Canadians joined anti-war or anti-nuclear protests. Nuclear testing and the Vietnam War led many Canadians to join peace organizations such as the International Women's Conference, which as founded in 1962 by the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW), to fight for disarmament.

Suspected Communist sympathies aside, peace and anti-nuclear movements posed a problem for the Canadian government. Some of these organizations opposed Cold War-era policies, contributed to a rise in anti-American sentiments, and they demonstrated that the interests of the Canadian public differed from the United States in key areas. These issues put a strain on Canada's political relationship with the United States.

Poems from a collection of anti-nuclear and peace poems written and collected by poets from British Columbia. 0040-16 - Poets for Peace: Poems on Peace and Against the Testing of Nuclear Weapons, 1960.

Communists for Peace

Map from 'Who Wants War?' (0015-01) illustrating how the United States stole and profited off of Canadian resources.

Government suspicion of anti-nuclear movements was not entirely unjustified, as some members were aligned politically or sympathetic to the Communist cause, and decried the 'warmongering' by the United States and other western countries. For example, the World Peace Council, an international peace organization whose membership included prominent scientists and celebrities, really was funded and directed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The following images come from 'Who Wants War?' (0015-01) a pamphlet published by the National Committee of the Labor-Progressive Party in the 1950s. Unlike the World Peace Council, the Labor-Progressive Party didn't try to conceal their Communist roots, as it was well-known to be the reformed Communist Party of Canada, which had been banned in 1940 under the War Measures Act.

This pamphlet is overt in its criticism of the Canadian government, the media, and the United States. While the imagery and language is undeniably sensationalist, the pamphlet demonstrates how Canadian Communists tried to connect with Canadians by aligning themselves with the growing issues of disarmament and peace.

Contact Us

The pamphlets examined in this display provide insight into Canadian concerns and attitudes to international tensions during some of the most tense and dangerous periods of the Cold War. They demonstrate how nuclear war was not an abstract concept, but a real threat that was taken seriously by those who lived through it, although with different responses.

To learn more about the Cold War and the Communist movement in Canada, please visit the Canadian Cold War Pamphlet Collection and the Raichman Canadian Communist Pamphlet Collection, or contact the Archives and Special Collections at archives@mtroyal.ca.

Published September 15, 2021


Created with images by Alexas_Fotos - "first aid box tin can" • WikiImages - "explosion mushroom cloud nuclear explosion"