Historians fight to save Kitchener Cold War-era bunker from demolition

Historians are pushing to save a Cold War-era nuclear fallout bunker in Kitchener’s Schneider Park from demolition as the shelter’s fate is set to be determined by Region of Waterloo council this summer.

“It’s kind of forgotten,” said Mark Reesor, founder of the Waterloo Bunker Association. “I wish it was appreciated more. These are quite rare.”

The association has launched a petition pushing regional council to keep the shelter standing and convert it into an educational site.

“We’d like to see it restored, brought back to its original state and then be opened to the pubic to be toured,” Reesor said.

The 5,700 square foot shelter was built in 1966 during the height of the Cold War amid the looming threat of nuclear attacks. It was designed to hold up to 40 people for weeks on end, with heating, water and sewage built in.

A local rowing club used the bunker for storage for about 20 years until 2018, before the shelter was locked up after a hazardous material assessment flagged extensive structural damage to the building.

The historic shelter remains one of the Canada’s largest standing municipal Cold War-era bunkers.

City officials have already completed a heritage impact assessment, but are also looking into environmental impacts of demolition as well as the structural integrity of the shelter.

“We went out and spoke to both our heritage planning advisory committees at the region and Heritage Kitchener, and said, ‘what do you think?’” said Helen Chimirri-Russel, director of cultural services for the Region of Waterloo. “They both came back and said there’s heritage value.”

Last fall, staff pegged the cost of demolition at about $225,000 – significantly less than the price to restore the site.

While the fate of the bunker remains in limbo ahead of a final staff report and decision at a council meeting in June, Reesor said he’s disappointed to see the bunker sit idle and face vandalism.

“I came by about two weeks ago when it was broken into,” he said. “Someone did quite a number on the doors.”

Reesor’s petition, and battle to save the heritage gem, is now drawing allies from the Canadian Civil Defence Museum and Archives in Alberta.

“It’s able to tell a story that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Fred Armbruster, the museum’s executive director. “God forbid that they choose not to preserve the bunker, there’s a lot of different items in there that need to be preserved.”