Military Wiki
CFS Debert
Part of Canadian Forces
Debert, Nova Scotia
File:Debert Divisional HQ.jpg
The old Camp Debert Divisional Headquarters.
Type Military Base
Coordinates Latitude:
Built ~1940 (~1940)
Civilian: 1996–present
Open to
the public
As a museum

Canadian Forces Station Debert (also CFS Debert) was a Canadian Forces station located in Debert, Nova Scotia. It was most recently used during the Cold War as a communications facility and was home to a "Regional Emergency Government Headquarters" (REGH) complex, more commonly known by their nickname "Diefenbunker."[1]

Originally this facility was developed with an airfield and army training centre, however these facilities were decommissioned in the 1970s and ownership transferred to the Government of Nova Scotia to be operated as the Debert Air Industrial Park. Following decommissioning of the REGH and removal of the last military presence at CFS Debert in the 1990s, this facility was transferred to the Government of Nova Scotia and then the Colchester Regional Development Authority to operate as Colchester Park.

Debert Military Camp

Following the outbreak of the Second World War in the fall of 1939, the first Canadian units began shipping through the port of Halifax however the end of the Phoney War in the spring of 1940 required a massive ramp-up in Canada's land forces in Europe. The sheer volume of soldiers who would be embarking through Halifax required staging facilities for training and marshalling combat units before embarking on the troopships.

To meet this requirement, the government announced that existing facilities at Camp Aldershot near Kentville, Nova Scotia and Camp Sussex near Sussex, New Brunswick would be upgraded to handle the requirements of housing and training brigade-size units. In spring of 1940, the government also began purchasing additional land in Debert for a division-size training and marshalling facility adjacent to those lands previously purchased in 1938 by the Royal Canadian Air Force for an aerodrome.

Located on the Montreal-Halifax main line of Canadian National Railways, the flat plain surrounding Debert Station were considered ideal for an army staging facility in addition to an aerodrome. The additional benefit that it was located only 100 km (62 mi) north of Halifax.

On August 9, 1940, the 6th Field Company Canadian Engineers[2] arrived at the site and began work at clearing the forests and laying out what would become the Debert Military Camp (also referred to as Camp Debert). Employing 6,000 civilians and thousands more military members, the engineers cleared the trees and burnt the plain before building streets, sewer and water services, electricity, and buildings over an area of 80 km2 (31 sq mi). The camp was bisected with named avenues and numbered streets having innumerable quonset huts, mess halls, warehouses, canteens, and other buildings. At one point during its construction period, the camp housed more troops than the population of neighbouring Truro at the time.[3]

The surrounding community of Debert grew rapidly with movie houses, restaurants, bars and other businesses being set up and the economic effects spilling over into Truro.

Camp Debert was the final staging area for units embarking from Halifax and was the location where the majority of troops received and trained with their personal weapons. For these purposes a large ammunition depot was built as well as extensive firing ranges. Component units arrived at Camp Debert from across Canada and were organized into larger formations before being carried by trains to troopships at Halifax, usually at night in black-out conditions.

All five divisions of the First Canadian Army were housed (all, or in part) at Camp Debert prior to departure for the European Theatre during the Second World War. In addition, the 7th Canadian Infantry Division of Atlantic Command was formed at Camp Debert, although its volunteer troops went overseas as reinforcements rather than an intact combat unit.

Following the war, Camp Debert was used in the repatriation of troops returning from Europe before undergoing significant downsizing with the majority of training and marshalling areas being decommissioned. In 1948, Camp Debert was reactivated and hosted several active army units during the 1950s.

Regiments formerly serving in Camp Debert

RCAF Station Debert

In the fall of 1938 the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) purchased land for constructing an aerodrome on the north shore of Cobequid Bay near the farming community of Debert.

Construction of the aerodrome, which would be named RCAF Station Debert, began in the fall of 1940 and was completed in April 1941, coinciding with the construction of the army's adjoining Camp Debert. The airfield itself consisted of three 5000 ft runways arranged in an overlapping triangle.

RCAF Station Debert was one of several similar facilities constructed in the Maritime provinces in support of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and operational coastal patrol requirements.

Following the war, RCAF Station Debert underwent some downsizing but continued to support active flight operations as a training, refueling, and maintenance base until 1954 even though no operational squadrons were stationed there.

In 1960, the RCAF transferred its aerodrome to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) which used the facility for aircraft carrier landing practise in support of naval aviation aircraft stationed at nearby Royal Canadian Naval Air Station (RCNAS) Shearwater. Also in the 1960s, some unused hangar space at the aerodrome was used to house a medical equipment supply depot which was used by all three branches of the armed forces.

On February 1, 1968, the merger of the three service branches into the unified Canadian Forces saw the end of flight operations at the Debert aerodrome and in 1971 the Department of National Defence designated 4,800 acres (19 km2), consisting of the aerodrome and the majority of the training area used by the former Camp Debert, as surplus. The provincial government purchased this land for development into the "Debert Air Industrial Park" while the aerodrome continues to be used as a municipal airfield, known as Debert Airport.

Maritime "Diefenbunker"

In 1958, at the height of the Cold War and the infancy of the ICBM threat, Debert was selected as the site for 1 of 6 communication centres and "Regional Emergency Government Headquarters" complexes being located across Canada. The Debert facility would be the only such complex built in the Maritime provinces.

A small part of Camp Debert was proposed to be used for the complex along with supporting surface structures and personnel housing. Construction began in 1960 on an underground 2-storey bunker (approximately half the size of the CEGHQ, located in Carp, Ontario) capable of withstanding a near-hit from a nuclear explosion (an approximate 1–1.5 mi (1.6–2.4 km) radius). The underground building had blast doors at the surface, as well as extensive air filters (mainly against biological, chemical and radioactive contaminants). Underground storage was built for food, fuel, fresh water, and other supplies for the facility which was capable of supporting 350 people for 90 days. These blast shelters, nicknamed "Diefenbunkers", were administered by the Canadian Corps of Signals.

Opening in 1964, the Debert facility was already outdated, since ICBM targeting had improved to the point where a direct hit was possible on the bunker, however it persisted as a Provincial Warning Centre (for Nova Scotia), staffed by the 720 Communication Squadron, along with the space for the emergency government. Antenna farms were dispersed from the bunker and were located on the shores of Cobequid Bay in nearby Masstown as well as in the Cobequid Hills near Londonderry.

On February 1, 1968, the merger of the three service branches into the Canadian Forces saw the Diefenbunker and support facilities, the last remnants of Camp Debert, change its name to Canadian Forces Station Debert (CFS Debert), in keeping with the naming convention for minor military facilities across Canada.

In the 1970s, CFS Debert, as with most Diefenbunker facilities across the country, was downgraded further as the number of personnel were reduced. Attempts to find other uses for the remaining military facilities took place through the 1980s with militia reserve units training at CFS Debert.

In 1982 CFS Debert was equipped with Telegraph Automated Relay Equipment (TARE) which was used to relay communications received at the nearby Satellite Ground Terminal Folly Lake.

The end of the Cold War and reduction in the ICBM threat, as well as the Diefenbunker's obsolescence, saw all remaining military personnel removed from CFS Debert by the mid-1990s. In 1998 the Department of National Defence finished all environmental assessments and decommissioned the facility, transferring the facility to "Colchester Park", a local development authority.

Today the only remnant of a once-vast military presence in Debert is a firing range used by militia reserve units from Cumberland, Colchester and Pictou counties.

In 2005, the Royal Canadian Air Cadets used the Diefenbunker for its Regional Gliding School (Atlantic) Headquarters. Air cadets from Atlantic Canada ranging in age from 15–18 trained at the adjacent Debert Airport for the Advanced Aviation Course and Glider Pilot Scholarship programs.

In December 2008 the 64,000 sq ft (5,900 m2) Diefenbunker was sold by the Colchester Regional Development Association to a private data warehousing and data centre co-location services provider, Bastionhost. Bastionhost was going to renovate the facility as a high-density, groundwater-cooled data centre.

In November 2012 the Diefenbunker was sold again by the Municipality of the County of Colchester to[18] recover unpaid taxes from the previous owner, Dataville Farms Ltd. It was purchased by Jonathan Baha'i for $31,300 along with the adjoining parking lot for $4150. The new owner has indicated he intends to use the facility for a data centre with an emphasis on cloud storage. Other parts of the facility may be used for unspecified research and development. In 2013, a part of the bunker was used to film an independent movie, Bunker 6.[19] It was also used for paintball and airsoft games.[20]

Debert Military Museum

The Debert Military Heritage Society maintains Debert's military history with a thirteen-room museum located in "Colchester Park". The Debert Military Museum is currently run independently and has a diverse collection of military memorabilia from both World Wars as well as the Cold War, Vietnam War and Korean War. The museum features items donated by members and family members of the Canadian and British militaries, including uniforms, decorations, communications equipment and documents. It no longer offers tours of the bunker, while still retaining information and artefacts about it.


External links

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