This is our first year attending Doors Open Aurora with our seven year old and first time visiting Aurora Readiness Centre. Perhaps that has something to do with his better attention span. However, this is my third year visiting various heritage locations in Aurora. I am glad that some of the locations repeat from year to year since I am never able to do the full run. Perhaps this has something to do with me taking a lot of pictures, all the time.
Today was my first time visiting the Pargeter House c. 1875, Doors Open Aurora Site #2 called the Aurora Readiness Centre. Some also refer to it as the Caplan House. I first learned about the house a few years ago from “Aurora 1945-1965 An Ontario Town at a Time of Great Change” a book by Elizabeth Hearn Milner. One of my best Aurora resource books to date with 20 years of just enough information to extend my own research before 1945 and beyond 1965.
Milner refers to the Caplan House as Aurora’s Bunker. “A short article in the Banner in February of 1961 suggested that Aurora might be the location for a nuclear shelter for Toronto’s government. The plans were kept quiet, but some people in town learned what was happening by 1962. Three emergency locations around Aurora had been chosen for a “Readiness Centre” in 1961 because of the geography of the area. The belief was that Oak Ridge Moraine, running east to west just south of Aurora, would protect the area to the north, if a nuclear bomb were dropped on Toronto. The theory was that the moraine would direct the blast upward and the prevailing northwest winds in the area would direct fallout and radiation southeast of Toronto.“, pg. 233.
I had seen a bunker before, but it was nothing like that. The one I saw in Poland was already destroyed. It was from World War II and a hideout for Adolf Hitler and his officials. All I remember from my grade three trip, big collapsed stone walls, not even in the ground. They had a different purpose then, protecting against traditional war weapons excluding nuclear bombs. The Aurora Readiness Centre located in Aurora on Old Yonge Street was nothing like that. The Readiness Centre was in the ground and partially under a beautiful farm house from the late 1800’s. In the control room, still residing there are three framed glass composite panels, two of them being maps. In fact hand drawn maps. Equivalent to futuristic hologram panels. Very neat.
“Nuclear war seemed a dreadful possibility during the Cold War years.” ~ E. Milner, Aurora 1945-1965
Interestingly enough someone asked about the structural integrity of the Aurora Readiness Centre shelter to withstand a nuclear blast. As explained above by Milner, this was not the case, in other words, this bunker was not designed to survive a nuclear bomb dropped on Aurora. According to historical notes, this Aurora Readiness Centre shelter had the potential to survive a nuclear blast on Toronto. Then I wondered; only officials and those part of the recovery and response rescue team had a better chance of survival; as they would all move away from Toronto to Aurora. From today’s observations, the Aurora Readiness Centre did look structurally sound to probably withstand some shock-wave if any.
According to information obtained today during Doors Open Aurora, in Aurora in the 1960’s “Consolidated Building Corporation, the firm building Regency Acres offered home-buyers the opportunity to construct a bomb shelter as an extra for an additional fee of $1,000 on top of the average $13,000 price of the homes they were building.” So I further wonder if there are bomb shelters in any of the Aurora houses built in the early 1960’s since there was an option offered to residents of Aurora.
What we saw today, the control room only, was a small portion of the shelter. Milner writes more, and also writes about the connection between St. Andrew’s College and the Caplan House (Pargeter House). That is where we headed next, but we didn’t know about that connection. Something to look for during next year’s Doors Open and I’m glad that I was warned of the wasp nest on the property before running into it.
Anna Lozyk Romeo
1] Video: History hidden under Aurora farmhouse; Under Orianna Brodbeck’s dream house, a site of cultural and historical significance.
2] Aurora’s “Diefenbunker” featured in Doors Open Aurora; In 1962, the Metro Toronto government decided to create a nuclear control centre just north of Toronto, in Aurora, at the time of the the Cuban Missile Crisis.