“Canada's Nuclear Underground: North Bay, Ontario, and the Making of a Nuclear Defense Complex.”
Today, the nuclear defense infrastructure of North Bay, Ontario, has receded from the public imagination and passed out of historical view. However, during the 1960s and ‘70s, the SAGE Underground Complex and the Bomarc Missile Site formed the Canadian contingent of the SAGE early warning and air defense system, which monitored the Northern Hemisphere for nuclear attack. This integrated complex of nuclear defense changed not only the nature of national security in Canada and the United States, it dramatically transformed everyday life in North Bay. For this HAPSAT workshop, I will examine the construction, maintenance, and partial obsolescence of North Bay's nuclear defense infrastructure from 1959 to 1972, illustrating how the SAGE Underground Complex and the Bomarc Missile Site reshaped the community in profound and enduring ways. Through a survey of two local newspapers—the North Bay Daily Nugget and the Royal Canadian Air Force Base newsletter, The Shield—I will argue that these installations entangled North Bay within an emergent postwar defense economy and saddled residents with real and perceived existential peril, while at the same time heralding the largest economic boom that the city has witnessed. North Bayites largely welcomed the nuclear defense infrastructure for the significant geopolitical status, employment, and revenue it promised; however, this consensus demanded constant maintenance and affirmation by local institutions and state actors. In the end, the windfall from Cold War-era nuclear defense infrastructure was short-lived, as both installations have long since been closed. Yet North Bay’s post-nuclear history is not one of decline, but rather one of reinvention as these installations have been, and will be, repurposed for other uses.