A search of old air raid sirens at the Ponoka Fire Hall revealed a treasure trove of Cold War artifacts dating back to the 1950s and 1960s that has historians eager to show the world.
Recently a Ponoka member of Edmonton’s Civil Defense Museum was on the lookout for old air raid sirens that were in use during the Cold War. As luck would have it, the member caught a glimpse of some crates that had the stencil markings of the old Civil Defence Health Service on them.
A further look into the boxes revealed old, never-used health and safety artifacts such as first aid kits, stretchers, band aids and other first aid items. Finding the “time capsules” — in the words of Fred Armbruster, executive director of the Canadian Civil Defense Museum Association — put him on the edge of his seat, he was so excited.
“The original packaging for me is almost an artifact,” said Armbruster.
The items in the crates included complete lists of their contents with everything in their place including the yellow painted “Canada Health” logos on the bags and other accessories. Artifacts marked with a yellow circle and blue triangle indicated they belonged to the Civil Defence and Ponoka’s cache has those same markings.
Understanding just what the artifacts are requires some research into the history of the Civil Defence, says Armbruster.
In the wake of the Second World War, a new threat of war developed between the United States and Russia and in an effort to enhance preparedness in the face of nuclear threat, North American towns began a large scale community-driven defence mechanism. “All of Canada and the Unites States lived in fear of these bombs,” Armbruster added.
“They had to have a mechanism in place basically to help each other out,” he added.
Each municipality had its own civil defence headquarters, usually a fire hall, police station or hospital, and citizens within the groups had a specific hierarchy with wardens to medical personnel to radiology crews to emergency crews. Citizens developed bomb shelters and in some places, says Armbruster, underground hospitals. He referred to Medicine Hat, which uncovered an underground hospital some years ago.
“There was a civil defence organization in Ponoka,” stated Armbruster.
How these artifacts arrived in Ponoka is uncertain but it is believed they were delivered to the Fire Hall sometime in the early 1990s. Town council approved the items be donated to the Canadian Civil Defence Museum Association and Fort Ostell Museum.
Taking a detailed catalogue of the artifacts and crates will be Armbruster’s first order of business.
He wants to work with Sandy Allsopp, Fort Ostell Museum manager, to put together an exclusive Ponoka display for residents during Alberta Emergency Preparedness Week in the first week of May, 2016.
Eventually Armbruster wants to take these artifacts across the country. His goal is to tell the story of the days of the Cold War, which is one of the reasons the group looks for old air raid sirens. They collect them and refurbish them. “Until we came along there was no one to tell the history.”
Finds like this don’t come often but when they do, they just lead the way to more discoveries. Armbruster hopes find more caches like this in the near future.