Cold War museum exhibit looks at legacy of DEW Line, impact on Inuit

‘An Inuit Story: The DEW Line’ is open at the Diefenbunker museum in Ottawa

‘An Inuit Story: The DEW Line’ is a new permanent exhibit at the Diefenbunker museum in Ottawa that examines the legacy of the Distant Early Warning Line system used during the Cold War and its impact on Inuit communities in the Arctic. (Photo courtesy of the Diefenbunker Museum)

By Madalyn Howitt

A new museum exhibit is taking visitors back to the days of the Cold War when the threat of a Russian attack impacted the lives of Inuit.

An Inuit Story: The DEW Line is a new permanent gallery at the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum in Ottawa that highlights first-hand accounts from Inuit communities affected by the DEW Line, also known as the Early Warning System.

The DEW Line was a system of radar stations in the northern Arctic built to detect incoming bombers from the Soviet Union during the decades-long Cold War that followed the Second World War. The system was active from 1957 to 1993.

A companion exhibit, Canada and the Cold War, also reflects on the legacy of the Cold War and the impact it had on Inuit and northern communities.

“We’re proud to broaden our inclusion of under-represented narratives and to offer more engaging and interactive experiences for visitors as we bring relevant history to life inside Canada’s most significant Cold War artifact,” said museum curator Sean Campbell earlier this month.

Campbell said An Inuit Story: The DEW Line is the first permanent gallery at the museum dedicated to Inuit voices and experiences.

The underground Diefenbunker was commissioned by former prime minister John Diefenbaker in 1959 to serve as a safe underground shelter to house key members of the government and military in the event of a nuclear attack against Canada.

Campbell said personal accounts are presented in Inuktitut, English and French as part of the gallery, which also includes historical images exposing the negative effects the DEW Line had on Inuit communities in the Arctic.

Those effects included forced relocations, as well as equipment, toxic waste and barrels that leaked fuel that were abandoned after the system closed.

The exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut.

“Canada’s Cold War history is taking place in our territories, on our land, with our people, and [we are] usually left out of the history books,” said Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, curator of heritage collections with the GN.

Webster said she hopes visitors to the museum realize how much of an impact the DEW Line sites had on Inuit culture and people.

Visitors to the Diefenbunker can view the exhibits as part of the general admission, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. Enrolment Cardholders can receive free admission to the exhibits.

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by Tape Recording on

    “We’re proud to broaden our inclusion of under-represented narratives”

    Why do they all sound like this?


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