'North Bay needs its own Science North'

City council asks feds to conduct feasibility study on future of underground complex

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North Bay’s unique place in the history of the Cold War is something that should be commemorated.

North Bay council is urging the federal government to conduct and fund a feasibility study to look at the potential of the underground complex at CFB North Bay as a museum or other national historic site.

The former Norad complex, built in the 1950s and 1960s, “is a piece of world history” that should be preserved, Coun. Mike Anthony said in presenting the motion.

In a presentation to council, Trevor Schindeler said the the facility – affectionately known as The Hole – could become “a major tourist attraction” that would be a boost to the economy.

“I think this could benefit North Bay and the entire district and beyond,” Schindeler said, pointing to investment and tourist numbers at Science North in Sudbury to bolster his argument.

In 2017, he said, Science North’s budget was almost $22 million, with about $12 million coming from the provincial and federal governments.

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Science North attracted almost 300,000 visitors in 2017.

“North Bay needs its own Science North,” Schindeler said, adding the complex is “just waiting to be developed.

“It is one of the most remarkable points of interest in Canada.”

The complex, part of Canada’s contribution to the defence of North America during the Cold War, has been sitting empty since the Canadian Norad Region moved into the David L. Pitcher Building above ground.

Schindeler made a similar presentation to council shortly after the Norad move in 2006. At that time, he received a motion of support from council and believed he could garner enough support at the federal level to get the proposal off the ground.

But although he got some welcome feedback at the federal level, “the idea didn’t go anywhere.”

What he needs, Schindeler said, is “more political effort to make this happen.”

Schindeler pointed to Old Fort Henry in Kingston and Fort York in Toronto as examples of history that remain on display more than 200 years after they were built during or shortly after the War of 1812.

“We have forts galore . . . but few historic sites that are more modern.”

And while the underground complex – Schindeler dislikes the term The Hole – has been designated a Federal Heritage Building, it has not been declared surplus.

“It’s an incredibly important facility that has been mothballed. It’s just sitting there waiting to be repurposed. It’s an extraordinary feat of engineering and technology.

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“You can argue it is Canada’s most important military heritage site . . . which changed the course of history. It protected us and the rest of the world.”

The three-storey building is located about 200 metres below the Canadian Forces base above Trout Lake.

“It’s absolutely huge,” he said. “It’s not a small facility. It’s an enormous complex.

“Why it is not already a tourist facility I have no idea.”

The cost of a feasibility study “is not a big ask,” he said, particularly with a federal election being held in the fall.

In presenting a motion calling on Ottawa to fund a feasibility study, Anthony noted that during the Cold War, “the men and women in North Bay stood tall.

“This is one of the things that makes North Bay unique,” Anthony said, happy Schindeler had come back to council and “put the issue back on the radar.”

Coun. Dave Mendicino, who served on council at the time of Schindeler’s previous presentation, said this is the only facility of its type in Canada, and said it is important to find out what Ottawa’s intentions are for the facility.

“This is an interesting project and a tremendous opportunity for the community,” Anthony said.

He stressed that the motion does not commit the city to provide funding for the study, but asks Ottawa to foot the tab.

“This is a real piece of history,” he said.

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