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The Kananaskis Vault: A (Failed) Cold War Bunker

Posted on August 30, 2023 by Nerissa McNaughton

The Cold War, a period of political tension and military rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States from the end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, resulted in a massive nuclear arms buildup and heightened fears of a nuclear war. The construction of underground bunkers was one of the responses by both sides to ensure the survival of their leaders, government officials, and armed forces during an attack. The Kananaskis Vault is one of the underground sites constructed during this time of military tension.

The shallow caves that exist today were actually built by three brothers – Stan, Joe, and Ted Rokosh – for their private company, Rocky Mountain Vaults and Archives (RMV&A). The plan was a grand one! RMV&A banked on Cold War paranoia to get the government, banks, and other institutions to store documents in the vault, with the purpose of safeguarding the country's essential papers in the event of a nuclear war. In fact, RMV&A was in talks with the Royal Bank of Canada to house the bank's records in the vault, which would have made the project successful. However, the arrangement fell through when the Royal Bank opted to use a building in Montreal instead.

There are rumours that the facility was also intended to be an impregnable fortress, capable of surviving anything from mildew to a nuclear bomb. The rumours say the plans called for a system of chambers that could potentially serve as a place for government officials in the event of an apocalypse.

Whatever the ultimate plans were for the vault, it all fell apart. Without any committed clients, RMV&A went bankrupt. The project was abandoned and left unfinished, and it is only a fraction of the size of the initial ambitious idea. Today, only crude, shallow caves remain.

If you're an adventure seeker looking for a unique hiking experience, the Vault is definitely worth a visit. The bunker is accessible via a trail that starts by the Heart Creek day use area and winds through the scenic foothills. The trail offers spectacular views and features a variety of terrain, including forests, open meadows, and steep inclines. Although the trail is challenging in places, it is generally well-maintained and suitable for hikers that have basic to advanced skills.

Once you arrive at the Vault, you'll be greeted by a fascinating piece of Canadian history. The bunker itself was meant to be an impressive feat of engineering, but now only stands as a broken reminder of the tensions felt on all sides during the Cold War.

Exploring the Kananaskis Vault offers an exciting chance to step back in time and experience a critical chapter in Canadian history. Whether you're a history buff, a hiker, or just someone looking for a unique adventure, the Kananaskis Vault is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Nerissa McNaughton is a freelance writer and a contributor to Great West Media. This story was written for the 2023 Hot Summer Guide advertising feature. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.

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