Operation “Lifesaver”: Canadian Atomic Culture and Cold War Civil Defence

Frances Reilly

Abstract


On September 28th 1955, the city of Calgary executed one of the only major civil defence evacuation operations in Canadian history. The exercise, Operation “Lifesaver,” was a product of careful planning over a series of months but failed to attract the interest of most Calgary citizens. The operation exhibited both the Canadian government’s concern for civil defence during the 1950s and the desire for civic pride in a decade that favoured a homogenous and functional society. Operation “Lifesaver” was not an accurate representation of a nuclear attack; instead it was a controlled exercise devised to calm the fears of civilians in the face of possible war. Despite the rich primary sources available, Canada’s civil defence experiences during the Cold War remain an allusive topic in Canadian historiography. Operation “Lifesaver” holds a prominent position in Alberta history in an era that defined much of Canada’s nationality and society. This article is the third chapter of my History MA thesis which examines the place of Atomic Culture in Canadian history and the Canadian Cold War experience.

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