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â€œI remember at the time everybody laughed, this is great weâ€™re going to put all of our valuable documents in there and after weâ€™re vaporized weâ€™ll be safe. Everybody thought the whole thing was a farce.â€? This grand farce was even featured on Canadian Learning Television when the vault appeared in a 2006 episode Underground, part of Exhibit Eh!, a series of programs produced by Delta, B.C.-based Big Red Barn Entertainment that sought out strange Canadian stories and mysteries. Smith appeared in that episode alongside the vaults guiding the programâ€™s hosts into the depths where four stumps sat around an old fireâ€”a far cry from the illustration of the men in their cardigans.
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While it is easy to poke fun at the vault, Dene Cooper, an Exshaw resident and passionate historian, said it is an example of how the world was coping with the anxiety of living in a nuclear age.
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â€œIt was a world coming to grips with the potential of nuclear conflict in North America for the first time,â€? he said. â€œI think weâ€™ve forgotten what the Cuban Missile Crisis was about. â€œNow (the cavern) looks weird because it is no longer that time. It is hard to realize just how paranoid the social thinking was at that point.â€? Cooper said he believes the vault failed because of a lack of financing and moisture in the caverns. Even though the enterprise did fail, what remains of the Rocky Mountain Vaults & Archives has left the Bow Valley with an indelible record of the Cold War. And it is a record that obviously has much appeal, given the number of visitors the vault appears to get and the quantity of modern-day artifacts left lying around. A campfire marked by a circle of stones can still be found inside the cavern, while the flattened metal cups that hold tea candles litter the floor. On a smooth part of the limestone wall near the entrance, someone has traced their hand in pencil and then added an extra finger. Below that, a fin-backed monster appears to be crushing or eating a stick man. Outside the cave mouth is another fire ring and a single beer can with the telltale puncture hole near the bottom of the can. While all of these elements add another layer to what is already a strange story and a strange place, an odd melancholy arises upon seeing such a bold idea reduced to something weird and creepy. But it certainly gives the Bow Valley a good story.
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Keep in mind that the vault is part of the Bow Valley Wildland Park, and, according to Steve Donelon, heritage protection team leader for Alberta Tourism, Parks & Recreation, it is protected under Albertaâ€™s Provincial Park Act. â€œWhy it is there is beyond me. I find it very odd,â€? he said.
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