The Vault – Kananaskis, Alberta - Atlas Obscura

The Vault

What was to be the world's most secure Cold War document vault ended up as just a few shallow caves. 


Inside the Bow Flats Natural area, just off the Trans-Canada Highway, is a large tunnel carved into the north-facing slope of Mt. McGillivray’s solid limestone. 

The tunnel leads into the mountain to two chambers roughly 80 feet by 25 feet. Many people say the Canadian Government tunneled into the mountain as a plan to build a bunker that would house officials in case of a nuclear event during the Cold War.

As it turns out, those theorists are not too far from the truth. The shallow caves were actually constructed by three brothers, Stan, Joe, and Ted Rokosh. Their private company, Rocky Mountain Vaults and Archives, had the intent of holding only documents … in the beginning.

Rocky Mountain Vaults and Archives obtained licenses to begin constructing the vault in 1969, though they had started tunneling before 1966. The company had planned to store the country’s “most important documents” to keep them safe in the event of nuclear fallout. The vault would be climate-controlled and protected from all elements and dangers. “Built for maximum protection… against any form of destructive vice, from mildew to hydrogen bomb.” The original plans for the facility called for a system of impenetrable chambers and vaults built right into the mountain, which could THEORETICALLY have served as a redoubt for government officials in the case of an apocalypse.

The company was also in negotiations with the Royal Bank of Canada to house bank records in the vault, which would have made the venture successful. However, that arrangement failed when The Royal Bank decided to use a building in Montreal for its corporate records.

So, what would undoubtedly have been the largest secure file storage vault of that time, never came to be. Without any committed clients, the company went bankrupt. The project was abandoned and left as it was, only a fraction of the planned size of the original ambitious idea.

Today the vault caves are still empty and have become favorite spots for amateur hikers and cavers who can explore the unguarded chambers without hopping so much as a fence.

Know Before You Go

From the parking lot of the Heart Creek day use area take the path leading west. It's washed out a short way down the trail so make your way around it and carry on until you come to a marker post for the Trans Canada Trail. Take a left here and continue until you come to an intersection and another TCT marker, take the left path here as well. The trail gradually switchbacks from here to the entrance of the bunker. Bring a decent flashlight if you plan on exploring.

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