March 13, 2016

Goose Air Base | (Nuclear) Weapons Storage Area

Building 1092
Earth Covered Magazine (representative of 1091-1095)
Photo: Howard Haby (2010.04.05)
I have the impression that most Canadians are not aware of the extent that American military forces were deployed at US bases located within Canada borders, throughout the Cold War.  I'm also convinced that there were nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Canada, at Goose Air Base, by the Americans as part of their Cold-War-footing that have never been disclosed.  Did the Canadian government know?  Did they look the other way?  I'll show you how this is more than a small detail, and not for political reasons.

Let me set up for you the background and give you some information I think you should know.  Starting in World War II there was an American presence in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, as it was used as a critical transport route to Europe; a stop-over to refuel before going across the Atlantic.  Between July 1950 and November 1950 Americans forward-deployed Boeing B-50 heavy bombers and Mark IV nuclear bombs to Goose Air Base.  This nuclear bomb deployment is an element of Canadian history and is a fact.  Normally the American Government doesn't disclose any information about where their nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons are located - but they needed to divulge it through diplomatic channels to the Canadian government at the time, since one of their bombers ran into engine trouble on the way back and had to jettison (and conventionally detonate) an un-armed nuclear weapon, potentially contaminating the the St Lawrence near Rivière-du-Loup.  Whoops?  This only became public knowledge in the 1980s.  As no fissile pit was installed in the bomb when it was detonated, it is unclear to me of any highly enriched uranium was in the hull of the bomb, and if it would have been dispersed into the food chain of the Saint Lawrence river.

Officially, those Mark IV nuclear bombs were the only "offensive" nuclear weapons ever deployed in Canada.  "Offensive" is a term used referring to bombs, cruise missiles, ICBMs, etc; nuclear weapons that would be used in a nuclear strike on a foreign country.  Since Bomarc missiles were defensive, along with Lulu depth charges, Falcon air-to-air missiles, and Genie air-to-air rockets, the Canadian Government seemed to have the moral high ground - defending Canada, even with nuclear weapons, was perfectly palatable for the electorate.  

Where exactly at Goose Air Base did they keep those nuclear weapons in 1950?  According to John Clearwater, they were in the forest under heavy guard and away from prying eyes.  I believe that would mean they were Northwest of the Goose Air Base runways, West of the hospital and graveyard.  Why would I think that?  Well, the military does a lot of planning, and they have a lot of standards they need to adhere to when it comes to building construction.  They won't just pick any location to store nuclear weapons; their most expensive and secret weapons.  The physical security would demand multiple barbed wire fences, guard dogs, a kennel for dogs, guard houses, a road ringing the area to patrol the perimeter, and so forth.  These construction standards are well documented, and evolved over time.  Vintage site plans show guard houses, double fences, the kennel, and four rectangles that look very much like hard stands, or foundations for buildings which would have stored Mark IV nuclear bombs at in that large square fenced location at the Northwest end of the base.  I've illustrated on a Canadian topo map from with a yellow circle where that was. Documentation isn't clear which buildings were built first in the special storage area; but a storage facility was given the approval to be built in 1951, documents show it had already been started by the USAF in 1950.  As a makeshift staging area that was rushed into production, the yellow area circled on the map probably wasn't constructed to the standards that the military would want for long term storage and maintenance of nuclear weapons.

Between 1953 and 1954 ten new reinforced concrete buildings were built by the Americans at the new Goose Air Base Weapons Storage Area, at the Southeast end of the base, surrounded by two barbed wire fences, with winterized armed guard towers (shown on the map with a blue circle).  This would be the only Weapons Storage Area in Canada to have such high security, which for the time was quite notable.  No other ammunition storage facility elsewhere on the base, or any base in Canada, had such physical security measures in place.  High double barbed wire fences, dogs, guard towers, etc.  Military-strategy-wise, at that time, the plan was to forward-deploy and store nuclear weapons away from continental US bases where the Soviets knew nuclear weapons were stored, and would make easy targets in an initial Soviet nuclear strike.  By forward-deploying nuclear weapons the US also intended to shorten the time it would take to launch an attack, or counter attack.

Another indication this Weapons Storage Area was intended to be used as a nuclear weapons storage area is the design of the buildings.  Fissile pits were stored in one type of building, the non-nuclear bulk of the bomb were stored in another, and there would be a "Plant" building where maintenance and assembly would take place.  We have all three of those types of buildings present, in the exact same configuration as can be found at the Spanish and Moroccan former Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases where nuclear weapons are known to have been stored.

Strategic Air Command Air Bases in Spain and Morocco with Weapons Storage Areas
  • Torrejon Air Base in Spain (40.4846, -3.4175)
  • Zaragoza Air Base in Spain (41.6482, -1.0316)
  • Moron Air Base in Spain (37.1742, -5.5947)
  • Ben Guerir Air Base in Morocco (32.0988, -7.8969)
  • Sidi Slimane Air Base in Morocco (34.2151, -6.0419)
  • Nouasseur Air Base in Morocco (33.3659, -7.5530)
Unknown Building
Weapons Storage Area Igloo
Photo: Howard Haby (2010.04.05)
In the late 1950s, at Goose Air Base, preparation for the arrival of nuclear air-to-air missiles (AIR-2 Genies or Falcon AIM-26A) for the ADC was underway.  In 1958, an addition to the original Weapons Storage Area was completed that would accommodate distinctly different nuclear weapons.  These long rectangular buildings would store weapon components for air to air missiles, in 3 long buildings with dozens of separate compartments.  The interceptors stationed there were to be outfitted with defensive nuclear weapons; specifically the nuclear Falcon air-to-air nuclear missiles between 1966-1967.  It is worth mentioning the Falcon air-to-air missile was shipped in components that needed to be assembled, but the nuclear warhead was "sealed" and didn't need maintenance of the fissile pit, like the old Mark IV and Mark VI bombs did.  It did require assembly all the same, which is why there is a missile assembly building in the 1958 extension.  The air-to-air missile storage facility, built in 1958, was right beside the original triangular shaped Weapons Storage Area, but had separate entrances.

Many of the buildings in the former Goose Air Base WSA are still there, mainly those that would have stored or maintained nuclear weapons, but the administrative buildings have all been demolished.  Three of the remaining buildings have been given Canadian Historical Building status, but why only three?  Maybe someone will recognize all of them as being more important, and treat them better than they're being treated today.  Luckily, these sorts of buildings were all built to standard military specifications, with lots of concrete, and are quite sturdy.  

What's most significant to me about the original 1954 Weapons STorage Area isn't that it was a storage facility at all; The Goose Bay Weapons Storage Area was built to store and *maintain* nuclear bombs; but what do you need to do with a nuclear bomb to maintain it?  The fissile material making a nuclear bomb "nuclear" was removable and stored separately at that time, until it was needed, then it would be inserted in the bomb en-route to the target.  In the meantime, that fissile material was degrading.  So, these degrading parts needed to be inspected, replaced or refurbished, every few months.  Nuclear bombs produced after 1962 were of a sealed/containerized type, eliminating the need to maintain them as they had been previously.  Inspections would still need to be performed for the electronics that were within the bombs, but dis-assembly of the nuclear "pit" would no longer be necessary.  The Canadian Department of Heritage has designated Building 1090 as a heritage building due to it's history, design and architecture... but they may be playing up the wrong feature of the building.  It's primary use was not storage like the rest, it was the "plant", where the inspections are refurbishment would have been performed.  As has been shown at similar Operational Storage Sites in the USA, during that procedure specks of the nuclear core could/would pop off as radioactive dust, and it was standard procedure to paint over it rather than clean it up.  Building 1090 also had a massive Diesel-fueled air-started backup generator; I'm not sure when it was used, but I presume it would provide backup power to the WSA in case the power was cut.

The Goose Air Base Weapons Storage Area is the only site in Canada that I would really like to visit with a geiger counter, since the floors of Building 1090, 1082, 1083, 1088, and 1089 may emit Alpha and Beta radiation from the Uranium or Plutonium that is likely sealed in the floor paint.

In John Clearwater's book, US Nuclear Weapons in Canada, he states that various nuclear gravity bombs were stored in Canada from 1950-1971, which can be corroborated with declassified documents from the United States.  I'd like to find a more detailed list in order to determine what was stored in the storage bunkers at Goose Bay.  With a timeline of what, when they were stored, and for how long, we'd be able to figure out if those bombs had been refurbished on-site, and if there should be nuclear waste buried nearby.

Even with the "country" blacked out, it is quite obvious which country is being discussed.

(Read a scrape of's intro to Q Areas here)

I'm not much of a political historian, but during the time offensive nuclear weapons were stored at Goose Air Base there were four different Canadian Prime Ministers who held office.

Pierre Trudeau (L) 1968-1979
Lester B Bearson (L) 1963-1968
John Diefenbaker (PC) 1957-1963
Louis St. Laurent (L) 1948-1957

Pierre Trudeau was known to be somewhat of a peacenik hippie, I mean that in a good way of course, and I have no idea why the United States moved its bombs out in 1971; was it because Pierre Trudeau told them to get out?  Did they plan to move them out anyway due to a new war strategy?

Let's take a look at the buildings that made up the Weapons Storage Area.

Weapons Storage Area Gate / Administration Area / Warehouse Area

Goose AB WSA
as built, 1954
Here we have a piece of the original site plan for the Weapons Storage Area showing the main gate and Administration area.  Entry between the barbed wire fences is also shown, as well as parking.  These same buildings, in the same layout, can be found in Morocco and Spain, at former USAF Strategic Air Command bases there.  Americans used the same basic site plan and design for all of their bases at the time, which makes comparison now, in the age of satellite imagery very convenient.

Building 1084 / 145 "Supply Warehouse" (1954)

Building 1084
Base Spares #2
State: Building is still standing.

From the site plans of Goose Air Base, as well as reviewing pictures from other Q Areas documented and photographed in the Library of Congress archives and environmental assessments, this best resembles a Supply and Equipment Shed / "Base Spares Warehouse #2". I think it's interesting how large the door is, the lack of windows, louvred vent on the side, and odd-looking smoke stack... Another thing; at Ellsworth or Goose, this is the only building in the warehouse area with a sloped roof; why?  Well, when you look at the floor-plan there are no pillars in the large open space - it uses trusses, unlike any of the others.  I'm not sure what kind of spares were kept in the building, but clearly they were incompatible with pillars in the middle of the room, so I assume they were... large spares?  Forklifts or other equipment perhaps?

CFB Goose Bay - Building 1084 - 2015.05.15
Credit: Anonymous

Building 1085 / 143 "Base Spares #1" (1954)

State: Remediated

I do not have concrete examples of what supplies would make up "spares" and what would have been kept in the warehouses in the Weapons Storage Area, but from the internal design you can see there were doors on both sides, and few walls or posts to get in the way.  This suggests to me these were large items or pallets of items that needed to be moved in or out.

Building 1086 / 144 "Base Spares #2"  (1954)

Building 1084
Base Spares #2
State: Remediated

Base Spares #2 was built similarly to the Supply Warehouse, and has less rooms than Base Spares #1, but it does have a hot air furnace, which tells me they couldn't let what was being stored there freeze.  Could the heat have been for the pipes?  I dont think so, because there was no bathroom or other evidence of water to the building.

Building 1087 / 142 "Administration Office / Base Spares Office"  (1954)

State: Remediated

I don't know the exact duties that were performed in the administration office, but it was the only domestic building in the compound in 1954 with toilet facilities and sufficient creature comforts.  It matches the building 88316 at Ellsworth AFB quite well, and I'm sure they were designed by the same engineers/architects.

Building 1087

Building 1081 / 1082 / 1088 / 1089 "C Structure" or "A Structure?" (1954)

Grading diagram
note the outline of the building doesn't extend the length of the berm
State: Intact, DND property, locked with a padlock.
Fissile Pit Storage
~89 sq.m. / ~292 sq ft (~17x17ft ?)

You'll notice a subtle difference between these "igloos" and the others.  There are vents to either side of the door, which buildings 1091-1095 do not have.  Also, from the interior dimensions, they are quite tiny on the inside, which match the use of storing nuclear fissile pits (aka "A Structures"). I am not sure if the two groupings of two buildings, on opposite sides of the ring-road were used for different kinds of fissile pits, or why they were separated.  They have, according to the Treasury Board Secretariat, the same internal dimensions, so I'm making a leap that they are made to the same specifications and design.  From a DND CAD drawing in 1992, the room had a vault in the middle, and coincidentally nuclear fissile pit storage was performed in such vaults.  This would suggest this room was designed for safe storage of fissile material in "bird cages" (the structure the fissile pit was stored in).

Picture Courtesy DND

Snippet of the Goose Air Base General Site Plan (as built) - 1954

Building 1081 - Credit: blaine (Flickr)

Building 1081Photo: Department of National Defence / Ministère de la Défense nationale.
Cached Copy

Building 1082 - Credit: blaine (Flickr)

Cached Copy 

Building 1088 - Summer 2014
Photo Credit: Louise Holloway

Building 1088 - Spring 2014
Photo Credit: Coralee Anderson / Facebook

Building 1089 - Summer 2014
Photo Credit: Jake Gaming / Facebook

Building 1089 - Fall 2012
Photo Credit: Julie Duffy Reid / Facebook
Building 1089 - Summer 2014
Photo Credit: Louise Holloway

Building 1081 / Building 1082
Credit: Nokia Maps

Building 1088 / Building 1089
Credit: Nokia Maps
The trip report from the inspection at Fort Bliss calls two of the pit storage buildings "C Structures", which I believe were actually "A Structures", but perhaps we're both right.  Buildings 11507 and 11513 look like igloos from the top (just like Goose), but have a room and a vault within them.  Did "A Structure" designs change so maintenance techs could perform maintenance within the pit storage building, and not risk of contaminating another building? I won't know unless I see the inside of the Goose Bay buildings and compare with these pictures, or see more detailed blueprints.
Trip Report, Inspection of Former Air Force Weapons Storage Area (WSA),
Biggs Army Airfield, Fort Bliss, TX, 26 June 2013

Building 1090 "Plant Group" (~1954)

State: Intact

It sure looks like a weapons assembly facility to me, and that's what John Clearwater called it, so that's my final answer. aka a "C Structure". 

I believe the presence of this building suggests the presence of the Mark VI atomic bomb or similar large "FatMan" style bomb.

From the front of the building there are two large doors; on the right you have what I believe would have been the maintenance area for the bombs, but on the left you have a space which used to hold a giant air-started diesel generator.  I presume that generator was for use in case of emergency and provided sufficient power for the Weapons Storage Area, not the whole base.  To the left of the building is an underground Diesel storage tank, that to the best of my knowledge has not yet been dug up and remediated.

Building 1090 - Summer 2014
Photo Credit: Louise Holloway

Building 1090 - Summer 2014
Photo Credit: Jack Gaming / Facebook
Building 1090 - Fall 2012
Photo Credit: Julie Duffy Reid / Facebook

Building 1090
Photo: Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1989.
Cached Copy

Building 1090
"Weapons Assembly" building per John Clearwater
C Structure
Credit: Nokia Maps

Building 1091/1092/1093/1094/1095 "Igloo of Unknown Design" (~1954)

Grading diagram
Note: the structure goes all the way
to the back of the berm, to the vent
State: Intact
~223 sq.m. / ~2400 sq.ft. (~30x80ft ?)

Buildings like 1091-1095 can be found everywhere the US Strategic Air Command went.  These are very standard "igloos" to store all sorts of munitions, but at the time they could have stored the "rest" of the nuclear bombs without the fissile pit.

The doors on the front of these igloos seem to be of the high security explosion-proof variety which need a bottle jack to open.

It is unclear to me how many Mark VI nuclear bombs could have been stored in each, since it isn't just "can they fit" there would have been a maximum explosive yield they wouldn't have been able to exceed. 

Building 1091
Credit: Gerfndrf (2014)

Building 1092
Credit: Gerfndrf (2014)

Building 1093
Credit: Gerfndrf (2014)

Building 1095

SAC Munitions Storage Igloos (5)
Credit: Nokia Maps
B61 Tactical Nuclear Gravity Bombs (Used from 1968 - Present)
In storage, in an igloo, in Turkey

1958 ADC Extension to the Goose Air Base Weapons Storage Area

Second Weapons Storage Area built in 1958 beside the first (as seen in the background).
Its intended use was to store the nuclear Falcon air to air missile
It could also store the nuclear Genie as well
Source: Richard Bradford / Facebook (and I believe the photo is from DND originally)
Completed in 1958, and extension was made to the original Goose Air Base Weapons Storage Area to store nuclear air-to-air missiles/rockets (The Genie and the Falcon).  The above picture is that facility.  Like the original WSA, there was only one high security entrance with double barbed wire fences, berms to protect against detonation of more than one storage facility in case of catastrophe, etc. 

Building 1071 "Missile assembly building" (~1958)

State: In-use for other purposes.

While I don't have a good picture of Building 1071, it has two doors on either end allowing for handling of the missiles to be kept separate from heating, bathrooms and spares.  The building has a steel girder in the ceiling allowing for a winch to be operated to lift heavy equipemnt and the missiles that would be maintained.

Building 1072, 1073, 1074 Unknown Design, used for missile component storage (~1958)

Each of these buildings was built to an American design specification, but I'm unsure what to call this series of cube-like separate heated spaces.  It's a type of magazine; when I find out the official designation I will update the pictures.

Building 1073
"Remains of former USAF
secure area 1 October 1983"
Credit: Barry Yager

Building 1074 - Missile Component Storage
Photo Credit: Anonymous

Sign inside Building 1074
Photo Credit: Anonymous

Sign inside Building 1074
Photo Credit: Anonymous

Building 1075, 1076, 1077, 1078, 1079, 1080 "Guard Towers" (~1954)

The Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office states in Building Report 98-134, of September 2000 that the construction of the guard towers around the new bunker facilities built in 1958 was finished off with six guard towers.  I disagree; from the documentation I've found.  The guard towers were part of the initial construction in 1953-1954. Reportedly, all guard towers were destroyed around 1998, which is a damn shame.  

Weapons Storage Area Guard Tower, photo pre-1998
Credit: Geraldine Hefferan-Murphy / Facebook

Weapons Storage Area Guard Tower, photo pre-1998
Credit: Geraldine Hefferan-Murphy / Facebook

Similar Facilities

Here is a video of the Q Area at March Air Force Base; do these igloos look familiar?  Most storage sites were built pretty closely to the same master plan.

Site Plans and Maps

Former Goose Air Base Weapons Storage Area
1970s (1980s?) DND Site Plan
Photo: Anonymous

October 1957 Master Plan showing post-1957 planned construction
US Department of the Air Force

Ernest Harmon AFB - Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador

For comparison, here is the only nuclear capable munitions bunker that I am aware of at Ernest Harmon AFB in Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is the only structure near Mine Lake.  There are no nearby buildings for the maintenance of the weapons nearby, showing this facility was truly storage-only.

Ernest Harmon AFB - Special Weapons Storage
Ernest Harmon AFB - Special Weapons Storage
Credit: Nokia Maps

I'm still looking for pictures of each of the buildings from any (or all!) angles so I can compare them with similar storage facilities located elsewhere.

If this topic interests you, you really should be reading John Clearwater's books.  Especially this one:

Further Reading:

Entire response from DND from my Access to Information and Privacy request A-2015-00102 (~30mb) here.


I had a lot of help putting this together; bugging friends and colleagues, contacting random people on Flickr, emailing Government of Canada Departments, etc.  
Thank you all for your continued support.

Lieutenant-Colonel Luc Sabourin, RCAF Wing Commander, 5 Wing
Chris Charland, RCAF 5 Wing (Goose Bay) Heritage Officer
Greg Wiggins, fellow Goose Bay history enthusiast
Nicolas Miquelon, Program Advisor, Canadian Government Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office
Connie Higginson, Author and fellow Cold War enthusiast
John Clearwater, Author and subject matter expert
Howard Haby, Amateur photographer
Thomas Page, Historian, Air Defense Radar Veterans' Association
Ron Plante, Strategic Air Command Subject Matter Expert
Mark Morgan, Historian, United States Air Force
Scott Murdock,
Michael Binder, (United States) Air Force Declassification Office (AFDO) Historian
Gerfndrf, Reddit contributor