According to Steve Wilson, part-owner and Key Master at Escape Room, the idea for Ottawa’s newest escape attraction, which will be located in Carp, Ont., came from the Diefenbunker itself.
In an interview with Ottawa Tourism, Wilson said the Diefenbunker reached out to Escape Manor, suggesting to convert the national museum into an escape room attraction after regular business hours. “We thought it was an absolutely amazing idea,” he said. “We’ve just been building on this great relationship from that moment on.”
Though Wilson said a few details are still being worked out over the next couple of weeks, he noted that the brand new attraction will have a spy and Cold War-related theme. “It may have something to do with a foreign syndicate trying to convince Prime Minister Trudeau to change our official languages to theirs, among other things,” he said, adding the new room will be “fun” like Escape Manor’s existing escapes. Wilson added that if he could describe the new attraction in one word, that word would be “epic.”
Opened just last year, Escape Manor offers a series of darkly-themed rooms on Queen Street in Ottawa’s downtown core and in the Hintonburg neighbourhood, where small groups are locked in and must work together to escape successfully or meet a tragic fate. Among several existing escape rooms are Wine Cellar, where you must escape from a crazy winemaker, Prison Break, where you must escape from death row and The Apocalypse, where you must escape or turn into a zombie.
Since its opening, Wilson said that this relatively new attraction has been bringing in groups of all kinds, from groups of friends, to bachelor and bachelorette parties, to sixtieth birthdays and even corporate team building events. Now, imagine what students might think of a brand new nuclear bunker escape?
In terms of the newest escape experience, Wilson shared with Ottawa Tourism that it will utilise a whole floor in the Diefenbunker, which expands tens of thousands of square feet, and will be one-hour long. He added the new Cold War-themed escape will be tailored to groups of 12 to 18 participants, though the official group limit has yet to be confirmed.
If you’re not familiar with the Diefenbunker, it’s a four-storey, 300-room, 100,000-square-foot cement bunker that is located underground just 20 minutes west of downtown Ottawa. It was originally built in complete secrecy by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker between 1959 and 1961, and was meant to house 535 Canadian government and military officials in the event of a nuclear attack. But though it was constructed, it was never actually used and Diefenbaker never visited the site.
In an emailed statement to Ottawa Tourism, Henriette Riegel, Executive Director at the Diefenbunker, said the new escape room allows the museum to engage visitors with its content in a “unique and entertaining way.” “Putting visitors into ‘lockdown’ in a real nuclear bunker, and requiring them to solve a Cold War problem to escape will be a lot of fun,” Riegel said.
She added the partnership with Escape Manor also allows the Diefenbunker to evolve and push the boundaries of how a community museum can be a “vibrant and exciting space for the imagination.”
Wilson noted that the biggest challenge with this new experience has been figuring out how to use the museum’s space. “We have to make sure that the existing artifacts or props that they have, won’t be damaged or confused with other items that we’re bringing in,” he said.
Wilson added that the escape room props must also be easy to set up and put away, as the Diefenbunker must return to its original condition for daytime visitors. “They have to ensure that they can still operate as a museum during the day and flip over at night to become an escape room.”
For now, Wilson said, the experience will occur on one floor. But he noted that there are plans to extend the attraction deeper into the depths of the bunker. “The goal is to eventually have the entire place turned into several escape rooms,” he said.
The new escape experience will run Thursday to Sunday at the Diefenbunker, at 3929 Carp Rd. Prices are expected to be comparable to what Escape Manor currently offers. Get in touch with Escape Manor for more information.