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Unexploded explosive ordnance

Dozens of reserves could contain abandoned military explosives: report


By —— Bio and Archives--November 26, 2007

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Abandoned explosives from bygone military training exercises could be scattered across more than two dozen native reserves in Canada, says a newly released document.

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A Defence Department list cites 25 reserves potentially laden with discarded explosives, ranging from Second World War-era bombs to anti-tank mortars and even torpedoes.

The accounting of 731 so-called legacy sites, prepared in April, was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act. It details the locations of sites that may contain so-called unexploded explosive ordnance or UXOs - military jargon for weapons that have yet to detonate.

The federal government made deals in the past - mostly during the Second World War - to lease reserve land for military use, said Fran MacBride, National Defence’s UXO program manager. The land was returned to the First Nations when the leases expired.

Not every site on the list contains explosives. However, MacBride said it’s impossible to declare a legacy site totally free and clear of all explosives.

“Once we’ve used a range - and that’s anywhere in Canada on any land - we can never state categorically that it is free from UXOs,” she said. “There will always be a risk.”

The department hired a contractor in 2005 to identify suspect locations across Canada, she said. The contractor identified 731 sites, although MacBride said there could be more.

In January, the department plans to begin determining which sites actually contain explosives by sifting through archival records from Indian and Northern Affairs and National Defence, conducting airborne geophysical surveys and interviewing local residents.

The Defence Department will also use what MacBride calls “an advanced version of a metal detector” to track down explosives on the sites.

The process could take “many years,” MacBride said, and even then a legacy site “will always be on the list.”

Land in southern Alberta belonging to the Blood Tribe - Canada’s largest reserve by land area - was formerly used as a bombing practice range during the Second World War.

The range was located at the northeast part of the reserve. Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weasel Head said the farmland-ringed area is unpopulated, with a canal running through it and bordered to the north by an irrigation dam. The closest house is about three kilometres away, he said.

However, there’s a community of about 2,000 people roughly nine kilometres from the range, which Weasel Head said gives him some cause for concern.

“The possibility is, there still could be some explosives that are out there,” he said. “It’s kind of been assumed to this point that there’s no more explosives that are out there.”

The air force also once used an area on Vancouver Island near Tofino, B.C., as an air-to-air gunnery and low-level bombing range. The Defence Department list shows there may be 159-kilogram depth bombs from the 1950s in the water surrounding the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

During the summer months, the waters beyond the shores of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation are often dotted with fishing boats, said chief councillor Moses Martin.

Some drag their nets along the sea bottom, trawling for shrimp and sole, he said.

The possibility of depth bombs alongside the fish on the ocean floor “would be a concern,” he added.

Other First Nations have long been aware of unexploded ordnance on their reserves. The Tsuu T’ina Nation, whose territory is adjacent to the southwest city limits of Calgary, may still have anti-tank weapons, grenades and mortars on its land from military training exercises spanning eight decades, from 1910 to the 1990s, the list says.

The Tsuu T’ina made headlines in the 1980s when they claimed the Defence Department reneged on a deal to clear explosives from reserve land it leased for nearly 70 years.

The Tsuu T’ina formed their own cleanup company - Wolf’s Flat Ordnance Disposal - after rejecting the Defence Department’s offer to bring in an American outfit to do the job.

The federal government awarded Wolf’s Flat Ordnance Disposal a contract in the 1980s to dispose of “munitions, flares, rockets, simulators and pyrotechnics of all kinds,” according to information on the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs’ website.

Meanwhile, Lac Laberge in the Yukon, just north of Whitehorse, is listed as a 1950s-era bombing and gunnery range that may contain high explosive incendiary rockets, a type of ammunition specially designed to pierce armour and to ignite readily combustible materials.


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