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Department of National Defence detonates old bomb near North Vancouver trails

Contractors have been combing the trails and woods near the old Blair Rifle Range looking for unexploded ordancance dating back as far as the 1930s
A three-inch mortar shell is found in North Vancouver’s Blair Rifle Range Lands on April 17, 2024, shortly before it was detonated by Canadian Armed Forces members. | Department of National Defence

For the fourth time since they began searching, the Department of National Defence has detonated a bomb found buried in the soil near the trails of North Vancouver’s Blair Rifle Range Lands.

UXO (or unexploded ordnance) contractors have been combing trails and woods off Mt. Seymour Parkway with metal detectors as part of a government program to rid legacy military sites of lost and forgotten munitions.

After finding a three-inch mortar shell with its fuse still intact on Wednesday, the crews called in explosive experts from the military Thursday morning. They deemed it would be safest to destroy the object on site, rather than take it away, and closed the nearby trails, piled sandbags on top of the shell and detonated a charge on it.

The Blair Rifle Range Lands were used by the Canadian Armed Forces from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The Department of National Defence first began UXO work on the Blair Rifle Range lands in 2018, removing 200 kilograms of munition items and remnants from the areas surrounding the trails on the southern portion of the site.

Since they returned in 2023, the UXO team has been focused on the wooded areas farther north, finding another 145 kg, consisting mainly of expended or practice two- and three-inch mortars and parts; 37-millimetre expended flite-rite rounds; paraflares; anti-tank practice rounds; and small-arms ammunition.

The types and volumes of munitions they are finding is in keeping with the “medium” risk level the Department of National Defence considers the remaining lands to be, said project manager Debbie Nicholls.

“This is pretty much what we expected from the work that we did in 2018,” she said.

Currently, some of the trails north of Larkhall Court are closed while contractors do their work. Starting in May, those trails will be reopened and trails to the south of Larkhall will be closed. Signs from the Department of National Defence on the site direct visitors away from closed areas.

So far, the crew has cleared about six hectares, with plans to get another two to four hectares done between now and the end of June. The UXO team will be back in the fall with plans to clear another six to eight hectares by the end of the year, Nicholls added, which will require more temporary trail closures.

Nicholls said the work has been progressing well, in part because of the co-operation of visitors to the Blair Rifle Range Lands.

“The project is moving really smoothly. I have to say the community has been great in respecting all of the trail closure signs and allowing us to do our work,” she said. “We thank you guys for that.”

Nicholls said there have been cases in the past of people tampering with UXO “and had some very detrimental consequences.”

“Those are the dangers. Obviously, we shouldn’t be touching these items,” she said. “If you ever see an item that that looks like it could be a UXO, do not disturb it, leave it where it’s at and call 911.”

The Blair Rifle Range Lands are owned by the CMHC and the province.

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