British Columbia

Explosive ammo from sunken Canadian warship to be removed from Barkley Sound

A popular attraction for divers in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the HMCS Thiepval went down in 1930 carrying unexploded shells. Now, the Canadian Department of National Defence is planning to remove the ordnance.

A popular attraction for divers, the HMCS Thiepval went down in 1930 carrying unexploded shells

The HMCS Thiepval sunk in Barkley Sound in the 1930's after assuming a variety of roles, including deterrence of foreign U-boats during the first world war. (Canadian War Museum)

A sunken Canadian warship filled with unexploded ammunition is finally getting cleaned out after nearly 80 years under water.

The HMCS Thiepval, a battle-class naval trawler used during the First World War, crashed in Barkley Sound in the 1930s. The sunken ship has long been an attraction for divers, but now its drawn the attention of the Department of National Defence due to the presence of unexploded shells.

A DND explosives team will dive down to the boat in late June to extract the dangerous shells, according to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve resource manager Renee Wissink.

"They've been to the site now several times to do their surveys," he said. "[Now] they're coming up with the plan ... [to] remove the ordnance, and then dispose of it safely."

The 12-Pounder Cannon sat on the bow of the HMCS Thiepval, but is now on display at the community centre in Ucluelet, says Renee Wissink. (Canadian War Museum)

An historic vessel

The HMCS Thiepval was built in 1917 by the Kingston Shipbuilding Company. The battle-class armed trawler was designed to ward off foreign U-boats.

"It started off its career escorting convoys and doing mine sweeping in the Western Atlantic," said Wissink.

The boat's keynote feature was the 12-pound cannon mounted on its bow.

Two Soviet soldiers on the deck of HMCS Thiepval, the first Canadian warship to visit the Soviet Union. (Canadian War Museum)

It's now mounted in the community centre in Ucluelet, and Wissink says it was once used to take down an Alaska-bound rum running ship during the Prohibition period.

The ship itself was also the first Canadian war vessel to visit the Soviet Union and Japan when it provided support for a British attempt to fly around the world, according to the Canadian War Museum.

Since sinking in 1930, its become one of the most popular diving attractions along the West Coast Trail.

"Thiepval kind of sits in a place that is protected from the swells by Turret Island. The water tends to be relatively clear — especially early in the season. And because it sits right next to the reef that it hit ...  there's a fair bit of diversity of sea life as well."

The dive site will reopen once the ordnance is removed and DND conducts a risk assessment of the site in conjunction with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

With files from CBC's All Points West

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Explosive ammo from sunken Canadian war boat to be removed from Barkley Sound