Nova Scotia

No evidence of munitions or chemical weapons in Bras d'Or Lake, says DND

The Defence Department says it has investigated reports that weapons were dumped in the lake region after the Second World War.

Senator Dan Christmas says the confirmation brought 'an immense sigh of relief'

The Defence Department says it has not found any evidence that munitions or chemical weapons were dumped in Bras d'Or Lake. (Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith/CBC)

Sen. Dan Christmas first heard of wartime military training on the Bras d'Or lakes a few years ago from Mi'kmaw elder Albert Marshall of Eskasoni, N.S.

"When [Marshall] was a child, he remembers the Canadian air force doing some practice bombing over the Bras d'Or lakes," said Christmas. "He often wondered if he imagined that, or if that was actually real."

Marshall's musings prompted Christmas to question the Department of National Defence about what it was doing in the area all those years ago.

Last week, DND officials briefed Christmas, other members of the Bras d'Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative — which is chaired by Christmas — and other interested people about military training around the lake.

Between 1923 and 1945, DND said there was naval gunnery, torpedo and aerial bombing training near Eskasoni and an ammunition depot near Johnstown.

Sen. Dan Christmas says the Defence Department's confirmation that no weapons are in the lake was a great relief. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

In the early 2000s, DND said it researched unconfirmed reports that chemical munitions had been dumped in the lakes after the Second World War, but no corroborating evidence was found. 

In 2003, the Royal Canadian Navy had divers investigate the referenced grid co-ordinates. They, too, were unable to find any evidence of military materials.

Defence spokesperson Ashley Lemire told CBC News in an email that subsequent and exhaustive historical reviews have not uncovered any information to indicate chemical or conventional munitions were ever dumped in Bras d'Or Lake.

Followup research conducted as recently as 2018 — including interviews with knowledgeable local stakeholders — also failed to identify any evidence of munitions disposal, including chemical weapons.

"The reports of dumped munitions have not been supported by any other stakeholder discussions to date and have never been corroborated in the historical record," said Lemire.

'Immense sigh of relief'

Christmas said he's satisfied with the outcome.

"So this whole exercise sort of gave me an immense sigh of relief, some peace of mind that at least the best knowledge that we have poses no health or human hazard to people on the lakes."

But Terry Long, a retired military engineer who is trained in munitions disposal, is still convinced there are leftover, unexploded munitions in the lake.

"If they're still in the environment and they're causing impact on the ecosystem, that's my concern," said Long, who was also at the briefing.

Long said he is not worried any remnants will explode, but he is concerned the materials may pollute the lake. He proposed an international marine training centre for the retrieval and disposal of dumped weapons be built in Cape Breton.

About the Author

Yvonne LeBlanc-Smith has been reporting news in Cape Breton since 1981. You can follow her on Twitter @leblancsmith and reach her at yvonne.leblanc-smith@cbc.ca

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