Mary Hill is a beautiful, forested area west of CFB Esquimalt in Beecher Bay First Nation traditional territory. The location provides views of the Salish Sea and is a Garry Oak and Douglas Fir ecosystem containing several species at risk. Established as a coastal defence site during World War II, and later used to train Canadian Armed Forces’ members, the site now requires hazardous materials abatement and Unexploded Explosive Ordnance (UXO) clean up.

In 2017, DCC began supporting the work to clean up the impact of the UXOs, which quickly expanded to the rest of the site.

“As the project progressed, we realized there was much more work than we anticipated,” said Scott Irwin, DCC Coordinator, Environmental Services. Five years later, they continue their painstaking work of mapping, checking and clearing grids at the 185-hectare site. To date, 1,700 of a possible 3,250 grids have been cleared, with an estimated cost of $7.5 million.

Another layer is the importance the area has to local First Nations. There are culturally-modified trees that were altered as part of their traditional use of the forest, as well as cairn—all requiring regular work with archeologists and monitors to ensure culturally-significant features aren’t harmed.

And, of course, there’s the safety component. While most of the clean up has been of spent casings and dummy rockets, there have been some findings of white-phosphorus grenades and high explosive mortars among other potential dangers.

“You can’t let yourself be complacent,” said Irwin about the safety measures in place.

The end point for the project is when the UXOs have been removed and this land can be safely divested.

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