From the archives: Military works to find unexploded bombs at Oak Hammock Marsh in 1983

By | August 20, 2019

It was called Operation Mallard, but it had very little to do with ducks.

In 1983, the Canadian Armed Forces was engaged in an operation to find and remove unexploded bombs from a marsh and the surrounding area near Stonewall, Man.

“He’s from the Canadian Armed Forces, and the bombs he’s looking for are left over from the Second World War,” said CBC reporter Karen Webb, as the camera showed the servicemen at work.

The site, Oak Hammock Marsh, was usually a quiet stretch of water, grass and trees frequented by waterfowl. 

WWII bomb test site

“By far the majority of these exploded,” said Webb, as a member of the team demonstrated what the bombs looked like. (Saturday Report/CBC News)

“During the ’40s, this was an Air Force practice range,” said Webb. “For seven days a week, bombs thundered down on the inland marsh.”

The site had been restored and rehabilitated by the provincial government and Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group, in the 1970s.

And by August 1983, the time had come to ensure there were no bombs left to pose a threat to people or wildlife. 

“There’s a possibility that one of them could be a dud,” Col. Barry Ashton told an assemblage of reporters on the site. “If somebody picked it up and played with it, it could cause an injury.”

Keys and coins, but nothing explosive

“If there are any bombs remaining in these areas, we’ll find them,” said Col. Barry Ashton. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

Webb said estimates were that 500,000 bombs had been dropped over the years — but no one could find records regarding exactly how many.

Several months earlier and four kilometres away, the effort had turned up 66 bombs in an area closed to the public.

But Oak Hammock Marsh had become a spot where anyone was welcome to take in the sights of mallards and many other species of birds.

“If there are bombs remaining in any of these areas, we’ll find them,” said Ashton. “And the chances of finding a bomb to start with, and one that’s still had an explosive charge, are very remote indeed.”

Bombs were proving elusive, but the forces did discover a few things.

“We’ve found pop cans, nails, coins, a set of keys,” said Ashton.