Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

The Story of a Work Camp

Mar 26, 2015

Last evening I sat through a fascinating presentation on the history of the Blair Rifle Range, a military shooting range in North Vancouver. I know, I know, it doesn't sound all that promising but I assure you that local resident Donna Sacuta has done a first-rate job of excavating the history of the site and placing it in a larger military and political context. (Her full report is online here.)

The story of the range begins in 1927 when the Department of National Defence expropriated a 644-acre parcel of land from the district of North Vancouver. Work began on a training facility. Then, at the beginning of 1934, the site became one of the relief camps for unemployed single men that the federal government was setting up across the country during the Depression. For two and a half years residents of the camp built roads, firing berms and a collection of buildings. It was the closest relief camp to Vancouver but I dare say that almost no one in North Vancouver is aware of its existence.

During and after World War Two various military units used the range for fire arms, machine gun, mortar and grenade training. In 1968 the DND sold the land to Central Mortgage and Housing but no housing development has taken place. Instead the land sits empty, mired in disputes between different levels of government.

Ms Sacuta's excellent research indicates that the land, which is theoretically closed to the public but is used informally by residents for walking and so on, is probably contaminated and may contain unexploded shells. No one knows for sure and no one is doing anything to find out. To my mind it is an incredible story of government ineptitude. 

The former range deserves to be remembered as a significant site in North Shore and BC labour and military history, but it also should be cleaned up and returned to the citizens of the North Shore.