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The news is reporting a “bomb scare,” which is slightly overstating the matter. A few months ago, there was an UXO (unexploded explosive ordnance) discovered in the dunes. It was dealt with promptly, but now the Department of National Defence, in concert with Pacific Rim National Park officials, is closing the dunes for a time while they take another look.

It’s always been known locally that the dunes were used for training during World War II, when RCAF Tofino essentially dropped a town of 1000+ men in the middle of the west coast wilderness, just a stone’s throw from Long Beach. The dunes were also used by locals after the war for target practice or as a place to shoot clay pigeons.

In the 1970s, three UXOs were found on Florencia Island, in Florencia (Wreck) Bay. The beach, too, took a beating for a few decades, as the military used it for target practice. Here are the memories of Neil Buckle, from page 149 of Long Beach Wild, who lived near Sandhill Creek at Combers Beach (a section of Long Beach):

It was 1953, and the air force has arrived to set up large cloth targets, each with a big bull’s eye, on the beach. Sentries at both ends of the beach kept people out of the area because every morning at about 6 a.m., for six weeks, fighter planes zoomed in to strafe the beach and fire rockets at barrels anchored in the surf zone. While few residents and visitors could have been thrilled at the war-zone commotion tearing up their paradise, local teenage boys thought the display wildly exciting. Neil Buckle remembers clearly the scream of the shells followed by “thuds and sand flying everywhere” and “holes in the beach three feet deep.

If you are interested in learning more about the closures and UXOs, the DND is having two sessions on the west coast. In Tofino, May 15 at 7:30 at the Ecolodge at the Tofino Botanical Gardens and in Ucluelet, May 16 at 7:30 at the Ucluelet Community Centre.

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