North Okanagan museum locked down after suspected live bomb found on display

An artifact from this exhibit at the Armstrong/Spallumcheen Museum and Art Gallery led to a visit from police, the Royal Canadian Navy Ordnance Disposal Unit, and a full lock down of the building for days.

ARMSTRONG - A museum in the North Okanagan was locked down earlier this month after concerns were raised about a military mortar in one of the displays possibly being live.

The Armstrong/Spallumcheen Museum and Art Gallery usually isn’t even open during the Interior Provincial Exhibition, but on Friday, Sept. 2, they let a Scottish visitor in for a tour of the displays. That’s when the military history buff noticed a mortar shell and said it looked as though it might not have been disarmed, museum president Maureen Karran says.

Further investigation revealed another item on display was also in a questionable state of disarmament.

“Once two items were flagged we had to do something about it,” Karran says.

Police were called, which led to the Royal Canadian Navy Ordnance Disposal Unit being called in from Vancouver Island.

Throughout the whole episode, from Sept. 2 to Sept. 8, museum staff and volunteers were locked out of the building as a safety precaution.

The disposal unit went through the entire museum and deemed most of the items safe except for one — an anti-aircraft shell that may not have been disarmed. They removed it from the building and left with it. Karran says they never heard back about whether or not it was in fact live.

The centre artifact is a military shell that was inspected, deemed safe and allowed to stay on display.
The centre artifact is a military shell that was inspected, deemed safe and allowed to stay on display.

“It’s their job to diffuse them, so they might have just detonated it,” she says. “We didn’t want it back.”

She’s not too rattled about the possibility of an undetonated ordnance having been sitting in the museum for years.

“You would have to have handled it and known how to detonate it,” she says.

Now, the museum is reviewing its policy around donated military ordnances and whether they should still accept them.

Known as Unexploded Explosive Ordnances (UXOs), undetonated military mortars, shells and grenades have been found across the North Okanagan in recent years, including one in Kalamalka Lake, one in a ditch in Sicamous, and many buried on Okanagan Indian Band land around Vernon. One was discovered recently while firefighters were putting out a wildfire in Vernon.

If an unexploded ordinance is discovered, people are advised to call 911 and leave the area.


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