A Report on a Preliminary Underwater Survey of Lake Laberge
in the Vicinity of Deep Creek, Yukon


Prepared by D. Davidge

Underwater Video North

1.0 Purpose

The Contaminants/Waste Program of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) requested Underwater Video North to conduct a one day preliminary underwater survey of the lake bottom at Lake Laberge in the vicinity of Deep Creek. The purpose of the survey was to locate and document any military ordinance or other debris that may be deposited on the lake bottom.

2.0 Background Information

During the war and post war period of the 1940s and 1950ís, the Canadian military station in the Yukon conducted gunnery, artillery and bombing practice at different times of the year and at various locations. Most notable of the locations was Watson Lake north of the town of "Watson Lake" and Lake Laberge, about 20 km north of Whitehorse. Most of this activity was not well documented, however, in one instance, a Whitehorse newspaper notice was published in the mid 1950s warning the general public of military target practicing at Lake Laberge. In 1978, a Department of National Defence (DND) Explosives Ordinance Disposal Team (EOD) conducted an ordinance recovery and disposal operation in Watson Lake (National Defence, Final Rreport Ordinance Clearance Op - Watson Lake, YT, December, 1978). Several hundred rounds of 50 cal. shells, 20mm projectiles and rocket motors were recovered from the lake bottom. A live 500 lb. bomb was also found and, because of the risk involved in removing the bomb from the lake, it was detonated in situ. In 1992, submerged 45 gallon drums, once used as floating targets and heavily holed by 20mm rounds, were observed on the lake bottom in Watson Lake (personal observation, D. Davidge).

It is assumed that the target practicing carried out by the military at Watson Lake would have been conducted in a similar fashion at Deep Creek - Lake Laberge site. The findings of the EOD survey in Watson Lake in 1978 revealed a variety of ordinances that was left by the military either intentionally or by accident, some of it extremely large in size. Information obtained from long time Whitehorse area residents about ordinance use at Lake Laberge indicates the south end of Richtofen Island was used for aerial bombing practice and that barrels, fixed targets and possibly other materials was used as targets out on the lake or on Richtofen Island for shore based gunnery practice.

In recent years both live and spent 50 cal. shells and 20mm rounds have been accidentally discovered along the shoreline areas by local residents (personal communication, Dilan Nordin). Several 20mm rounds were also discovered in 1997 by recreational divers on the lake bottom off shore of the Deep Creek Government Campground (personal communication Nick Schonewille). A DND EOD team later conducted a limited lake bottom survey and recovered the 20mm ordinance reported by the divers. Other physical evidence of military activity such as old fox hole excavations used as gunnery placements can still be seen at the Nordin/Burns property about 300m north of the Deep Creek Campground.

3.0 Methods

The survey area is located at Lake Laberge, Yukon off shore from Deep Creek properties just north of where Deep Creek flows into Lake Laberge (see Figure 1).

The lake bottom survey was conducted by Underwater Video North using a Remote Operated

Vehicle (ROV) on August 28th, 1999. A 22 foot boat was used to access the search area. Weather conditions were overcast and calm. Visibility in the water was reasonable (about 3m).

A baseline running perpendicular to shore at approximately 45o magnetic was established using two floats set in shallow water approximately 20m a part (See Figure 2). The location of the baseline and general search area was selected based on evidence found during the past 5 years along the lakeshore in front of and immediately north of the Burns/Nordin property. Using the two floats as reference points, the search areas extended along this line from approximately 2m water depth out into the lake to a maximum depth of 8m.

Two search locations were established along the reference line. The coordinates of the two sites were determined using a GPS (see Figure 3). They are as follows:

Site #1

61o 04' 54.7"N
135 o 12' 05.5"W

Site #2

61 o 04' 52.3"N
135 o 12' 00.2"W

The boat was anchored at each of the locations to facilitate a systematic search of the immediate area. The search was carried out in a radial fashion at 30 degree intervals up to a distance of approximately 70m from the anchor point. Overlap between the two sites was approximately 20%. The search effort was limited to one day (approximately 8 hours in duration), beginning at about 11:00 hrs. and ending at 19:30 hrs.

4.0 Results

Site #1

No significant or unusual items or man made objects were found within the 70m radius of the coordinates at Site #1. The lake bottom was relatively flat and uniform.

Site #2


A total of 11 submerged 45 gallon steel barrels were located at three different locations within the 70m search radius of Site #2. The barrels were found in groups of 3 or 4, some appeared to be tethered together with steel cable. Many of the barrels were found with entry and exit bullet holes. No standard markings were visible on the barrels. In addition to the barrels, one unusual cubical box was found within the search area. It is not clear what the origin of this box is, but it did appear to be made out of metal and open ended on the top side. Examples of the finding are shown in Figures 4 through 7.


5.0 Conclusions

No military ordinance or ammunition was observed within the boundaries of the area searched. A number of steel barrels were found that are linked to the target practicing that took place at Deep Creek. The lake bottom survey has confirmed that offshore target practicing did occur at Lake Laberge and that 45 gallon barrels, probably used as floating targets, were used for gunnery practice from shore based positions.

6.0 Recommendations

The discovery of live 20mm canon shells and 50 cal. ammunition in and around Lake Laberge near Deep Creek over the past 5 years and as recently as August, 1999 (shown in Figure 8), plus the findings from other unsolicited lake bottom surveys near the south end of Richtofen Island (see aerial bomb in Figure 9) demonstrates there are similarities between the types of military ordinance in Lake Laberge and those removed from Watson Lake in 1978.


The area of the lake bottom surveyed to date is very small compared to the total lake bottom area that lies between Deep Creek and Richtofen Island. To date, no large scale search and recovery operation has not been carried at Lake Laberge similar to what was done in Watson Lake in 1978.

Therefore this report recommends that further lake bottom surveys off shore of the Deep Creek area as well as off the south end of Richtofen Island are needed to determine the full extent of military ordinance deposited in the lake.


Harry Lowry, Bonnie Burns and Dylan Nordin for their assistance and continued interest.