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Repurposed Leopard 1 tanks invade Vegreville

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WATCH: A Vegreville company, Quality Disposal & Recycling Inc., got the contract to repurpose old Leopard 1 tanks to be used for target practice at Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. Gord Steinke has the story.

An unusual sight near Vegreville is turning heads.

The central Alberta town has been invaded by a part of Canadian military history. Leopard 1 tanks are neatly lined up in a work yard on the west end of town.

Many of these heavy metal battle machines were used in combat in Afghanistan.

A Vegreville company, Quality Disposal & Recycling Inc., got the contract to repurpose these out-of-date relics to be used for target practice at Cold Lake Air Weapons Range.

Project manager for quality disposal, Jaden Melenka, said the response from the public has been entertaining.

“They’ll drive by and see a tank rolling by and they’ll text someone who works here and say, ‘What on earth are you guys doing?'” said Melenka.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Canada fails to find foreign buyer for old Leopard 1 tanks

Canada acquired more than 50 of the Leopard 1 tanks in the 1970s and operated them until 2017. The aging machines have since been replaced with Leopard 2 tanks.

Melenka says it’s an honour to be working on such an important part of Canadian military history.

“These are from 1978 so you can imagine all the hands that touched them and the stories that went along with them,” said Melenka.

“The crew that was in here were brothers, you know, and when we go in here and start this taking apart we are almost part of that brotherhood and that history — and we couldn’t be happier to be doing this.”

The repurposing work involves ensuring they can no longer function as a weapons system.

“The end game is we completely gut it down to a bare shell, remove all the components, then reassemble everything, put it back together,” said Melenka. “The gun barrel we weld shut. From there, it’s ready to be moved to weapons range.”

The project is bittersweet for former Canadian tank commander Anthony Sewards. Sewards operated a Leopard 1 tank in combat in Afghanistan.

“It brings a little bit of a tear in the eye. They’ve been replaced, phased out. It’s a lot of memories,” said Sewards.

“You deploy and that tank is your home. I’m lucky enough that my tank is going to Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.”

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Researching and repurposing these machines has been a learning experience for Melenka and his crew in more ways than one.

“Obviously, we had never worked on a tank before so there were a lot of unknowns. The military working with us have been so excellent with us and sent a team to go through all the parts,” he said.

While the project has been a challenge, Melenka said the work has been rewarding.

“The crew that was in here were brothers, you know, and when we go in here and start taking them apart we are almost part of that brotherhood and that history and we couldn’t be happier to be doing this.”

About 45 retired Canadian Army tanks will soon be used for target practice at the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range. A few others are being used as monuments in towns across Canada.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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