Chronology: 1923 - 1929

1923 Return to index

The Department of Interior, searching for some reliable and rapid means of communication to cover the vast areas involved in the northland and realizing the possibilities of wireless telegraphy, asked the Defence Department to consider the installation of Army Radio stations, with all expenses to be borne by the Department of the Interior.

Official approval of such a project had barely been granted before a party of RC Signals personnel consisting of Maj. (later Lt. -Col. ) WA Steele, MC; Lt. (later Brig) HE Taber,- Sgts. FC Heath (later WO 1) and WW Lockhart (later Col. ); Cpl. CG May (later Capt.) and Sigs CL Routh, HA Lamb and M W Whelan was loading technical equipment aboard the "SS Princess Louise" at Vancouver, enroute to Dawson City and Mayo Landing in the Yukon.

Dawson City, because it was the northern terminus of the Government Telegraph Line, and Mayo Landing, because it was the centre of a rich mining area and headquarters of such Government officers as the Gold Commissioner, Mining Recorder, and RCMP Commissioner, were chosen as the most suitable centres to be linked first by the new radiotelegraph.

Maj Steele's party travelled by water to Skagway, Alaska and narrow-gauge railroad to Whitehorse, YT. From there one detachment under Maj. Steele and Lt. Taber proceeded to Mayo and the balance under Sgt. Heath departed for Dawson.

At Mayo a small frame building was rented, essential furniture acquired and the 120-watt transmitter (a set familiar to World War 1 signallers) assembled and tested. In less than a week of such preparation the station was ready to operate.

Maj Steele and Lt. Taber then hastened to Dawson by flat bottomed boat, as the season was growing late and the danger of "freeze-up" was imminent.

At Dawson accommodation difficulties were solved when the RCM Police kindly loaned a small log building to the signals party and the equipment was quickly assembled, tested and all was in readiness for the first contact attempt.

Finally, on the 20th of October 1923, the patience of the operators at Mayo, who had been hopefully 'listening out' for many days, was rewarded when the never-to-be-forgotten signal came booming in as Dawson came on the air. Bursting with elation, Sgt. Bill Lockhart, Chief Operator at Mayo, immediately replied to Sgt. Frank Heath, Chief Operator at Dawson, and thus the NWT&Y Radio System was born officially.

Both stations were jammed with well-wishers and jubilation ran high as the first message was passed. All present sensed instinctively that this was indeed the dawn of a new era for the Canadian Northland.

The new outlet provided by radiotelegraph station was immediately utilized by banks, mining and steamship companies and the general public, as well as by Government agencies. All were loud in their praise of the rapidity with which they could now transact business with the "outside" as compared with the weeks and sometimes months it had taken previously.

Before long contact was made with stations of the US Signal Corps in Alaska (the Alaska Communication System) and by this route as well as over the telegraph line to British Columbia, the volume of traffic soon proved that a long required need had been adequately filled and the installation of the first two radio telegraph stations was justified.

1924 Return to index

With the venture now launched successfully, the Department of interior lost little time in requesting additional stations for such important settlements as Fort Smith, just over the Alberta boundary in the NWT on the Slave River, where the Department maintained offices which controlled the entire District of Mackenzie; Fort Simpson, a busy trading post at the junction of the Mackenzie and Liard Rivers, and Herschel Island fur trading centre and summer port of entry approximately 160 miles west of the mouth of the Mackenzie River along the coast of the Arctic Ocean.

Faced with the prospect of operating these additional stations in the North it was obvious that some more reliable traffic outlet than that provided by the GTS from Dawson to Hazelton, BC was required. Accordingly, it was decided to install a terminal wireless station in Edmonton, Alta. where traffic could be transferred directly to the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Telegraph Systems.

So the expansion program for 1924 included stations at Herschel Island, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith and Edmonton.

Early in the summer of 1924, RC Signal parties were dispatched from Ottawa to install and operate the terminal station at Edmonton, Alta. and the relay station at Fort Simpson, NWT.

The Edmonton party was in charge of Lt. Bill Laurie (later Col. and D Sigs) and is believed to have consisted of CSM Bill Currie, Bill Sutherland, Dusty Weaver and Harry Yelland.

The Simpson party was in charge of Lt. RAH Galbraith and is believed to have consisted of Sgt. Cec May, Cpl. H McAuley and Cpl. Jardine.

The Fort Simpson and Edmonton stations were completed as planned. By early October of 1924 traffic was funnelled entirely by wireless from Dawson and Mayo through Fort Simpson to Edmonton where it was transferred to the CN or CP Telegraphs for delivery or furtherance, a tremendous improvement over the oft-times undependable telegraph outlet from Dawson to BC.

The equipment for the Fort Smith installation was diverted temporarily for installation on the Hudson Bay Company's "S S Distributor" to provide communications with the "outside" for the Governor General, Lord Byng, during his 1925 summer tour of the mighty Mackenzie River and so Fort Smith was not to join the System until after the completion of this river trip.

Incidentally, the service provided for Lord Byng was the first of many occasions when NWT&Y Radio System personnel accompanied distinguished visitors throughout the North, ministering to their safety and comfort and furnishing the outside world with information on their activities enroute.

Plans for the installation of a station on Herschel Island were altered for various reasons.

Equipment for this installation was shipped north from Vancouver on the 1924 summer run of the Hudson Bay Company Steamer "Lady Kindersley" while personnel to install and man the station travelled north from Edmonton to Waterways by train, Waterways to Aklavik by river boat, thence to Herschel Island by Eskimo schooner. On arrival, the signals party under command of Lt. HA Young (later Maj.-Gen) and consisting of Sgt. Jack Pearson, Cpl. Frank Riddell and Cpl. Heke Kerr took over an old building which had been occupied in the '90s by the late Bishop Stringer, famous Bishop-of-the-Arctic. Arrangements were made to obtain some food from the Hudson Bay Co. from their limited supply, pending the arrival of the "Lady Kindersley".

Preliminary work, such as selecting a suitable site for the radio station and other buildings, was completed during the first week and the party relaxed to await the arrival of the "Lady Kindersley".

The month of August passed and when new ice began to form early in September the party began to feel some concern as to the fate of the "Lady Kindersley".

At this time, Capt. Pederson, an Arctic whaler and fur trader from Oakland, California, put into harbour to carry out some repair work to the engines of his ship the "Nanook ". The Capt. had a small surplus of food supplies such as flour, salt pork, sugar, bacon, etc which were purchased by the Signals party, which by now was more or less resigned to spending the winter in the Island minus the winter clothing and food supplies expected on the "Lady Kindersley".

By early November and with the disappearance of the sun, the party had covered the Missionaries' hut with snow blocks, converted a 50-gal gas drum into a stove and had settled in for the winter. The details of how this gallant party survived the winter of 1924/25, practically living off the land, is an epic in itself.

Late in December information was received from a band of Eskimos, who had come from Point Barrow at the northern tip of Alaska, about the sinking of a large ship early in August. As the "Lady Kindersley " was the only ship known to have been in that area, it was presumed that reference was made to her.

As a result of this information Lt. Young and Cpl. Frank Riddell hitched up the dogteam which they had purchased from the Eskimos for transportation for hunting and fishing, and took off on the 180 mile trek to Aklavik late in April to meet the one and only winter mail.

The mail brought official confirmation of the sinking of the "Lady Kindersley" and the complete loss of equipment for the station, including building materials, foodstuffs and clothing.

It also brought word of the concern felt at headquarters in connection with the party's lack of food and winter clothing.

This concern had resulted in the Department arranging for the dispatch of a food-laden barge down the Mackenzie River from Fort Smith late in August. However this effort was also doomed to disaster as the barge foundered and was lost in a storm while crossing Great Slave Lake.

Lt Smith forwarded recommendations by the outgoing winter mail from Aklavik to Ottawa that new equipment and supplies be shipped down the Mackenzie River in 1925 and that the main station should be located at Aklavik rather than at Herschel Island. He also recommended that Herschel Island be operated as a sub-station of Aklavik during the annual six weeks when navigation was open in that area. The main reason for this change in plan was that, with the anticipated advent of air travel, Aklavik appeared destined to become an important northern terminus rather than Herschel island. Developments during the next ten years proved the wisdom and soundness of these recommendations.

1925 Return to index

On 29 June 1925, a duplication of the equipment and supplies lost on the "Lady Kindersley" arrived at Aklavik by the "SS Distributor". All available white trappers, Indians and Eskimos were hired and building operations commenced on the main radio building, warehouse and staff quarters. With twenty-four hours of daylight, exceedingly rapid progress was made and on 6th October 1925, Aklavik Radio Station, equipped with a 500-watt SITD transmitter and SITD 2 receiver, was officially opened.

In the same year, 1925, buildings were erected at Fort Smith and installation of equipment completed after it had served its purpose on the Governor General's river trip to Aklavik and return. The station, staffed by Lt. RS Hastings, OMS Bill Loverook, Cpl. Aubrey Griswold and Sig. Joe Dexter, joined Dawson, Mayo, Simpson and Edmonton on5th September, to be followed a month later by Aklavik, in the fast expanding communication network known as the NWT&Y Radio System.

It should be noted at this time that, after the Dawson and Mayo installations, no more 1st World War Army equipment was available and it was necessary for the Corps to design and manufacture suitable equipment for the Simpson, Edmonton, Smith and Aklavik installations. Additional sets were also built to replace the original Army equipment at Dawson and Mayo, which was considered a bit low-powered for the purpose required.

Signals Inspection and Test Department was equal to the task and thus was born the SITD 500-watt low frequency transmitter and the SITD2 low frequency receiver which were to be the main equipments on all large stations of the System until the late 30s and early 40s when higher powered commercially manufactured, low and high frequency equipments were made available.

1926 Return to index

Herschel Island commenced to function as a summer sub-station of Aklavik during 1926 when Lt. HD Cluff, who had replaced Lt. HA Young at Aklavik, proceeded there and set up the equipment, including a modified 30-watt HF transmitter for intercommunication with Aklavik, in the old Missionary building which had been commandeered by the original Signals party two years earlier. A new station building was constructed during the summer of 1930 and Herschel Island was operated each summer during the navigation season by personnel supplied from the Aklavik station, until 1937, after which the need for communications at this point ceased to exist. The main reason of course was the decision of Capt. Pederson not to continue to operate his trading ship in the Arctic as he had done annually for 42 years, using Herschel Island as his base. The Hudson Bay Company closed their store at the same time and re-established it at Shingle Point, which is about 80 miles west of Aklavik. Therefore Herschel Island was doomed as an active summer trading post. Return to index

1927 Return to index

June 1927 saw the addition of a station at Fort Resolution, NWT. Resolution is located on the north shore of Great Slave Lake in Resolution Bay, just southwest of the mouth of the Slave River. All water transport proceeding from Fort Smith to Mackenzie River and Arctic coast points must travel down the Slave River and across Great Slave Lake to enter the Mackenzie River. The lake crossing was quite often very treacherous and the Resolution station was strategically located to be of invaluable assistance to both river and lake navigation in this area. The original staff is believed to have consisted of Sgt. Fred Raney, Cpls Ned Symons and Eddie Edwards or possibly "Heps" Hersey.

Mining activity was rapidly increasing in the north thereby causing an increase to all business in general, especially air and water transportation companies, which were hard put to keep up with the increased demand for the movement of supplies and equipment. Demands from both industry and government were being made to DND for the expansion of the Radio System. These demands were being met by the opening of new stations as fast as financial appropriations would allow.

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1928 1929 No Records available

1923-1929 1930-1939 1940-1949 1950-1960