Chronology: 1940 - 1949

1940 1941 1942 Return to index

The System continued to function on the reduced basis until late 1940 and '41 when a small number of Group 1 operators were made available from the School of Signals to help out on short-staff stations. They, of course, required considerable on-the-job training before being of much use to the stations concerned.

December '41 saw the United States drawn into the war by the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbour and by the Spring of '42 northwest Canada was to see many US Army personnel employed on the construction of the Alaska Highway from Edmonton to Whitehorse and Fairbanks, and the Canol Pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse.

The NWT&Y Radio System became involved in supplying communications for both projects, especially for the Canol Pipeline. The supply line of heavy equipment for this project was from Edmonton to Waterways by rail, thence by boat and barge to Fort Smith and on down the Mackenzie River to Norman Wells. Lighter equipment, supplies and personnel were airlifted over much the same route as well as over the Edmonton, Fort Nelson, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells route. The US Engineers undertook to improve the existing airports on the route so they could handle the aircraft being used and, in addition, to construct emergency landing fields at intermediate points such as Embarras, Alta., Hay River, NWT, Providence, NWT and Wrigley, NWT.

The US Signal Corps established small low-powered high frequency stations at these points as well as at the main airports, including terminals at Edmonton and Canol (across the river from Norman Wells) to provide weather, air-ground service and general communications for the project. However the net did not prove very satisfactory due to the low-powered equipment and the vagaries of short wave with the result that a great percentage of the traffic was passed to the nearest RC Signals station and relayed over the NWT&Y Radio System. The NWT&Y stations had higher powered shortwave equipment and also long wave equipment which was not subject to the 'blackout' like short wave. With this combination of equipment RC Signals were able to 'get through' at practically all times. This extra relay work placed an extremely heavy burden on the System stations, particularly at the main airports where there was a duplication of US Signals and RC Signals facilities.

1943 Return to index

By common agreement between the US and Canadian Governments, during the summer of '43, it was decided that RC Signals, on account of their vast experience in northern communications and their already well established key stations, were much better qualified to handle all phases of communications for the Canol project.

Up until this time, the US Signals station at Canol had worked across the river to a private commercial station operated by Imperial Oil Co at Norman Wells and to the RC Signals station at Fort Norman, 50 miles upriver. This arrangement was unreliable and inadequate, so the first step taken to improve matters was the installation of a large RC Signals station at Norman Wells, capable of working direct to the large RC Signals stations to the south, including Edmonton.

The construction of a combined receiving station and living quarters in Norman Wells proper and a remote transmitter station 5 miles southeast of this location was carried out by Imperial Oil Company and US Army Engineers. All equipment, including masts, M26 and C3 short wave transmitters, PV500 long wave transmitter, receivers and two 10 KW Onan power plants, was supplied and installed by RC Signals. The original staff, consisting of QMS Don Bastock, four operators and a cook, worked frantically throughout late summer and early fall. The station was opened officially for business on the 8th November 1943.

During November 1943 RC Signals Fort Providence, NWT rejoined the System. You will recall that this station had started to operate in the Fall of 1939 when it was closed down at the outbreak of war. It was re-opened by US Signals in September 1942 during the construction of an emergency airport at that point. The Americans had improved the site considerably by building new living quarters, engine room and warehouse. Sgt. Vic Cavanagh and his crew of three operators therefore had ample accommodation, on arrival in July, for themselves and the new equipment which consisted of PV500 long wave transmitter, C43 and C3 short wave transmitters, two 5KW Onan power plants.

The equipment was installed as quickly as possible, antennas erected on the existing wooden masts and communications were established with RC Signals Fort Smith and Fort Simpson in November. So at the end of 1943 fourteen stations were in operation and the system once again was in the process of expansion after a four year lull.

1944 Return to index

Commercial and military aviation, both Canadian and American, was by now operating practically on a round-the-clock basis to meet the needs of the various northern wartime projects. Greater demands were made for more and better weather forecasts. To satisfy such demands the Meteorological Department in turn required more frequent observations from the reporting stations in existence plus additional information from some of the vast areas between these stations from which no reports were available. To this end, RC Signals were requested to open a weather reporting station at Fort Good Hope, NWT, to re-open the station at Port Radium, which had been closed down in 1940, and to provide extra reports from other System stations.

Fort Good Hope, is approximately 100 miles northwest of Norman Wells and 200 miles southeast of Aklavik, on the Mackenzie river, Port Radium is at the east end of Great Bear Lake, 250 miles east of Norman Wells and 150 miles south of Coppermine. These stations were selected as they are ideally situated to supply important information to fill some of the gaps in the overall northern weather picture.

Cpls Dave Allison and Jack Hill arrived at Good Hope by boat with their station equipment, a 100B SITD transmitter, two AR88LF receivers and a 750 watt Onan power plant, on the 4th of July 1943. Arrangements had been made with the Hudson Bay Company post manager to set up shop temporarily in one of the Company's small buildings known as the "Indian House". Equipment was hastily hooked up and the station was on air the following day, 5th July, with Norman Wells. Three days later the RCAF brought in Maj. Pearson, OC NWT&Y Radio System, who selected a site for the permanent station buildings and living quarters. Sgt. Phil Tuck, NCO IC Station and Pte Ewachewski, an RCASC cook arrived on the same aircraft.

Weather reporting equipment was brought in on 26th July by "Chris" Christensen, a technician from the Meteorological Department. By the first week in August, the little station, housed in a 10 x 12 shack, was sending out hourly aviation weather reports at the rate of 24 per day plus more comprehensive synoptic reports at three hour intervals. Late in November of the same year the staff occupied the new station buildings which had been constructed by the RCE. Higher powered equipment was provided and installed in the new buildings by RC Signals.

Signals had left Port Radium in July '40 when all mining activity ceased in the area. However the Eldorado Mine had been re-opened in 1942 when the importance of Uranium, a hitherto unheralded by-product found in the pitchblende from which radium was produced, became better known and appreciated. At this time Eldorado made arrangements with RC Signals to move the radio station building and masts to the mine site, a distance of seven miles, in order to provide their own communications, working out through Yellowknife. Thus, when Sigs were called upon to provide weather service from this point in '44, they had a working station to take over.

SSgt. Gord Drinnan, Cpl. Howie Cook and Sig. Norm Edmonds were flown in by RCAF late in July 1944 to join Sig. Jack Neilsen, who had already arrived to assist the Eldorado operator. The equipment in use at this time consisted of a 1OOB long wave transmitter and an AR88LF receiver on loan to the mine from Sigs and a Hellicrafter receiver and a 2-channel short wave transmitter of unknown origin owned by Eldorado. RC Signals were officially back on the air 6th August 1944 and the vital weather reports began pouring out. Later that fall, PV500 long wave and C3 short wave transmitters were installed thereby improving the station efficiency a great deal.

Late in 1944 the American Government decided to abandon the Canol Pipeline project presumably because the oil reserves available from friendly Allied sources now appeared adequate to supply the needs of Alaskan defence forces thus making a continuance of the pipeline from Imperial Oil at Norman Wells a costly and unwarranted expenditure. All American troops were withdrawn from the Mackenzie River area. By previous agreement RC Signals took over the operation of the US Signal Corps installations at the intermediate emergency airports of Wrigley, NWT, Hay River, NWT and Embarras, Alta..

Lt. Bob Chinnick, TMO for the System, officially took over these stations in the order mentioned on the 17th, 22nd and 23rd of November 1944. At the same time the Department of Transport took over operation of the airports at these points.

Wrigley is situated on the west bank of the Mackenzie River halfway between Fort Simpson and Fort Norman, and is a very small Indian settlement served by a Hudson Bay Company post. However, the Radio Station was located seven miles south of the settlement on the opposite side of the river where the airport had been constructed by the US Engineers. The original RC Signals staff consisted of ASgt. Ray Bird, Cpl.. Edmond and Sigs Harding, Harward and Stager all of whom had been given a meteorological course prior to leaving Edmonton. The station therefore took its place immediately as a link in the System rendering a full complement of weather reports in addition to supplying communications for the area.

Operation and maintenance of the Wrigley airstrip was carried out by the Department of Transport until the Fall of '46 when it was decided that the aircraft activity in the lower Mackenzie River area had decreased to the point where such expenditure was no longer warranted. This decision of course also meant the closing down of the Radio Station, which was done on the 4th October 1946. Radio equipment was packed and shipped to Simpson and Hay River for storage while the personnel were posted to other stations.

The following summer the station was re-opened by Sigs from June until late September to provide communications and weather information for a RCAF Photographic Survey Detachment.

Once again the Wrigley station was re-opened in the Spring of '48, this time with Sigs personnel not only supplying communications and weather reports but also operating the airport including the maintenance of the strip.

Wrigley functioned on this basis until 1955 when RC Signals pulled out. The operation of the airstrip reverted to the Department of Transport once again. Canadian Pacific Airlines, practically the only user of the airport, assumed the task of providing communication facilities.

Now to get back to 1944. After taking over Wrigley, Lt. Chinnick proceeded to Hay River and accepted the US Army Signal station there on behalf of the RC Signals.

Hay River is situated on the east bank of the Delta where the Hay River flows into Great Slave Lake, 75 miles southwest of Fort Resolution and 50 miles southeast of Fort Providence. The RC Signals staff consisting of ASgt. Roy Ellis, Cpl. Witmer, and Sigs McEwan, Reeder and Shier fresh from their Meteorological Course in Edmonton, took over the operation of this station using the US Signals equipment augmented by a SITD 100B long wave transmitter.

This station was destined to become one of the busiest of the NWT&Y Radio System due to a booming Great Slave Lake fishing industry and the construction of the Mackenzie Highway from Grimshaw to Hay River. This road would link the Northwest Territories to the 'outside' for the first time by an all-weather road. The importance of this Highway to northern water transportation can be readily realized when one recalls that previously all freight for down-river points went to Waterways by rail, thence by barge to Fort Fitzgerald, trucked over the 16-mile portage to Fort Smith, re-loaded on barges, thence down the Slave River, across Great Slave Lake and on down the mighty Mackenzie River.

Hay River was also to be the scene of the System's third tragic death when, in November 1948, Sig. Elwood Haagenson was drowned after breaking through the ice on Hay River. He had been visiting the Hudson Bay Company's post manager across the river during the evening of 2nd November and was skating home at approximately 2am 3rd November when he crashed through the ice in mid-river, and was unable to extricate himself from the freezing waters. The ice was considered safe and the townspeople had been skating for several days. In fact Haagenson safely crossed the river for his visit, but apparently returned by a slightly different route and unfortunately struck a weak spot. His body was recovered at 9:50 am.

Many improvements, such as new higher powered long and short wave equipment and new buildings, were to be made at Hay River Radio Station before its eventual handover to the Department of Transport during the course of the System's absorption by the Department in 1958-59-60.

The day after taking over the Hay River Station, Lt. Chinnick flew to Embarras, Alta. and accepted the US Signal Corps station at that point on behalf of RC Signals on 23rd November 1944.

Embarras is located on the east shore of the Athabasca River, 107 miles north of McMurray and 127 miles south of Fort Smith, midway between Edmonton and Yellowknife on the direct flight route. Apparently this site was selected by the Americans for an emergency airport because no suitable terrain could be found around Fort Chipewyan, 35 miles to the north. The spot was very isolated, in fact carved out of the virgin bush. The main function of the Radio Station was to supply weather report and air-ground communications for aircraft.

The original RC Signals staff, trained for weather observing in Edmonton as in the case of the personnel for Wrigley and Hay River, consisted of ASgt. Bob Coutts, Cpl..Thibeault and Sigs Currie, Davis and Pierog. Station efficiency was increased considerably by the addition of SITO 100B long wave and C33 short wave transmitters.

The Embarras Radio Station was turned over to the Department of Transport in June '52 since the major reasons for its existence were primarily Department of Transport.

The opening of Fort Good Hope, re-opening of Fort Radium and the takeover of the three American Signals stations during '44 brought the NWT&Y Radio System back to its pre-war level of 19 stations.

1945 Return to index

No new stations were added to the System in 1945 but great improvements were made in the matter of equipment, especially at the main stations, Edmonton, Fort Smith, Simpson and Norman Wells where RCA TE 343B 10 KW low frequency transmitters were put into operation. This was the highest powered equipment ever to be used at any station and improved the overall System efficiency tremendously.

1946 Return to index

During the winter of 1945-46 a station was established by Brigade Signals at Baker Lake, NWT to provide communications and weather reports for Exercise "Muskox" while it fought its way across the Barren Lands on the long trek from Fort Churchill, Man to Fort Nelson, BC testing various types of military equipment under extreme northern conditions. NWT&Y Radio System stations at Edmonton, Simpson, Norman, Norman Wells and Port Radium also supplied communications for "Muskox" at various stages of its move. The Baker Lake Station did not actually become part of the System until after the successful completion of the Exercise in May 1946. The original intention was to operate the station only for the duration of the Exercise but, at the request of the Meteorological Department, to which reports from this area were invaluable, it was kept open as a weather reporting station and absorbed into the NWT&Y Radio System.

Baker Lake settlement was then a small Hudson Bay Company trading post 400 miles northwest of Fort Churchill and 200 miles inland from the mouth of Chesterfield Inlet on Hudson Bay. Undoubtedly this was the most remote and God-forsaken location at which the System ever operated a station in the north. The original staff, when the station was absorbed by NWT&Y Radio System on 22nd May 1946, consisted of Sgt. Walt Schultz and Sigs Gardner, Gullickson, Ricker and robb.

A glance at the old NWT&Y Radio System Tariff Book of 1931 shows Baker lake listed as a System station with a notation,

"Equipment installed, but not permanently manned". Two other locations, Burnside, NWY and Stony Rapids, Sask. are similarly listed. These three stations had been operated by Dominion Explorers in addition to stations at Hunter Bay and Fort Reliance and arrangements had been made when this company ceased operations in the early '30s for RC Signals to take over the equipment and buildings for the sum of $35,000.00 and eventually man and operate the five stations. However as far as is known, Burnside and Stony were never activated by Signals and Baker Lake did not come into the fold until 1946 as mentioned above. Hunter Bay equipment was installed at Lindsley Bay by Sigs in '32 and Fort Reliance buildings and equipment were never used although Sigs eventually established a station there in 1948.

The administration and supply problems encountered in the operation of this station could be termed the 'biggest headache' ever experienced by NWT&Y Radio System Headquarters in Edmonton. Due to its remote location, all shipments of supplies, personnel movements etc for Baker Lake must be coordinated with Army Fort Churchill, which of course was under the control of Prairie Command Headquarters in Winnipeg, whereas System Headquarters and all other stations of the System were located in Western Command and controlled by Western Command Headquarters in Edmonton. Liaison between the two commands in such matters was a matter of education but with startling results during the initial stages. One example was illustrated when the supply ship unloaded the station's yearly rations in July '47. Among the 611 cases of 'goodies' were such baffling items as 3000 pounds of white beans where 30 pounds had been ordered, 1000 rolls of toilet tissue where 100 had been ordered, 600 pounds of dried fruit etc etc. With such an inexhaustible supply of ammunition, the staff soon became known as the 'jet propelled' operators, and the station as the windiest in the north country.

Because of the administration difficulties and the fact that no interests except those of the Meteorological Department were being served to any extent, Baker Lake Radio Station was turned over to the Department of Transport in December 1949 to the accompaniment of deep sighs of relief from all Sigs personnel.

In the Spring of '46, the Department of Mines and Resources commenced construction of a Hydro Power Plant on the Snare River 96 miles northwest of Yellowknife. This was known as the Snare River Hydro project and was undertaken to supply adequate electricity for the power-starved Yellowknife mining area. As the site was only accessible by air, or tractor train in the winter months, the need for radio communications to serve the project was quite apparent. The System therefore was asked to install and operate a radio station at the project site during the construction period.

SSgt. Bob Coutts and Sig. All arrived at Snare River late in June and set up equipment consisting of an SITD 100B long wave transmitter, Collins 32RA-7 four channel short wave transmitter, two AR88LF RCA receivers and one National HRO receiver, in a 10 X 12 tent, which served as combined station and living quarters. The station opened officially for business on the 8th of July. A month later Sig. All was returned to Yellowknife as station duties were routine and the volume of traffic did not warrant the employment of two men.

By mid-December some of the permanent camp buildings were completed and, as the weather by now was extremely cold, the radio equipment was moved into one comer of the upper floor bunkhouse. Finally in April '47, the equipment was permanently installed in a 10 X 10 building erected solely for this purpose.

The bulk of the heavy equipment for the project was handled by boat to Frank's Channel, 6 miles south of Fort Rae on the north arm of Great Slave lake during the navigation season, thence sixty miles overland by winter tractor train to the site. To coordinate such shipments a CD 12 transceiver was installed at Frank's Channel to work into Snare River Radio Station. A similar installation was made at a secondary camp, 5 miles south of the site, where the two containing dams and the reservoir spillway were being constructed. These transceivers were operated by project personnel.

Permanent communication for the Hydro Plant was to be a carrier telephone system, operating over a metallic circuit to Yellowknife and, although the Hydro project was completed and power supplied to the various mines by the Fall of '48, it was June of '49 before this system was functioning properly and Sigs personnel released. Arrangements were made to leave some of the Army radio equipment, for emergency purposes in case of carrier telephone failure, until such time as the NWT Power Commission was able to procure and install suitable emergency equipment of its own. Sig. Larry Ryan, who had relieved SSgt. Coutts in October 1948, instructed project personnel in the use of the emergency radio equipment prior to closing down the Snare River Radio Station and departing for Yellowknife 27th June 1949.

The additions of Baker Lake and Snare River in 1946 brought the number of NWT&Y Radio System stations in operation to 21. The prospect for more stations appeared bright as the search for oil and minerals in the north gained momentum after the war-time lull.

Headquarters in Edmonton saw two important and long-awaited local changes also take place in 1946. First, in the Spring, all transmitting equipment was moved from its old location 97th Street and 132nd Avenue to the new remote transmitter site at Bissell, 6 miles west of the city. Here, a fine new stucco transmitter station, with plenty of room for expansion, had been built along with the necessary antenna arrays, including a set of 300 foot towers for the 10KW long wave transmitter.

In August, the Headquarters and Operating Section, with the aid of shoehorns, eased out of their cramped temporary accommodation in the old Married Quarters Building and moved across the 'Parade Square' into the brand spanking new, two-storey, combined Headquarters and Operating Building.

Both moves were carried out with practically no disruption to services due to careful planning and excellent teamwork. Improved working conditions in both cases proved to be a wonderful morale booster to all ranks, which was evidenced by the new vigour and enthusiasm with which they attacked their onerous duties in the new surroundings.

First tests of radio teletype transmission on the System were carried out between Edmonton and Yellowknife in March and April 1946. Lt. Smith and Mr. J Pouliot, technicians from SCRDE in 0ttawa, arrived in Edmonton 1st March with frequency shift equipment to establish the terminals. However it was found that no teletypes were available in Edmonton and considerable delay was experienced while arrangements were made and teletypes borrowed from Pacific Command at Vancouver. Mr. Pouliot proceeded to Yellowknife via RCAF 3rd April and installed that terminal while Lt. Smith completed the Edmonton terminal. Testing in the 8-9 megacycle band was underway within a few days but results obtained were not too reliable, so Smith and Pouliot returned to Ottawa to try and iron some of the bugs out of the frequency shift equipment before more comprehensive tests were carried out.

1947 Return to index

No stations were added to the System in 1947 but, as in 1945, equipment improvements were carried out wherever possible with a view to increasing power and obtaining greater flexibility. For instance, at Edmonton, the NE14C and Marconi TR800 high frequency transmitters were replaced by two RCA TH41 five kilowatt 4-channel HF transmitters and two M26A low frequency transmitters replaced by two RCA 260N 3-kilowatt, 6-channel, crystal-controlled LF transmitters. Both receiving and transmitting antenna arrays were also re-built at most stations to give better directional performance.

During April '47 the main line (Ottawa-Vancouver) of the Canadian Army Signal System (CASS) was cut into the Edmonton Radio Station, which now became a Major tape relay on the CASS, in addition to its own heavy communication commitments. The shift of the Major tape relay from Calgary to Edmonton was occasioned by the selection of Edmonton as the permanent home of Headquarters Western Army Command. Banks of reperforators and transmitter distributors, a control panel, and various number 15 and 19 teleprinters were installed in the already crowded operating room and were operated by NWT&Y Radio System personnel until a few years later when Western Command Signals Regiment had its establishment increased and a new building erected to handle the Major Tape Relay operation.

It was not an uncommon sight in the first few months of tape relay operation to see Capt. Frank McCauley, 2 IC NWT&Y Radio System, doing a regular daytime stint, perforating tape etc, and WO 1 Cal Vince and WO 2 Joe Slean changing into carpet slippers at 5 pm daily so that their aching dogs could carry them through a double shift till midnight in order to keep the traffic moving properly.

1948 Return to index

Early in 1948, at the request of the Department of Transport, Department of National Defence agreed to establish Radio stations at Brochet, Man and Fort Reliance, NWT.

Brochet is located at the northeast end of Reindeer Lake in northern Manitoba, 300 miles north of The Pas and 18 miles east of the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border. At the time the Radio Station was established the settlement consisted of a Hudson Bay Company Store, a fur trade post operated by a Mr. Gowan representing Mr. Ed Shieff of Flin Flon, Man, the roman Catholic Mission of two Fathers and two Brothers, the local game guardian and a fluctuating native population of approximately 50 Cree and Chipewyan Indians. The Hudson Bay Store manager was Bill Garbutt, a jovial Scotsman, well-known to many System personnel, having previously operated Hudson Bay Company stores at Fort Simpson and Fort Resolution in the Mackenzie River area.

WO 1 Don Bastock, Cpl. Bev Summers and Pte Beattie (RCASC cook) were flown by RCAF from The Pas to Brochet 12 June 1948 to sort out the 170 tons of radio equipment, fuel oil and building materials already on the site, which had been shipped in from the railhead at Flin Flon by tractor train during the previous winter. The RCE construction crew was flown in the following day. Temporary tent accommodations were set up for all hands. The next day, 14th June, Brochet successfully contacted McMurray using a 52 set and officially joined the System. Direct contact was made with Edmonton shortly thereafter and this circuit was used for close liaison with headquarters during the construction period.

The balance of supplies and equipment was brought in by RCAF airlift, which was completed on 22nd June. The final load also brought Cpl. Art Harman (to be NCO IC) and Sig. Chiasson, who had been left in The Pas for aircraft loading purposes. According to their statements, even Brochet was much preferable to The Pas, which had been suffering flood conditions during their stay.

Construction and equipment installation went ahead at a fast clip until completion late in July when WO 1 Bastock, who had been supervising all phases, returned to Edmonton, and the RCE crew departed for Winnipeg, thence to Baker Lake where additional buildings were to be erected. Such minor items as the painting of buildings, digging of sump holes for the drainage of kitchen and bathroom facilities, installation of water pump etc, etc, were left for the station staff to complete. They manfully carried on and eventually on 17th August 1948 commenced filing daily weather sequences and maintaining regular operating schedules with McMurray.

While preparations were being made to get Brochet installation underway in late May, System Headquarters in Edmonton was called upon to help out the CP and CN Telegraphs. Their communications to the West Coast were in sad shape due to the serious British Columbia flood conditions. Vancouver Wireless Station was contacted and considerable commercial traffic was relayed to and from the coast for the telegraph companies for approximately a week before the floods subsided and normal landline communications were restored. At the start of the frequent landline disruptions it appeared that conditions would worsen more than they actually did and the RC Signals made preparations accordingly. Twenty-one operators were flown from Ottawa and dispersed between Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, five, four and twelve respectively although the five left in Edmonton were soon flown on to Vancouver also where they were more urgently required. Extra transmitters were set up at both Edmonton and Vancouver so that 3 or 4 wireless circuits could be operated simultaneously if necessary. Boehme High Speed equipment was also flown to, and installed at Edmonton and Vancouver against the possibility that all landline communications might fall for a prolonged period. Fortunately however, the emergency did not reach such proportions but Signals were certainly well prepared for any eventuality and once again acquitted themselves nobly. WO 1 Vince can recall, "spending an interesting 3 or 4 hours copying CPR traffic from Vancouver Wireless where the sending operator was one borrowed from the CPR Telegraphs. He had not used International Morse since leaving Army Sigs around 1940 and was pretty rusty to say the least. His blending of International and American Morse was mentally stimulating and will long be, remembered".

Similar relay assistance was again supplied for the telegraph companies in December 1948 when heavy snows and blizzards disrupted landline communications to and from the West Coast for four days.

On the 7th of July 1948 a crew of 6 Sig. and 11 RCE personnel proceeded from Edmonton to Fort Reliance, NWT via RCAF Canso to construct and install a RC Signals Radio Station.

Fort Reliance is situated on McLeod Bay at the northeast end of Great Slave Lake, 180 miles east of Yellowknife. In earlier days it had apparently been a fairly busy trading post but, due to its isolated location, had steadily diminished to the point where, at the time of Sigs arrival, the entire population was a 2-man RCM Police detachment. To say that the Mounties were overjoyed to welcome Sigs to the area would be an understatement.

The original Sigs party consisted of Sgt. "Howie" Crowell to supervise the Signals end of the construction and installation, Sgt. "Bill" Morris, to be NCO IC Station, Sigs "Gil" Kaye and "Joe" McIsaac, operators and last, but probably most important to the general welfare of the whole party, Pte "Bill" ONeill, 'chef deluxe'.

The boat and barge carrying the equipment and supplies had not yet arrived by the 7th so it was necessary to prevail upon RCM Police hospitality for food and shelter. The boat and barge arrived the following day but it was a full week before unloading operations were completed, five marquees erected and the crew able to move into their own little tent city. The same day, 14th July, first radio contact was made with Fort Resolution, using the A T3 transmitter and Lister Diesel power plant. Previous attempts at radio contact had been unsuccessful. Three days later direct contact was made with Edmonton and regular skeds maintained thereafter to ensure close liaison during the construction and installation period.

By the end of September, after surmounting many obstacles such as having to blast in solid rock to obtain footings for the 150' masts, most of the outside work was done and plans were made to evacuate the majority of the construction crew before winter closed in and the post became completely isolated for the "freeze-up" period. On the 13th October an RCAF Canso flew in with last minute supplies and took SSgt. Crowell and all but 3 of the RCE party out on its return journey. Two days later, on the 15th of October, Fort Reliance began normal Radio Station operations, maintaining a full complement of daily weather reports.

The System now was operating 23 stations, with high hopes for further expansion.

1949 Return to index

On the 1st of April 1949 a new and much appreciated service to residents of northern Canada was inaugurated at Edmonton Radio Station. A loop from the CBC studios in the MacDonald Hotel was run to the Radio Station, thence to the transmitter site and the full daily programs of the CBC (7 a.m.-midnight) were rebroadcast to the north on 8265 Kcs using a 5 kilowatt Marconi TH41 transmitter. At those stations where RC Signals were operating low-power broadcast transmitters for the benefit of their communities, 8265 Kcs was monitored and the CBC programs again re-broadcast on the local standard broadcast frequency.

Reception of standard broadcast frequencies from 'outside" was notoriously poor generally so the new RC Signals service was greeted enthusiastically throughout the North. Many letters of praise were received by the NWT&Y Radio System Headquarters during the years this service was provided and in fact, reports of reception from all parts of the world became so numerous that it was necessary to mimeograph a form reply in order to keep up with acknowledgements to all the far-flung well-wishers. The service was abandoned in 1953, due to more urgent System commitments.

You will recall that the Goldfields Radio Station closed down in December 1939 due to the lack of mining activity in the area and the outbreak of World War II. However post war explorations using up-to-date equipment such as Geiger counters, had revealed numerous rich deposits of uranium ore and many companies were now busily engaged in developing their finds. Foremost amongst these were the Crown-operated Eldorado Mining & Refining Company which now requested that RC Signals once again provide communications for the area.

The Eldorado Mine was located on the north shore of Beaverlodge Lake, about 12 miles north of the original Goldfields townsite, and it was decided that this would be the site of the new radio station. By agreement, Eldorado Mining & Refining Company was to construct a 22'X 14' combined radio station and living quarters building, provide necessary A C power for the equipment and messing facilities for Sigs personnel.

Cpl.. Claude MacDonald was posted from Yellowknife to Goldfields 1st July 1949 and was temporarily housed in a tent. He established communications with Fort Chipewyan using a 25 watt Hellicrafter transceiver owned by Eldorado Mining & Refining Company pending completion of the Radio Station building and the arrival of RC Signals radio equipment.

By the 15th of July the building was completed and the equipment had arrived, so SSgt. "Elmer" Richardson of the Technical Maintenance staff at Edmonton was flown in to do the installation work. Masts and antennae were erected with the aid of mine personnel and the technical equipment set up by Richardson and MacDonald. This equipment consisted of a RCA A T3 high frequency transmitter, SITD 100B low frequency transmitter, battery-operated C52 HF transceiver for emergency purposes and two AR88LF receivers. Assistance, in the form of Sig. Ed Cattapan, arrived 22nd July. Installation of the station was completed by the 28th, at which time SSgt. Richardson departed for Edmonton. On the same date, regular schedules were commenced with Fort Smith, the relay point for the Goldfields Radio Station.

Considerable confusion existed due to this mine site on Beaverlodge Lake being referred to as Goldfields because there was a resurgence of activity around the original town of Goldfields 12 miles away and a radio station owned by Saskatchewan Government Airways was operating to Prince Albert from that point. This situation remained until the 1st of February 1951 when the Eldorado Mining & Refining Company mine site was officially named Beaverlodge Lake, Sask. instead of Goldfields and therefore the RC Signals installation became known as Beaverlodge Lake Radio Station.

A year or so later, feverish prospecting activities in the area approximately 9 miles northwest of Beaverlodge Lake resulted in the birth of a new boom mining town known as Uranium City. The need for radio communications at this point was most urgent and there was considerable talk of moving RC Signals from Beaverlodge to Uranium City but this proposal met strong opposition from Eldorado Mining & Refining Company and instead the Saskatchewan Government Airways moved their radio station from Goldfields to Uranium City to serve the booming community. The Saskatchewan Government Airways link from Uranium City to Prince Albert however was none too reliable, being dependent entirely on high frequency reception and the bulk of the boom town traffic was for Edmonton. In the interests of better and cheaper service, arrangements were made to relay Uranium City traffic through RC Signals at Beaverlodge Lake. This was done over a hand-keyed wireless circuit until the mid-fifties when the volume of commercial traffic to and from Uranium City reached such proportions (second only to Yellowknife) that it was necessary to install a teletype loop between the Saskatchewan Government Airways and RC Signals stations to cope with the situation. As a good proportion of this traffic had to do with the buying and selling of mining stocks, speed and accuracy in handling were required. Direct schedules were established between Edmonton and Beaverlodge Lake and Fort Smith was used as a relay only when conditions did not permit direct working.

The Meteorological Division in '49, as in most other years, was pleading with Department of Defence for the installation of more weather reporting radio stations in the vast unpopulated areas of the Barren Lands of the NWT with the result that a decision was made to install a RC Signals station at Ennadai Lake, 250 miles northwest of Churchill. Much has been said about the remoteness of the Sigs stations at Baker Lake and Fort Reliance but they could well be referred to as metropolis by comparison with Ennadai lake. Whereas Baker Lake had a Hudson Bay Company store and a RCM Police detachment and Fort Reliance had a two-man RCM Police detachment and a few itinerant white trappers, Ennadai had nothing, absolutely nothing, except a small nomadic band of Eskimo which was to become a veritable millstone around Signals neck in the ensuing years.

A Signals party consisting of WO 2 Bill Joyce and Sig. Wayne Fries, technicians, Cpl. Joe McIsaac, to be NCO IC station; Sigs Townley and Cotton, operators and Pte Pitre, cook left Edmonton for Ennadai Lake 9th July 1949. They travelled RCAF North Star to Winnipeg, weekly 'Muskeg Special' train Winnipeg to Churchill and completed the journey Churchill to Ennadai Lake by RCAF Canso on the 15th July. An RCE construction crew was also flown in and all construction materials, supplies and radio equipment were airlifted to the site at the rate of at least one Canso flight per day from Churchill.

Tent accommodations were set up and construction was commenced immediately. Using a battery operated C52 set, communications were established with Edmonton and Churchill for close liaison during the construction period. Despite heavy rains, hordes of black flies and mosquitoes and shortage of tobacco, construction and installation work was successfully completed by early October. Buildings constructed were as follows: - Combined station and quarters 68'X 24f. engine house 20'X 20,". warehouse 20'X20' and ice house 20'X20' PV. 500 low frequency and TE 176 high frequency transmitters, necessary receivers, two Lister Diesel power plants, two 150 -foot towers for LF transmitting antennae and three 48-foot towers for SW transmitting and receiving antennae comprised the technical installations. The staff was now in a position to assume the duties for which the station had been established, namely weather reporting. Regular schedules were established with McMurray and a full daily complement of weather sequences started to flow to the 'outside' on the 8th of October 1949.

During the period 1949-54 when RC Signals personnel manned the Ennadai Lake Radio Station they were called upon many times to render medical assistance to the Kazan River Group of Eskimos which numbered about 45 and were scattered over a wide area within a radius of approximately 60 miles from the Ennadai Lake Radio Station. On more than one occasion they have been credited with saving this Eskimo band from starvation. These Eskimos were a primitive band and depended entirely on the meat of the caribou for sustenance for themselves and their dogs, and the skin of the caribou for their clothing. When the annual caribou migration by-passed this area, which is 150 miles northwest of Fort Churchill, in the winter of 1949-50, the Kazan Group was faced with an extremely critical situation and only the prompt and commendable actions of Cpl. Joe McIsaac and other RC Signals personnel stationed at Ennadai Lake saved the band from extinction by starvation. When he became aware of the situation in April 1950, McIsaac contacted the RCM Police in Churchill, advised them of the Eskimos predicament and arranged for the evacuation of the band by air to Neultin Lake, 100 miles southeast of Ennadai, where caribou and fish were plentiful. McIsaac rounded up the scattered Eskimos, concentrated them at Ennadai Lake Radio Station and fed them emergency rations until aircraft arrived and carried out their evacuation to Neultin Lake.

During the rounding up process and on checking the families as they arrived at Ennadai, it was noticed that one notorious old Eskimo character named Pongalak was minus his step-son. When questioned he said the boy, being weak from hunger, had lagged behind on the trail but would arrive shortly. Suspicious of this story, McIsaac dispatched a party to back-track on the trail and the boy was found miles from camp, semi-conscious and unable to walk. He was brought to the Radio Station and medical advice was obtained by radio from McMurray. He was fed the prescribed formula of water, salt and sugar, followed shortly by tea and soup. Within two days he had made a marvellous recovery and was placed on a solid diet. Subsequent investigation proved that Pongalak had systematically starved the step-son ever since first feeling the pinch of privation and had left him on the trail to die, reasoning that he was an unnecessary burden which would only hinder his own chances of getting to Ennadai and catching the plane for Neultin Lake. Undoubtedly the boy owes his life to the prompt action and care of Signals personnel.

By the following Spring of 1951 the whole band had migrated back to the Ennadai Lake area and Sigs were again faced with the same old problem. However arrangements were later made with the proper authorities to improve the living standards of this Eskimo group by supplying them with rifles, ammunition and traps with which to hunt and trap. Provision was made to bale their furs at Ennadai and ship them to the RCM Police in Churchill, who in turn sold the furs, converted the proceeds into food, ammunition etc which was flown back to Ennadai for distribution to the Kazan group.

Again in May 1954, Sgt. Fred Waite, IC Ennadai Lake at that time, saved this band from being wiped out by influenza. When the epidemic was discovered Waite advised Churchill by radio and requested that a doctor be flown in. However weather conditions prevented such a flight and Waite was forced to assume the role of medico. Acting on radioed instructions from a qualified doctor in Churchill and using the station's supply of penicillin and aspirin he ministered to 22 stricken Eskimos, safely pulling them all through. During this time he developed flu symptoms himself but managed to carry on. Sgt. Waite's efforts in this case won him a citation from the Chief of the General Staff which said "His prompt action and sound judgement were in accordance with the best principles of medical practice'.

Medical aid was rendered to these Eskimos by Sigs personnel on many other occasions in cases ranging from plain lead-swinging and simple belly-ache to blood poisoning and influenza as mentioned above. The mere fact that the band still exists is a monument to the goodwill, perseverance and versatility of Signals personnel.

The Snare River Hydro Development project had been completed and RC Signals Radio Station Snare River was closed down in June 1949 so the addition of stations at Goldfields (Beaverlodge Lake) and Ennadai Lake in July actually brought the number of stations in operation up one only over the 1948 total of 23. This total of 24 represented the greatest number of stations operated at any one time during the life of the System. This peak was maintained only for a matter of 5 months until December 1949 when Baker Lake was handed over to the Department of Transport for reasons mentioned previously, and the total number of stations reverted again to 23.

Typical of the quick thinking and action displayed by Sigs personnel in the North was the deed performed by Cpl. Bud White at Fort Chipewyan, Alta. in August 1949 which resulted in him being awarded the King's Commendation for Brave conduct. Nick Purves, a civilian carpenter employee of the Royal Canadian Engineers, was swimming In Lake Athabasca when he was caught in a whirlpool and dragged under. White, an operator at RC Signals Radio Station, Fort Chipewyan, fishing from nearby dock, realized Purves was in great danger, dove in and swam to his aid. Purves had disappeared by this time but, after several dives, White located him and dragged him to the surface. Sgt. C Rogers, RCE a fishing companion of White's, brought a skiff to White's assistance and the unconscious Purves was rushed to shore where he was revived by means of artificial respiration. Undoubtedly White's prompt action was responsible for saving Purves' life.

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