The following are excerpts from First in the Field, by JP (Jim) Croal, an account of his experience in setting up the first Defence Research Board establishment in the Canadian Arctic. (for the full article go to JP_Croal page.
original scientific work at Churchill was mainly concentrated on
permafrost, problems of Arctic clothing and equipment, fuels and
lubricants, nutrition and other medical problems and, in the summer,
entomology. In order to venture further afield that first winter
I attached myself to the field parties of the Royal Canadian Corps
of Signals. In charge of these early trials was an old "Muskox"
companion, Major Frank Riddell. We were often away hundreds of miles
out on the barren lands for 20 days at a stretch. The opportunity
to study local environmental conditions in this manner was most
valuable and soon I knew every fish hole and caribou migration trail
for hundreds of miles around Churchill. I considered that "Uncle"
Frank Riddell was one of the most accomplished travelers the Arctic
has ever seen. RCEME facilities for repair work were very limited
at the Army camp during the early days and so the Signal Corps had
nighttime use of the railway roundhouse in the town. It was not
unusual to have Frank and a crew of five or more men arrive at our
house for a feed of caribou steaks at midnight. These early days
at Churchill made very close ties among scientists and military
personnel which are maintained today.
were the first to use Bombardiers in this part of the north and
our two machines were kept constantly on the go. One of the machines
I kept permanently loaded with several week's provisions and camping
gear and could take off at a moment's notice. We
made good use of the winter trail which Major Frank Riddell and
his Signal Corps trials unit broke through to South Knife Lake,
a distance of approximately 150 miles. Along the trail we studied
river and lake ice formation, permafrost, clothing and equipment,
rations and at times carried scientists who were interested in studying
the effects of cold and isolation on the soldiers in Major Riddell's
team who had camps at various intervals along the trail. These were
most comfortable camps, well sheltered in the scrub timber of the
from the vehicles of Major Riddell's team, the DRB Bombardier was
the only vehicle which made the full trip into South Knife Lake
and back. Many experimental American and Canadian test vehicles
tried to make the trip but due to mechanical failures and other
difficulties none succeeded. Great improvements were made to the
Canadian manufactured Bombardier as a result of DRB suggestions
during these early trials and today we are using this vehicle throughout
the entire Arctic.