time at Fort Churchill actually started during the winter of 1945-46
when the men of Exercise Muskox assembled under the leadership of
Colonel PD Baird for six weeks of training prior to starting off
on this historic expedition.
was therefore just like going home when in late August 1947 I arrived
at Churchill with a BB X-Ray diamond drill to become the first DRB
employee at the base. My first mission was to commence a drilling
program for temperature recording of the permanently frozen ground
and in general to find out as much as possible about permafrost.
spirit of adventure and the joy of being a part of the scientific
program in the north was so strong in some of us in those days that,
speaking for myself, I headed north as a grade 4 technician without
inquiring what my salary was to be. My wife, Barbara, and children,
Bonnie and Jamie, were to remain in Port Hope, Ont., until I could
establish a home in Churchill, houses and married quarters were
just not available in those early days.
first problems on arriving at Churchill were to procure some sort
of building in which to store the drilling machinery and to serve
as headquarters, and also to procure some means of transportation.
DRB plans at Churchill were not too well known to the local Army
authorities at the time and it took a good deal of talking to convince
the Commandant that I was the first of a group of scientists who
would be arriving to set up a permanent base.
first building I managed to scrounge was an old searchlight platform
on skids with an enclosed generator space about 6' x 8' x8'. This
was DRB Headquarters at Fort Churchill in 1947. With the issue of
a Canadian Army jeep a short time later I was in business and could
tow my headquarters to the various drill sites.
a diamond drill in permafrost is a ticklish matter at best. Without
a helper, as I was for the first few months, it was a bit difficult.
After much trial and error the first series of holes was completed
on the rock outcrop behind the hospital.
was not long before the value of the drill was realized in this
area, then I had steady requests for holes for radio ground leads
and exploration drilling for future buildings by the Army and the
National Harbors Board.
I missed a few meals in those days for once a hole was started it
couldn't be stopped until cased because of re-freezing of the permafrost.
were not many officers with wives and families on the base in 1947
and we bachelors lived in part of the old hospital wing in the "Bull
Pen". The mess and bar were quite primitive, the bar consisting
of some planks topped with masonite, but in many respects a much
warmer and friendlier place than in later years when all modern
conveniences were installed. I think the early pioneer spirit at
Fort Churchill contributed greatly to the success of this base;
everyone pitched in to help one another and it was not long before
my drill and I teamed up with Captain Bill Crumlish of the US Corps
of Engineers engaged in similar permafrost studies. From then on
there was never any shortage of trucks, tractors or manpower.
big problem of course was to get re-established with wives and children.
I solved my problem by building a shack, for this is all it could
be called, in the town of Churchill. This was built mainly out of
scrap lumber from an old dump, started in November 1947 it was ready
for the family about a week before Christmas. The work was done
on weekends and at night. There was no shortage of volunteer labor
when it became known that Jim was building a house. An old friend
of Exercise Muskox days, Mr. AA Anderson, local storekeeper, gave
many hours of his time quite freely and was the chief architect
during construction. Major Bob Faylor, US Army, and Captain Bill
Crumlish, US Army, contributed long hours and useful service with
trucks and a tractor. From across the Churchill River where he lived
came master ship builder (then a trapper) Ed Borge with his tools
to repay a service I had done him when he was sick, also another
old trapper, Ole Sanden, spent many hours hammering at "Jim's"
house. At one time or another nearly all the townspeople of Churchill
hammered a few nails into the house and so it was built, and I became
one of them, and this is the secret of the North - the people.
long as I live I will never forget the stormy night the train arrived
at Churchill with my wife and children and we were escorted back
to out home by the townspeople for the housewarming.
day that first winter was a battle for survival. There was no such
thing as a day off, for such a luxury would put you one day behind
the elements. With the arrival of Mr. AV Hannam late in 1947 to
assume command of the DRB establishment things started to look up
in a temporary kind of way. Bert's reaction to the 6' x 8' x 8'
drill shack which served as the DRB Headquarters Fort Churchill
which I proudly presented cannot bear printing and it was not long
after that he hot-footed to a meeting with the Camp Commandant to
try and procure additional storage space. Several meetings later
when Bert's cubicle in the "Bull Pen" overflowed with
scientific stores, the Commandant issued two prefabricated "Stout
Huts" which became DRB Headquarters, Fort Churchill. Among
the first DRB employees at Fort Churchill were JP Croal, AV Hannam,
J Ingebritson, G Marier, W Beckel, JD O'Connor.
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.
in the early days at Churchill was quite impromptu, the very nature
of our work was recreation, for in the course of traveling over
the country there was always an opportunity for goose and duck hunting
in season. Caribou migrated in thousands often right through the
town and the fishing was fabulous.
a lively little beer drinking fraternity was formed in 1947 called
the MacClusky Clan. The initiation usually consisted of performing
a Highland Fling with a rug for a kilt and a vacuum cleaner under
one arm. Very few visiting VIPs escaped becoming members of the
visitors experienced the wonderful hospitality of the residents
of Churchill Town, who in turn were always included in mixed functions
at the Army mess.
small group of Army nursing sisters will never be forgotten in those
early days. Their charm in the mess and hospitality in their small
lounge will be remembered by a good many of the early scientists.
arrival of the entomologists under Mr. AC Jones always announced
the start of another summer. They were a lively group covered with
evil smelling bug lotion, pith helmets, mosquito netting and with
jars, bottles and specimen nets hung on their persons they performed
many mysterious gyrations which amazed us all. By this time the
Army had begun to realize that the scientists had come to stay.
Daily in the summer months there were requests to the Army for vehicles
to go out into the muskeg and gas cars to go down the railway to
Goose Creek which seemed to be the favorite breeding place of all
insects. It is a strange coincidence that it was also a good place
we got through the first winter and it was good to see the entomologists
arriving in force, for we then knew we had survived the winter.
spring of 1948 saw many changes although accommodation in Army quarters
was very scarce. DRB had added a Jamesway Shelter to its two Stout
huts and in addition had an eye on further storage facilities in
the lower camp. A brand new Ford car gave us great prestige in Army
circles and we were expecting delivery of two Bombardiers in the
fall for winter travel. Also in 1948 Mr. AC Jones was appointed
Superintendent and saw to the construction of an H-hut shipped from
Ottawa and erected by DRB personnel who came especially for the
construction job. This hut was put up in one month and provided
temporary laboratory space, mess, living quarters, warehouse and
garages which served until the new laboratory was completed.
did not see much of the summer of 1948 at Churchill as I was sent
to join the US Naval re-supply mission to Thule and Resolute Bay
to carry out drilling at Resolute for a seismic site and to conduct
permafrost studies. With me on this task was a student, Mr. Peter
at Thule was just starting at this time and Resolute had been established
only the previous year.
construction at Resolute in 1948 was still in progress we slept
wherever we could find a dry nook to lay out our sleeping bags.
Everyone took a turn in cleaning up the mess and galley after meals
and all pitched in to help build the ionospheric station and get
stores put away against the winter.
was fairly bad at Resolute Bay in 1948 and at one period the USS
Wyondot almost dragged her anchor up on the beach.
remained after the convoy sailed to assist in sample drilling on
what is now the aircraft runway. Freezing conditions and snow made
this an uncomfortable task and it was common to see polar bear tracks
in the snow around the drill in the morning, probably attracted
by the smell of tallow and hot grease.
believe that DRB probably set a record that year in diamond drilling
further north in Canada than anyone before.
had set in at Churchill when I arrived to join my family in our
shack. It had been a hard task for my wife looking after two small
children, keeping two coal stoves burning, hauling water and all
the other chores which go with looking after a house with no conveniences.
Without good friends in town, Colonel AJ Tedlie the Camp Commandant,
and Mr. Bert Hannam, to keep an eye on her situation it would have
been a most trying period for her.
winter of 1948 was very busy as usual, operating out of the H-hut
made us more or less independent and with our own mess we were free
to arrive and depart on missions out on the barrens at any time
of the day or night.
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.
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.
no radio communication installed in the Bombardier at this period
great care had to be taken to avoid trouble spots along the trail
such as flooding at the river crossings, bogging down in deep snow
and bad ice on lakes. Sometimes we had to wait at river crossings
which had flooded over the old ice, until they re-froze. This might
take several days. It was during periods such as this that one learns
patience which is one of the secrets of good traveling in the North.
often Mr. AC Jones would send out groups of visiting scientists
with us in the Bombardier so they could be indoctrinated in camping
out in cold conditions. These were welcome breaks in our lives for
we met many distinguished scientists on a man-to-man basis and found
them all to be quite human. Sometimes we were asked how we managed
to keep warm and still get our work done under the cold winter conditions.
Our stock reply was, we eat, sleep and work and when cold we work
a little harder.
time went on we gained the respect of the Canadian and American
military personnel, for unlike the first winter when we were dependent
entirely on the help of the Army, the second winter we looked after
a good many visiting military personnel and assisted them with their
trials. I have discovered in 20 years of Arctic operations that
Servicemen and scientists can work and live together in perfect
first two years at Churchill were a period of learning and working
with the local conditions. There were growing pains which were overcome
and on the whole most of us were so busy we didn't have time to
be unhappy. Furthermore we had youth on our side, the oldest member
of our team was Mr. Bert Hannam. His mature influence and very king
nature overcame many obstacles.
the Army nursing sisters would be invited out to one of the winter
camps of the Signal Corps trials unit. The poor girls were completely
clothed in the men's cold weather gear including string vests worn
next to the skin. Needless to say, a woman's anatomy is not designed
to carry a string mesh vest and there was much squirming and agitated
dinners with the Army when entertaining visiting VIPs were usually
hilarious events. Col. AJ Tedlie was probably one of the most colorful
of the early Commandants. Outdoor hockey organized by him, at -40
F was an invigorating event. Winter or summer he always met visiting
aircraft dressed in his kilt.
had two Army Commandants at Fort Churchill during the two years
I spent on the base. The first was Colonel Cameron and then Colonel
Tedlie. They were patient, excellent officers who bent over backwards
to help the scientist and in those days they had plenty to do keeping
their camp in operation without having to worry about groups of
"long hairs". The Army was very wise in itsselection of
these officers to this early Command.
left Fort Churchill mid-way through 1949 and rejoined the permanent
force Royal Canadian Navy and so had little to do with the new Laboratory
except as a visitor during later expeditions.
consider the two years I spent with DRB at Fort Churchill among
the happiest and most rewarding of my Arctic career. The associations
with scientists of these early years are maintained today. The Arctic,
as a result of some of our early trials, is today a comfortable
place in which to live. Great strides have been made in bettering
all the military techniques of Arctic operations, which in turn
have benefited the civilian population of the country.
It is sad news to learn of the closing of DRNL. To many of us this
was home. I always felt sorry seeing visiting scientists depart
by train or aircraft for their homes in the South, for I knew they
could not take with them the peace and contentment of the North.