April 1950, I returned from annual leave to my Regiment, the Lord
Strathcona Horse Artillery, in Calgary, Alta. While settling in
to my routine my friend from basic training, Bert Rupple, came to
my room and was full of excitement, he had volunteered to go north
with the NWT&Y RS and was leaving soon for Edmonton for a weather
course then a posting north, he urged me to do the same. I thought
about it for a few minutes and decided to do it, which I did the
next day. Soon my request was accepted and in a few weeks I was
in Edmonton on the same weather course with Bert.
While in Edmonton we were put on shifts to learn some of the tasks
we were expected to do when northern postings came through and until
our WX course was to start. I was to work on WOII Gordie Drinnan's
shift and I had the honour of working with the likes of Sgt. Jack
Chestnut, Cpl. Ted Allen, Signalman Don Ward and others I have since
forgotten. One of the first things I was delegated to do was to
do a station identification on the CBC (?) northern station every
15 minutes starting on the hour, I think a few times it was done
a little late or completely forgotten. At times I was given a desk
to send a few messages in an attempt to learn the routine; it must
have been very painful for the operator on the other end whoever
After completing the WX course and working shift, on a Monday morning
in August I was told to "clear" for my posting to Hay
River and Bert was posted to Providence. After getting a few signatures
on the clearance sheet I went to get the dentist clearance at about
1530hrs, the Capt. advised me I would have to wait for a few days
because of the amount of work to be done but after calling Calder
to advise them of the situation the dentist was told I was booked
for a flight the next morning on CPA and the work was to be done
now. That was the worst two hours of my life, the dentist and staff
were not happy working until 1800 hrs. but I was clear to catch
the flight next day and did.
My greeting party to Hay River I think was WOII Niel Wiberg and
Cpl Steve Ropchan (SR) in Steve's 1949 Studebaker. It took a few
days to settle in and meet everyone starting with Bill McCarthy
(Y), Peter George Engler (PG), Dave Allison, Jack Curtiss, Geoff
Ellwood, Lou Harris and Bill Geddes the cook. I was very meek and
mild in those days but soon learned how to blend in with all the
The single quarters were in need of repair, for example the basement
had cracked in the middle and sloped into a bit of a water hole
mixed with fuel oil that was leaking underground from our fuel tanks
it was later learned. The rations were stored there but were mostly
high enough that we could still eat them. The first floor was the
kitchen-dining room, living room, Signal Office and a fairly large
room for the NCO i/c and the station book-keeper who at the time
was Bill McCarthy. Next to the Radio room was a small waiting room
for customers, and which also served as our entrance to the quarters.
My room-mate was Geoff Ellwood and we worked different shifts so
didn't interfere with each others sleep. Later in about October
1950 Eddie McGee was posted to VEO. When Jack Curtiss heard Ed was
posted to Hay River he remarked "Oh good we now have him on
our side" - Ed apparently had a shaky hand when sending morse
code and it worsened after one or two ales.
When McGee arrived at VEO he was billeted next door with his Budgie
bird "George", who squawked loudly every night at 2200
hrs. for Ed to put a sheet over the cage to keep the light out for
sleeping - usually Ed had a few ales and would entertain us talking
to "George" and chastising him for hauling him out of
the bar early. Jack Curtiss was Ed's room-mate and Bill McCarthy
had a rented shack at the back of the station.
Every morning we ate breakfast at 0715hrs, Shredded Wheat covered
with canned peaches and canned milk was my regular, it was Lou Harris's
recipe. During breakfast Niel would give everyone the chores to
be done for the day and we all had good intentions of carrying them
out until we saw Niel walking south behind the station with the
ubiquitous manila envelope, to go visit his friend Bill Clark, the
Imperial Oil Agent. Some of us made attempts to do the work but
then the Hay River Hotel had opened and lured some of us away.
I wasn't doing to well as an operator and was unable to work a shift
by myself until Neil Wiberg was posted to Kingston and his replacement
WOI R. A. (Red) McLeod arrived. For the first few days Red watched
to see how things were going at the station before he made his move.
My first real meeting of my new boss was when I was just leaving
the Hay River hotel before noon a few days after Red's arrival to
VEO. He approached me and started poking his fore-finger at my chest
telling me how things would be - such as going on permanent graveyard
shift until I had mastered the necessary operating skills, WX observations
and being able to figure out how the telegraph rates worked, etc.
I began that evening at 2330 hrs and if any problems arose that
were too difficult to handle I would get Bill McCarthy to haul me
out of the mire, which he did with a minimum amount of grumbling.
After three months of graveyard with NO days off and practicing
morse code with my newly purchased Vibroplex bug, sending page after
page from the Readers Digest over the airwaves on 5760 kcs(?), After
three or so months Red came to me and said I would be working evening
shift the next day and onto dayshift when I mastered the evening
routine. After a week of evenings, he was pleased with my performance
and then advised me I was good enough to do regular shift work.
It was pretty scary to start doing the different shifts and coping
with the busy hours, early A.M. and early evenings but McCarthy
and others helped me pull through. The toughest part was staying
awake on graveyard and not being able to attend the great parties
we had at the station while I was working. After a while I developed
a system to ensure I was awake on the hour to start the WX observation.
I would stand up leaning on the bookcase in the hallway and fall
asleep, after 50 minutes my legs would cave in and wake me - never
missed a WX after that.
VEO was an out-station to Fort Simpson (VEC), they had a great deal
of patience to work with me at first, especially Mickie Walkington
(MW), Bill Brownlee (B) and I think Hank Hoiland but not sure. One
operator was very difficult to work with and would hold the key
down making long dashes so it was impossible to understand exactly
what his complaint was - there weren't any problems when the other
operators were working with me. Before years end I had become proficient
enough to hold my own as a wireless Op.
VEO had a fair amount of traffic in and out in a day; most messages
were dealing with the fisheries, Menzies, Gateway Etc., RCMP, other
Government agencies and civilian messages along with weather Obs.
And "opns" sent and received concerning aircraft movements.
Skeds with Simpson were at 10 minutes after every hour.
Every six hours we had to do a synoptic report. If a "rush"
message came in during graveyard and it appeared to be of an urgent
matter, the operator had to make the delivery, usually it would
be a death in the family or medical info to assist Mrs. Wright the
Hay River had a Waukesha (?) 4 cylinder power plant that was very
inadequate for the load it had on it. Early in the spring of 1951
a D-315 Caterpillar engine was purchased from a chap who bought
all the Canol pipeline equipment. It was so powerful Red McLeod
made deals with some of the local businesses , they got power and
the station got from the baker bread (when he was sober), deals
on meat from the butcher and free rent for McCarthy's shack from
1950-1951 was a very cold winter I thought, and spring break-up
came late in April. The Hay River was frozen at the mouth and everything
from up river overflowed into the town. Cst. Jack Hunter and I were
sitting on the front steps of the station just at dusk when we noticed
the laundry lady's shack was moving down stream between the trees
and we realized the water was taking it away, so the two of us grabbed
the station row boat and went to the rescue of the lady and her
husband. After that we cruised around the town picking up anyone
who thought they were stranded, it was a little scary at times seeing
water rushing down the main street and huge chunks of ice floating
toward you. Finally the ice broke away around noon on May 6th, just
as the RCAF arrived with a DC3 to drop a "bomb" at the
request of the NCO I/c. Most of the town was flooded and the airport
had water and a sheet of ice sitting on it.
The Y.T.C.L., "Yellowknife Expeditor", a ship used for
passengers and freight to Yellowknife, was washed up on the river
bank and was left high and dry when the water receded. The ship
was skillfully winched back into the water later with the use of
several pullies and a D8 Caterpillar under the supervision of Earl
Harcourt manager of Y.T.C.L. One life was lost, Bill Greer, he was
employed at Bond Construction and was crossing the road in a boat
when it capsized. It took ten days to locate the body and was found
by the baker, Percy (I forget his last name). Greer was the first
person to be buried at a location opposite the Signals transmitter
site out of town, the next burial was a little girl who had been
killed by a sleigh dog tied up in some grass. Her family name was
Daoust. In 1992 on a visit I tried to locate both graves but could
not find any sign of them.
For transportation we had a Dodge 4X4, the usual Army type and it
got a lot of use delivering messages and some recreational trips.
At one time the steering got so we could only make left hand turns,
it was a little tricky at times backing up several times to finally
get around the turn. Finally Red McLeod decided Peter George Engler
should take it apart to see what needed replacement. It turned out
to be only a lack of lubrication, after that it was able to turn
either way without worry.
There are many more stories and pleasant memories of Hay River but
maybe another time. Bill Rogers (WR)
1951, after two failed attempts to get to Ennadai Lake from Fort
Churchill by RCAF Canso, I arrived at there on September 13th. The
Canso Captain was very anxious to get in and out fast because there
was some freezing rain and he didn't want to be frozen in Ennadai
for the next 3 months or so.
Owens (?) and Tommy Harper (TH) rowed a 14ft. rowboat out to meet
the aircraft, they boarded the Canso and helped unload a 300cu ft
freezer into the boat along with Mike Carter (MC) and me plus our
gear. The wind was blowing and pelting down rain as we were rowing
ashore and the Canso was taxiing out wasting no time for take-off
for Churchill. Stan Elder (NCO i/c) and I believe the cook, Jim
Pitre, greeted us and hauled our load back to camp with the D6 Caterpillar
my stay Greg Lamb made many trips to Ennadai hauling freight for
the Geological Survey of Canada with a Norseman (CF-BHS) and I drove
the D6 to and from the aircraft, he was a great guy to work and
chat with - he still owes me a ride in the Norseman! I Also met
his dad, the legendary Tom Lamb. Whenever Lamb Airways came from
the "outside" they ALWAYS picked up our mail and sometimes
brought extras such as strawberries and cream. Once when Tom visited
us the NCO i/c was going to charge him for his meals but I think
the rest of us convinced the him to forget it - hope so anyway.
February, 1952 Mike Carter was posted to Korea, Stan Elder was replaced
by Alex Burgess - that left two wireless operators and one cook,
I worked the 2100hrs - 0900hrs shift and Alex worked the other 12
hours with no days off for seven months plus assisting the Survey
crew hauling supplies. During April and May, Smokey Gray airlifted
fuel, rations, etc. with the Bristol Freighter (CF-GBT) for the
quarters were always cold in the winter, the furnace was fixed at
floor level and the heat went straight up so we had to sit near
the grate to keep warm. My bedroom was not heated and during a big
storm the snow and sand would come in where we hadn't caulked it,
without exageration there would be a pile of sand and snow on my
sleeping bag where my feet were.
diesel fuel was hauled in to Ennadai in one wing of the Canso and
we would siphon it into 45 gal. barrels. When winter came, when
we needed fuel for the furnace or bulldozer, we would use a "wobble
pump" but it would only go to about halfway into the barrel
because of the ice from what we thought was a great deal of condensation
and we never questioned it. Many years later while living in Ladner,
B.C. I finally put two and two to-gether - in the late forties and
early fifties a Cpl. in Churchill was charged with stealing fuel
and selling it and was sending Ennadai Lake half water and half
diesel. During the spring I got a barrel that had thawed and pumped
some of the water into the fuel tank of the D6 Cat. and had to spend
the morning draining and flushing the tank and changed filters several
times before the engine began to run smooth again.
Lake was a very isolated station with a compliment of three operators
(one being the NCO i/c) and a cook. For some months there were only
two operators, including the NCO i/c plus the cook. If anyone wanted
entertainment they would have to invent their own or develop some
Even though the station was required to do three hourly synoptic
reports 365 days a year, we were also expected to do hourly weather
reports on request, plus the dreaded month-end stats for DOT. It
kept us reasonably busy.
At night, we would usually play hearts, and I did learn to play
bridge. During the day, I bulldozed anything I could find with the
D6 Caterpillar, hauled water or met aircraft and sometimes had to
level a landing strip on the ice for them.
Hunting caribou with the Eskimos was another pastime that consumed
quite a few hours. Occasionally, there would be a requirement to
assist others in our capacity as radio operators or as interested
bystanders. One such incident occurred during the Geological Survey
of Canada operation in the Keewatin district, N.W.T. in 1952. The
following is the story, to the best of my recollection and information,
as told to me by the late Jack Godsy, the Kenting Aviation Helicopter
pilot from "Dainver" Colorado (as he pronounced it).
Greg Lamb, of Lamb Airways was in the process of moving the Survey
camp from an area near Ferguson Lake to Ennadai Lake with their
Norseman aircraft (CF-BHS) At about 1600hrs Gerry Turner, chief pilot
of Kenting Aviation Helicopters, arrived at Ennadai with Dr. C.S.
Lord, who was leading the Survey, and asked if we had heard from
Greg Lamb. Greg was supposed to have arrived at Ennadai by mid-afternoon.
After receiving a negative reply, Turner requested an RT call to
the Survey camp operator, Lorne Shea. Contact was made and we were
informed CF-BHS had departed hours earlier and should have arrived
at Ennadai long before. Jack Godsy requested Turner to go out and
fly the route BHS was to have taken but Turner replied that he would
have to do the search in the A.M. as he had flown all day and was
concerned he could also be a casualty as he was extremely exhausted.
Godsy stated he, himself, could possibly get his unserviceable helicopter
going to attempt to locate the Norseman and personnel. Turner advised
him NOT to fly the helicopter. We later learned that in order to
get the helicopter airborne Godsy's mechanic removed the unserviceable
"fan" and cut a "fin" off the opposite side
to balance it, otherwise it would have shattered at high speed.
Godsy and the mechanic then went off in search of the overdue aircraft.
Later that evening Godsy called to say the plane had been located
on a small lake midway between Ennadai and Ferguson Lake area. There
were no injuries but the cook was shaken up and should be airlifted
out. We then sent a message to the R.C.A.F. requesting their assistance.
Sometime later, possibly early the next day, the Air Force sent
a Norseman in to airlift the cook to Churchill (I believe). Some
of this info is a bit hazy for this senior to recall. We later learned
that the Lamb Norseman had blown a "pot" - if I recall
the term correctly - and Greg Lamb landed on the ice, but it was
a small lake and the ice had started to melt from around the edges.
He was unable to stop the aircraft before it went into the water.
Later Greg was flown to Ennadai by the R.C.A.F. and he contacted
his father, Tom, advising what equipment and assistance he needed
to get the plane out of the water before the wooden frame started
to warp. As time went by, Tom Lamb flew over the Ennadai campsite
and dropped a message tied to a rock, as he had been instructed;
advising where he would land and have a helicopter pick up equipment
to make repairs to BHS. Godsy described the landing site as a "crooked,
shallow river" and one of the floats got a rock puncture, which
Tom plugged with a pound of butter to keep the aircraft afloat while
he and a native from Le Pas, along with Greg, his mechanic and Godsy
proceeded to salvage and repair BHS.
After about five days of inclement weather and using make-shift
repair equipment, the crew managed to get BHS out of the water and
running. By this time the ice had melted making a lake take-off
impossible. The next thing was to taxi the aircraft over huge rocks,
with the aid of a pry-bar and Greg's piloting skills, to a marshy
area which had a half inch covering of fresh snow, and take off
from there. After a few hours of hard labour they finally reached
the end of the grassy area.
plan, as related by Godsy, was for the mechanic and their native
helper to hold a rope looped through a tie-down point, while Greg
gunned the motor for a quick acceleration. Tom Lamb would station
himself half way down the "strip" to wave if he saw it
was necessary to abort. Godsy was to position himself at the estimated
take-off point to pick up the pieces if necessary. When ready Greg
opened the throttle but the tie-down rope didn't hold, and away
he went, lumbering down the strip. Tom saw that the aircraft couldn't
get up enough speed and was waving for Greg to abort the take-off.
But Greg couldn't see him and kept on going and wobbled into the
air with just enough fuel to make a 20 minute flight to Ennadai
Due to the damage done to the strut during the forced landing, Greg
was only able to make right-hand turns. Landing at Ennadai had to
be done in the middle of the lake because it was nearing the end
of June and the ice was "candling" making it dangerous
to come to close to shore. Greg then walked to our station, dodging
the candled ice, and sent a "rush" message to DOT Ottawa
requesting permission to ferry the aircraft to Prince Albert for
repairs along with his mechanic. He stated the damage and advised
he would change skis for wheels, and with no brakes he would be
using the tail ski for a brake. DOT gave permission and BHS departed
for Prince Albert via Churchill shortly thereafter.
repairs, Greg and BHS returned to Ennadai just after break-up and
went to work completing the Geological Survey supply for October
are many more stories and pleasant memories of Ennadai but maybe
more of that later. -- Bill Rogers (WR)
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