Chronology: 1930 - 1939

1930 Return to index

Fort Norman was chosen as the next link in the NWT&Y chain and went on the air 15th August 1930. Norman is situated on the north bank of the Mackenzie River (which at this point flows almost east-west) at the confluence of the Mackenzie and Great Bear Rivers, a natural junction point on the water route to Great Bear Lake where important mineral discoveries were being made. The location was also important from a meteorological standpoint as it was approximately mid-way on the 800 mile stretch between the Radio stations at Fort Simpson and Aklavik and regular weather reports from here would greatly assist the Met. Dept. to produce more accurate forecasts to assist commercial aircraft operations which were expanding rapidly all over the north. This station was operated by SSgt. Pat Coombes, LCpl. "Gander" Beckett and Sig. Sid McAuley.

1931 1932 Return to index

During the spring of '32 strong representations were made to the Dominion Government by mining interests to provide communications in the widespread and active mineral fields of the Great Bear Lake region. The equipment of a privately-owned station at Hunter Bay, where interesting copper veins had been discovered the year before, was now idle and was purchased by RC Signals from Dominion Explorers. Operator QMS Fred Raney was sent in with orders to move the equipment and open a station at Lindsley Bay. This was done early in 1932.

The choice of Lindsley Bay by RC Signals as a site for a radio station for the Great Bear Lake area apparently was not a happy one. Most of the mining companies involved protested vigorously that, to make use of the Lindsley Bay station, ninety percent of the operating companies were faced with a day's hard travel by water or on foot, and that during the freeze-up and break-up periods, the site was practically inaccessible. It was pointed out that Cameron Bay was the logical site for such a station, as it was the base for the majority of aircraft working in the area and was centrally located to the Eldorado, Consolidated, Bear Lake Mines and the other main companies and highly favoured by the operators of all these companies. In addition it was the headquarters of the Mining Inspector and Mining Recorder.

When mining activity was brought to a close by cold weather in the fall of '32, the RC Signals Radio Station at Lindsley Bay was also closed down. During the winter the government examined the mining companies' protests thoroughly and as a result, decided to re-locate the Lindsley Bay station at Cameron Bay.

1933 Return to index

The extent to which commercial aircraft operations had expanded brought more pressure to bear on DND for improved communications at the southern end of the main northern flying route and resulted in the installation of a RC Signals Radio Station at Fort McMurray in northern Alberta. Situated three miles beyond the "end of steel" (Northern Alberta Railway) at Waterways, Alta., McMurray was then the base for practically all commercial flying operations to and from the north country. The main airline companies, Canadian Airways Ltd. and Mackenzie Air Services Ltd., in fact had their pilots and mechanics, complete with families, flying there. Mail and express received at the "end of steel" was trucked from Waterways to McMurray, reloaded on the various aircraft and sped to the northern out-posts, so it was essential to have up-to-date weather reports etc available on short notice. SSgt. Jim Lilly and Sgt. "Red" Scharfe were posted to McMurray in mid-Dec '32 installed equipment in the old Indian Agency log building and were officially "on the air" by the end of January 1933.

In Feb '33, Sgt. George Stevenson was sent north by air to move the equipment from Lindsley Bay, and early in March, opened RC Signals Radio Station, Cameron Bay, much to the satisfaction of all the mining and aircraft operators concerned.

Approximately 60 miles south of Cameron Bay, at Camsell River on the shore of Rainy Lake, rich silver deposits had been discovered, the largest of which was that of White Eagle Silver Mine, with lesser showings by such companies as Canso River Mining Co, Caldwell Bonanza, Nicholson Syndicate and Northwest Minerals and Radium.

Representations were made to the government for radio communications in the area which resulted in the posting of Sgt. Ed Henderson from The Depot, RC Signals, Camp Borden to the White Eagle Silver Mine at Camsell River early in the summer of 1933. With a Burgess Midget 5-watt transceiver he was soon in communication with Cameron Bay and RC Signals Radio Station, Camsell River was officially on the air. Tragedy, stark and swift, was to strike this little radio station a few months later when, one day in September 1933, Sgt. Henderson set out in a canoe to deliver a message to one of the mining camps in the area. Henderson was never seen again and it is assumed that he upset in the swift river waters and was drowned. The canoe was recovered but the treacherous waters have never given up Henderson's body.

Sig. "Ink" Hyman was sent from Cameron Bay to take over the Camsell station and Sig. Frank Rapp was dispatched from The Depot to replace Hyman at Cameron Bay. Henderson's tragic passing was the first fatality to be suffered by the rapidly expanding NWT&Y Radio System which, at the time, was about to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The Camsell River Station closed down in July 1936 when White Eagle Silver Mines ceased operations.

Two other stations were added to the system during 1933, namely Fort Chipewayan, Alta. and Fort Rae, NWT.

Fort Chipewayan is situated at the east end of Lake Athabasca, across from the mouth of the Athabasca River and near the point where the Slave River flows out of Lake Athabasca on its way to Fort Fitzgerald. This station was to be a great aid to river and lake navigation. Also, being approximately halfway between McMurray and Fort Smith on the main northern flyway, it was able to supply valuable weather information for the aircraft operators. The station was installed by Sgt. George Batty and commenced regular schedules with McMurray and Fort Smith on the 1st of October 1933.

Fort Rae was also opened during October 1933, the operators being SSgt. Jack Ross and LCpl. Bill Lang. Fort Rae, located at the northern extremity of the north arm of Great Slave Lake and halfway between Fort Smith and the rich mineral fields at Cameron Bay, was on the main northern flight path and was able to supply vital weather information to aircraft operators, as in the case of Chipewyan. The Fort Rae station however was doomed to be short-lived and was to be the scene of the second tragic System fatality during the year.

At approximately 8 am the morning of 30th December 1933, while SSgt. Ross was out to breakfast at the residence of Northern Traders Ltd. post manager, George Buffum, where he and LCpl. Lang took all their meals, fire of unknown origin broke out in the Radio Station building. Ross noticed flames issuing from the station as he left the Northern Traders, shouted to Buffum that the station was on fire and dashed hurriedly to the scene. The downstairs of the building was a raging inferno and impossible to enter, so Ross obtained a ladder and tried to effect entry through the window of the upstairs bedroom where he knew Lang was sleeping. As Ross shattered the window a terrific explosion occurred and he was hurled from the ladder amid smoke and flame to the ground. He was forcibly restrained from making a second attempt by Buffum and others, who had by now arrived on the scene, as they realized that such an attempt would be suicidal. In a few more minutes the building was totally demolished but it was early afternoon before the RCM Police were able to recover the charred remains of the unfortunate Lang, who, it was hoped had mercifully suffocated before being burned.

The air temperature at the time of the fire was 53 degrees below zero and the residents were fortunate in saving adjoining buildings and fuel drums from damage with the limited fire fighting means available.

Lang was survived by his mother and one sister residing in Sussex, England. Instructions were received for burial to be made at Fort Rae and this was carried out on 19th January 1934 in a simple but impressive ceremony attended by the entire white population of the Fort who had learned to like and respect Lang during the short time he had been on duty there.

No spare equipment was available so the station was declared closed and SSgt. Ross was recalled to The Depot, Camp Borden.

A similar yet much less disastrous fire, as it entailed no loss of life, had occurred four months previously when the RC Signals Radio Station at Cameron Bay was totally destroyed. However in this case new equipment was supplied, installed in an old warehouse and the station was re-opened by the late Fall of the same year.

And so the end of 1933, tenth anniversary of the NWT&Y Radio System, ended. It had been a disastrous one for Signals, with two major fires and two tragic deaths. Twelve full-time and one summer station were now active and the future looked bright.

Meanwhile technical progress was keeping pace with the physical expansion of the System. The original long wave (low frequency) sets were being replaced as fast as possible by sets of higher power, designed especially for the North by the Signals Inspection and Test Department. Short wave (high frequency) transmission had also proven itself, again with equipment especially designed by SITD, increasing station efficiency at least two-fold, especially during the summer months when heavy atmospherics rendered the low frequencies unreadable approximately twelve hours out of every twenty-four hours.

1934 Return to index

The year 1934 saw no actual expansion of the NWT&Y Radio System itself but many private commercial stations were established at remote points throughout the North and, when properly licensed, became outstations of the RC Signals network. Such varied interests as Hudson Bay Company, RCM Police, aircraft companies, sawmill operators, fur traders and private mining companies at isolated settlements to small to warrant the installation of a RC Signals station, began to install high frequency radio telephone equipment of sufficient power to work into the nearest Signals station and so keep in dally touch with the outside world.

Practically all traffic handled to and from these outstations was by voice as the companies involved found it extremely difficult to procure capable Morse operators willing to work in such out-of-the way places except for exorbitant wages.

Passing traffic in this manner was of course slow, tedious and subject to numerous phonetic errors when signals were poor. Nevertheless the service was a God-send for the inhabitants of such small posts, especially in emergencies.

1935 Return to index

Early in 1935, when Pacific Alaska Airways commenced aeroplane service between Juneau, Alaska and Fairbanks, Alaska representations were made to the Canadian Government to supply RC Signals operators to the communication equipment the Airways planned to install at Whitehorse in the Yukon, an intermediate point used for refuelling on the 700 mile flight. Suitable arrangements were made. LCpl. Pollock and Sig. Greenslade were posted to Whitehorse and the station was officially on the air 25th February, 1935, operating from the PAA Hangar at the Whitehorse airport.

Eventually, in 1937 and 1938 Signals were supplied with their own standard low and high frequency equipment, established in an old RCM Police building in Whitehorse. Regular schedules were maintained with Dawson and Mayo in addition to running the PAA station and looking after their planes at the airport. This situation remained until the Department of Transport took over plane control duties at the Whitehorse airport in September 1941.

Whitehorse, is situated on the Lewes River, approximately 70 miles north of the northern border of British Columbia and 200 miles east of the Alaskan border. It was the end of steel.

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway running from Skagway on the Alaskan coast of the Pacific Ocean and the commencement of river transportation to the rich mining centres of Dawson and Mayo. Whitehorse had a colourful history in the Klondike gold rush days of '98 and was destined to become the capital and leading metropolis of the Yukon in later years.

In April 1935, Pacific Alaska Airways, (later to become Pan American Airways), made arrangements with the Canadian Government to open and operate another small station in the Yukon on a similar basis to the one at Whitehorse, that is, with equipment and buildings supplied by them and personnel by RC Signals. This however was to be merely a one-man station situated at Burwash Landing, YT on Lake Kluane, 160 miles northwest of Whitehorse on the flight route to Fairbanks. Burwash was not a regular stop on the Juneau-Fairbanks PAA flight but a landing field was constructed there for emergency purposes.

The main function of the radio station was to transmit four weather reports daily to PAA at Fairbanks and to contact the planes in flight and to pass up-to-date weather data.

Sig. "Red" Waddell was posted from RC Signals Radio Station Dawson City to carry out these duties. He arrived at Burwash 30th April 1935 by PAA. PAA had already flown the equipment in from Fairbanks and it had been set up by one of the PAA technicians, so Burwash landing Radio Station was officially on the air immediately after Waddell's arrival,

Waddell's posting left the Dawson station understaffed with only two operators. Apparently no trained Signals replacement was available and Dawson was given authority to hire a local young man to act as messenger, janitor and counter clerk, thus allowing the two Sigs personnel to perform the other station duties efficiently. It is believed that this was the first time that a civilian had been employed on any of the Army radio stations in any capacity other than that of a cook. Of course in later years, especially post World War II, many civilians were to be utilized on the System as operators, technicians, clerks and cooks.

Burwash was one of the most isolated settlements to be found in the Yukon and it soon became the practice to have one of the Whitehorse operators exchange duties with the Burwash operator for a two or three month period at least once a year. This was in order to prevent him from becoming a victim of "cabin fever"… "malaise du nord" or in the more common vernacular just plain "bushed" a prevalent disease in small isolated communities.

In July 1935, a summer station was installed at Tuktoyaktuk (Port Brabant) which is situated on the Arctic coast approximately 30 miles east of the mouth of the Mackenzie River. Sigs personnel from Aklavik operated this station as well as the station on Herschel Island.

Tuktuk was the Hudson Bay Company's main distribution point for supplies and freight destined for its various trading posts throughout the western Arctic.

River boats of the Hudson Bay Company brought the supplies etc, down the Mackenzie River to Tuktuk where they were trans-shipped to larger Hudson Bay Company vessels for distribution to western Arctic posts as far east as Coppermine, Read Island and Cambridge Bay. Communications were vital to such an operation as this, which must be completed in the short six week to two month navigation season. Once again Signals were called upon to fill the gap.

The establishment of the Aklavik Radio Station was increased by one, Sig. Ted Folwell who was posted to Aklavik and thence to Tuktuk along with a homemade transmitter and receiver, the product of OMS Frank Riddells ingenuity.

Tuktuk functioned annually until the summer of '39 but was not re-opened thereafter due to other wartime Sigs personnel commitments. Subsequently the Hudson Bay Company installed their own equipment and worked into Aklavik on a private commercial basis.

1936 Return to index

Prior to 1936, air-ground communications had been practically all of an emergency nature, with the aircraft carrying very low powered equipment which could not be operated while in flight. This limited its usefulness to instances where the aircraft was stopping at some out of-the-way point not blessed with a radio station or where it had been forced down due to adverse circumstances. In either case, results, if any, were none too good.

However, early in '36, Mackenzie Air Service, quick to realize the importance of reliable air-ground-air communications, began to install modern two-way radio equipment in all of their aircraft. This equipment was capable to transmitting to and receiving from NWT&Y Radio System ground stations while in flight.

Canadian Airways and other commercial aircraft operators followed suit and thus was born one of the most important services rendered by the System throughout the remainder of its existence.

Weather reports and other services provided by RC Signals at Fort Rae prior to the disastrous fire of 30th December 1933 were sorely missed by all operators in the Great Bear Lake mineral area so increasing pressure on the Department brought about its re-opening in March 1936.

Sig. Sid McAulay and LCpl. FE Burgess were sent in with new equipment and resumed operations on 31st March. minor technical difficulties were quickly overcome and all went well until the 26th of January 1937 when the fickle finger of fate again singled out this important little station for destruction by fire of unknown origin. Fortunately, this time there was no loss of life, although the equipment, building and personal effects of McAulay and Burgess were totally destroyed. The silver lining in this cloud was the encouraging fact that some spare equipment had been stored in a trading company warehouse and it was possible to set up temporary communications from the engine house. Early in February the operating equipment was moved into a renovated log lean-to, from where operations were carried on until the station was closed down in September 1937 and moved to Yellowknife, where a gold mining boom made it a much better location from which to serve the area from a communications standpoint.

In addition to the re-opening of Fort Rae, two more RC Signals Radio stations came into being during '36, namely, Goldfields, Sask. and Outpost Island, NWT. The need for each of these stations was brought about by gold mining activities in their own particular areas.

Goldfields, Sask. situated on the north shore of Lake Athabasca, approximately 125 miles east of Fort Chipewyan, Alta., was the centre of rich gold findings by such companies as Consolidated Mining & Smelting, Athona, Greenlee, Murmac, Athabasca Portals and several smaller operators, all located within an approximate radius of five miles from the settlement proper.

Sgt. Ronnie Botten and LCpl. Red McLeod arrived at Goldfields by plane Friday 13th March 1936. Not being superstitious to any extent, they immediately commenced installation work, which was completed in due course and the RC Signals Station Goldfields was on the air 2nd April, maintaining schedules with McMurray, Fort Smith and Fort Chipewyan. This was a very busy station for the next two years. New buildings and better equipment were provided and taken into use October 1938. However by the same time the following year, mining activities had almost come to a standstill in the area. The main gold mining interests were now being centred at Yellowknife. World War II had broken out and there appeared no further justification for the station so it was closed down in December 1939, to remain so until re located and re-opened ten years later.

Outpost Island is one of a group of about 23 small islands in Great Slave Lake situated approximately 25 miles off the mainland 40 miles northeast of Fort Resolution. Outpost Island itself is scarcely a mile long and a few hundred yards wide with little vegetation, but during 1935 one of the most spectacular gold finds in the north had been made there. Other rich finds had been made throughout the Islands with assays running from $100 to many thousands of dollars per ton. Diamond drilling was commenced on these properties early in 1936 and, at the request of Slave Lake Gold Mines, a small radio station was established by RC Signals at their mine on Outpost Island.

LCpl. Joe Slean arrived there by plane on 14th March 1936. His radio equipment, consisting of a ten watt Marconi type 48031 transceiver caught up with him on 30th March and communication was established with Fort Rae and Fort Smith on 4th April 1936.

Late in August 1936, when F/L Coleman and LAC Joe Fortey of an RCAF aerial mapping party were reported missing in the Barren Lands, Slean and the Outpost radio equipment were moved to Fort Reliance at the eastern end of Great Slave Lake, which was to be the base for search operations for the lost aircraft and crew. Regular schedules were kept with Fort Rae RC Signals and Government Survey parties at Aylmer Lake and Lac de Gras, sub-bases for the search.

The communications provided by "Outpost Joe" were invaluable in bringing the search to a successful conclusion on 16th September with the finding of the downed aircraft and crew of Coleman and Fortey extremely weak from hunger but very much alive. They were immediately evacuated 'outside' to recuperate from their harrowing three weeks in the Barrens before returning to duty. The radio station remained open until gas and a new crew had been flown in to the downed aircraft and it was brought back from the Lac de Gras area to Reliance on 20th September. The following day Slean and his radio equipment were returned to Outpost Island.

Mining activity on the islands continued briskly until the spring of '38 when the results of much underground exploration indicated that the rich mineralization was mainly on the surface and did not extend to any great depth. Due to high transportation costs, the mines could not be profitably operated under such conditions and by the late Fall of '38 all operations had been abandoned.

Late in October 1938 LCpl. Harry Roe , who had relieved ASgt. "Outpost Joe" Slean in August, received orders to close down the station and proceed to Fort Resolution for the winter. The following spring, mining activities on the Outpost Islands were not resumed as expected, so the RC Signals Radio Station was never re-opened.

The close of 1936, an extremely busy year in the North, saw the NWT&Y Radio System operating 17 stations on a full time basis, plus two sub-stations at Herschel Island and Tuktoyaktuk during summer Arctic navigation season.

1937 Return to index

Like its predecessor, the year 1937 was to be an important one of expanded exploration and development work in northern mining circles, with existing water and air transportation facilities being taxed beyond their limits to keep pace.

Signals were again called upon to supply communications in the new areas of development. Three more new stations were born during the year, at Gordon Lake, NWT, Norite Bay, Sask., and Yellowknife, NWT.

Gordon Lake is one of the many smaller lakes dotting the country north of Great Slave Lake and lies approximately 65 miles northeast of Yellowknife on the Great Arm of Great Slave Lake. It is about 20 miles long and three miles wide with its length roughly being north and south. Along the east side of the lake are many small islands, and it was on one of these that SSgt. Joe Benkhe established the Gordon Lake Radio Station in June 1937 at the camp of the Mining Corporation of Canada. Nine other large companies, such as Territories Exploration and Karl Springer Exploration, were also actively engaged in the area, which was inaccessible except by air. All supplies, equipment and men were flown in from Yellowknife. In addition to the commercial aircraft carrying out this work, some of the larger companies such as Territories Exploration, operated their own fleet of aircraft so that Benkhe was continually busy providing air-ground service in addition to clearing considerable amounts of commercial traffic to and from Fort Rae. With practically 24 hours each day suitable for flying during the summer months, it can readily be seen that Benkhe was a busy, busy man to say the least.

The station was housed in two small tents originally, one containing the 30PT5 Marconi HF transmitter and Marconi CSR2MB receiver, the other an Onan Power Plant to supply AC for the equipment. This accommodation proved adequate until two buildings were completed by the Mining Corporation in October.

The radio equipment was moved into permanent quarters before the advent of real cold weather.

Gordon Lake Radio Station operated more or less on the basis outlined above throughout 1938 and on into January 1939, at which time practically all activity in the area had petered out, mainly due to high transportation and fuel costs. It was estimated that the fuel oil landed at Gordon Lake cost four times as much as that paid by the mines 'outside' which were close to rail facilities.

Camlaren Gold Mines was the last active outfit at Gordon Lake and with its decision to abandon operations came the order for Signals to close down the Radio Station. Early in February 1939 the equipment was moved to Thompson Lake, 35 miles south of Gordon Lake, and was operated from one of the camp buildings of Thompson Lake Gold Mines by SSgt. Benkhe.

Norite Bay, located 80 miles east of Goldfields, Sask. on Lake Athabasca's north shore, was the main camp of the Fond du Lac Mining Corporation. At the request of this Corporation for communications, LCpl. "Red" McLeod was dispatched from the Goldfields Radio Station with a ten watt Marconi transceiver on 24th February 193 7. McLeod contacted Goldfields on 26th February and the station functioned as an outlet for commercial traffic from the area and an aid to aircraft until August. At this time a sudden and unexpected decision by Fond du Lac Mining Corporation to cease operations resulted in the Radio Station being closed down as well. LCpl. McLeod wended his way back to Goldfields on 22nd January 1938.

As you will recall, the decision had been made early in the Fall to close down the Fort Rae station and move it to Yellowknife due to the mining boom there, with its subsequent increase in aircraft activity.

Yellowknife is situated 80 miles southeast of Fort Rae, on the north arm of Great Slave Lake. As the boom activity increased, more and more aircraft for the Great Bear Lake mining fields were being routed via Yellowknife in addition to supplying the local needs. This of course resulted in Fort Rae being by-passed and reverting to its pre '33 status of straight trading and providing a base for a RCM Police post.

SSgt. McAulay and LCpl. Burgess packed all the Fort Rae equipment, which was loaded aboard the Hudson Bay Transport vessel "Dease Lake" and transported to Yellowknife. It arrived there on 15th September. The boys had even been far-sighted enough to bring the outdoor privy along as they were none to sure what facilities existed at Yellowknife.

The equipment, consisting of a SITD 100B LF transmitter, Northern Electric 20 watt HF transmitter and two CSR2 Marconi receivers (one of which was modified for long wave), was set up in a tent next to the Camlaren Mines Ltd. warehouse. Two 60' angle-iron masts were erected on the bald rock and power was brought into the equipment tent from a Briggs Stratton 1- 112-HP 700-watt plant housed in a packing case.

When this work was completed, communications were quickly re-established on the 13th of October with the old Fort Rae outlets namely, Fort Smith, Cameron Bay and Gordon Lake.

A combined station/living quarters building which had been ordered pre-cut from Edmonton arrived before freeze-up and was quickly set up. The equipment was transferred from the tent. Yellowknife Radio Station, destined to become the largest and busiest on the System, was now firmly and comfortably established, making nineteen stations in full time operation on the ever-expanding network as of the year's end 1937.

Incidentally, in November, the name of the settlement at Cameron Bay was officially changed to Port Radium, much to the satisfaction of all concerned.

1938 Return to index

There was little expansion of the System during 1938, in fact some ground was lost as mining activity slumped generally and the small stations operated by RC Signals at Viola Lake, Sask. and Outpost Island, NWT were closed down in January and October respectively, and the summer station at Herschel island was not re-opened, as mentioned previously.

However in the early fall, a RC Signals station opened in North Battleford, Sask. for the specific purpose of relaying "Other Government Department" traffic to and from the NWT&Y . This station was installed and operated originally by QMS Harold Hall, CSM Eddie Edwards and LCpl. Neil Wiberg. It certainly performed yeoman service in relieving some of the pressure from the 'bottleneck' at Edmonton Radio Station.

The various government departments, responsible for the administration of the NWT&Y, such as Health, Natural Resources, Indian Affairs, RCM Police etc, etc, all had their head offices in Ottawa and their traffic, handled on a free or 'deadhead' basis, represented a considerable percentage of the total traffic of all types handled by the System. Up until this time such traffic was passed to and from Ottawa via Edmonton and Winnipeg but was increasing in volume rapidly to the extent that Edmonton could not properly cope with it in addition to the commercial and weather traffic commitments.

North Battleford, situated on the North Saskatchewan River, 500 miles northwest of Winnipeg and the same distance south of Goldfields, appeared to be ideally located to act as a relay between these two points for the handling of System DH traffic.

After numerous delays to the installation work, North Battleford finally commenced its relay duties on the 1st November 1938, much to the delight of the Edmonton operators and bookkeeper but somewhat to the chagrin of the Goldfields station staff. In the words of the station correspondents of those days the reaction to the changed routing was as follows: - Edmonton -"Traffic has been light, particularly since North Battleford took over the handling of all non commercial traffic, a loss calling for no show of remorse on our part". And Goldfields: -"Traffic was the heaviest up to the present ever recorded by this station due mostly to heavy relaying of deadhead traffic for the NWT&Y to and from North Battleford - looks like there will be no rest for the wicked, I mean - the weary".

A connecting loop from the Radio Station to CN Telegraph Office was installed so that traffic could be handled by land line in the event of radio communication failure between Battleford and Winnipeg. Battleford station carried out these relay duties until late May '39 when the Marconi 400 HF transmitter was removed and shipped to Whitehorse where it was urgently required for point to point operation with Edmonton. A month later, the station resumed relay work with a Marconi 200 Pt transmitter supplied from Edmonton. It continued to function as a relay station until the outbreak of World War II in September, when it was closed down in order to meet personnel requirements elsewhere.

Also during 1938 a new radiotelephone service was provided for the general public at the following RC Signals stations: Edmonton, McMurray, Fort Smith, Yellowknife and Goldfields. Repeater equipment was installed in the Edmonton Radio Station with connections to the offices of the Alberta Government Telephones from where local or long distance connections were made in the normal manner.

Telephone booths were installed in the northern stations mentioned, tied in with the HF transmitting and receiving equipment and thus customers were able to converse with friends or business associates in homes or offices in Edmonton or points beyond.

The long distance radiotelephone service was restricted to the Western Provinces for reasons unknown but, nevertheless was greeted and used enthusiastically by mining and transportation companies particularly, and the general public at large, for both business and social calls. Christmas and New Years were especially popular times for such service, all stations being swamped with calls.

This service was improved the following year with the addition of 'scrambler' equipment so that the customer could rest assured that his conversation was strictly private and not capable of being intelligently heard by any broadcast listener with a short wave receiver tuneable to the frequency in use.

After the outbreak of war more urgent equipment commitments became greater and greater until finally the long distance telephone agreement with Alberta Government Telephones was cancelled in October 1942 and the service discontinued.

1939 Return to index

Early in February 1939 SSgt. Benkhe received orders to close down the Gordon Lake station, move the equipment and re-install it at Thompson Lake.

Thompson lake is a small shallow lake, about 35 miles south of Gordon Lake and midway between there and Yellowknife. It had been the scene of a spectacular gold discovery by Thompson-Lundmark Gold Mines during the summer of '38.

Benkhe set up his radio equipment in a small room of one of the mine building pending the completion of more suitable quarters. His power plant was housed in a small heated tent which also served as a storeroom for spare equipment etc. A month later the equipment was moved into the new staff quarters. Benkhe, by this time, was getting a little 'move-happy'. as this was the fifth time he had moved the same equipment since June 1937.

The expected activity in the area did not develop, apparently due to the unsettled European situation. Only two other companies, Gypsy Yellowknife and Smelters Gold were doing any appreciable amount of work on their properties in addition to the underground development work by Thompson-Lundmark.

This situation worsened after the outbreak of war, with all mining activity at this point practically coming to a halt, so the RC Signals Radio Station at Thompson Lake was closed down early in October.

In mid-April '39 RC Signals established a small station at Pensive Lake, NWT at the request of Dome Mines Ltd. and some smaller mining outfits. Pensive Lake is 60 miles east of Yellowknife, where impressive gold findings had been made during 1938.

Cpl. Mel Watson set up his NE R8160B transmitter and Marconi SH4 receiver in a tent at the Dome Mine Camp, a mile north of Pensive Lake itself. Another tent served as engine room and storeroom. Contact was established with Thompson Lake and Yellowknife on April 20th.

Sampling and surface work was carried out on a large scale by Dome Mines until late June when it was decided there was insufficient gold to warrant the installation of a mill, so the camp was closed down. Watson packed his equipment and returned to Yellowknife on July 4th after only two months operation, believed to be the shortest System station existence on record.

During June 1939 the Department purchased a lot and three old buildings from the now defunct Northern Traders Ltd. at Fort Providence, NWT with a view to establishing a RC Signals Radio Station at that point. Fort Providence, on the banks of the Mackenzie River just north of Great Slave Lake, appeared to be a good location from which to render assistance to air and-water transportation up and down the mighty Mackenzie River. The Meteorological Department was quite anxious to receive weather reports from that area.

Cpl. "Ink" Schultz, of the Edmonton Station staff, was chosen to open up the new station, arriving in Fort Providence, complete with family, 15th June 1939. Schultz found the buildings in deplorable condition but nevertheless was able to fix up temporary living quarters and get his small Marconi RRS 1 Transceiver on the air with Resolution, Smith, Yellowknife and Simpson on the 17th.

Work was commenced immediately to try and renovate the best building of the three into a combined living quarter and station building. LCpl. Harry Roe arrived on 23rd July to assist Schultz. Building renovation, power plant installation, antenna construction work etc were progressing favourably when war broke out. On September 5th orders were received to close down immediately. Radio equipment, tools and. valuable small stores were shipped to Resolution, heavy equipment stored in the station building and the personnel proceeded 'outside'.

The Providence Station buildings were taken over by a small detachment of the US Signal Corps in the Fall of '42 to provide weather reports and communications for aircraft employed on the Canol Pipeline project. An emergency landing field was constructed there and US Army Engineers erected new radio station buildings which were eventually taken over again by RC Signals in July 1943.

Another important NWT&Y Radio Station project that misfired in 1939 due to the outbreak of war was the installation of a radiotelephone station at Grande Prairie, Alta..

Grande Prairie, 250 air miles northwest of Edmonton and capital of the grain rich Peace River Block, was sorely in need of more reliable long distance telephone service to Edmonton and beyond. RC Signals received the call to provide the answer.

The old Newton farm, a mile or so east of Grande Prairie, was brought to serve as a transmitter site. The house thereon was in good condition and could be easily renovated to act as a combined married quarters and operating building. Two acres of land adjoining the Newton farm to the east were also acquired for a remote receiver site.

Early in August SM "Nash" Neary, QMS "Happy" Mitchell and SSgt. "Snoot" Ross , who was to be NCO IC Station, arrived in Grande Prairie and commenced the necessary work. Late in August a circuit was set up with Edmonton Radio Station using an M 15 transmitter and Hammarlund 120 receiver in order to keep in close touch with HQ during the various phases of installation.

The 400 watt short wave transmitter on order from Marconi in Montreal and the Bendix receiving equipment were expected early in September, renovation work on the building was progressing favourably, most construction and underground cabling from transmitter site to remote receiver site and A GT exchange were well under way when, as in the case of Fort Providence, the fatal order to cease operations was received on 5th September.

Small equipment was packed and shipped to Edmonton while the larger equipment was safely stored in the station building and the personnel dispersed to more urgent employment elsewhere. Efforts were made to secure a reliable caretaker tenant for the building but to no avail, so the Province of Alberta, Department of Lands and Mines was given a License of Occupation at the nominal fee of $ 1. 00 for the duration of the war on condition that they keep the property and buildings in good repair. However the property was repossessed by the Department of National Defence during 1942 or 1943 and became a Special Wireless Station, functioning in this capacity until 1947.

After the outbreak of the war, in addition to the stations just mentioned, Tuktoyaktuk, Burwash Landing, North Battleford, Thompson lake and Goldfields were closed in rapid order, with Port Radium following in early 1940 when the Eldorado Mine closed down. The remaining 12 NWT&Y Radio System stations were drastically curtailed as to personnel, and services rendered were restricted accordingly. Weather reporting was most affected and in some cases was dropped entirely, and in other, placed on a modified basis to conform to shortened station operating hours.

It was very discouraging to see the progress of signals in the North come to such an abrupt standstill but it was also inevitable that wartime requirements take priority over peacetime civilian endeavours insofar as military personnel were concerned. Return to index


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