Brief History of the Ennadai Lake Signals Station
The Government of Canada's Meteorological Division in 1949, 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 24';
engine house 20'x 20'; warehouse 20'x20'; and ice house 20'x20'. The
technical installations were comprised of a PV. 500 low frequency, and
a 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.
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 tribe
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 Cp1 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 have since
been 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 has also been made to bale their
furs at Ennadai and ship them to the RCM Police in Churchill, who in
turn sell the furs, convert the proceeds into food, ammunition etc which
is 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 tribe 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.
RC Sigs left Ennadai in 1954 when, with
no noticeable weeping or gnashing of teeth, the Signals Territorial
Eskimo Medical Clinic otherwise known as RC Signals Radio Station, Ennadai
Lake, was turned over to the Department of Transport on the September
18th. All equipment on the station, except stores of an exclusive military
nature, were handed over.
The operation, maintenance and administration
of this station had been extremely difficult during its five year existence
due mainly to its remoteness. Those difficulties were further complicated
by the almost continuous necessity of rendering aid to the Kazan River
group of Eskimos living in the area, to save them from extinction by
sickness and starvation.
The loss of Ennadai Lake left the System
with 20 stations in operation.
a note accompanying his photos of Ennadai station Jack Girard sent in
the following information:
of the heavy construction material and other supplies to be used in
the establishment of the radio station was transported into Ennadai
from Churchill by cat train over the frozen lakes and muskeg. Fortunately
for station personnel, one of the tractors broke down and was considered
to be beyond repair. This D-6 Caterpillar tractor was abandoned at
Ennadai when the cat train returned to Churchill. Some
enterprising person (?) managed to repair the tractor and it became
a very important asset to the station. It was used to maintain the
ice runway dragging rollers behind it; hauling up supplies to the
station from the runway, or the dock in summer, on a stone boat; and,
various other tasks."
Ennadai pictures on Page 2
Check out the pictures of Ennadai station is it was in the summer of 2006 on Page 3
Check out Brian Johnson's photos of Ennadai Station in the summer of 2008