Down North
A Dependent's Notes of Interest
© Jean Watts 2002


Page 12: Whitehorse Radio Station

The first Whitehorse radio station was established in 1935 to serve the needs of an experimental air service between Seattle, Washington, and Alaska. It became part of the NWT and Y Radio System in 1938.

During World War II the Americans built the Alaska Highway to ensure a secure supply route to Alaska, a safer and cheaper alternative to sea and air transport. In 1946, after the war ended, Canada took over the Canadian section of the Highway and established the Northwest Highway System, which supervised and maintained this part of the Highway from its headquarters in Whitehorse.

Owing to the shortage of signallers resulting from the demands of the Korean War, the Whitehorse radio station was transferred from the NWT and Y Radio System to the Canadian Army Signal System. The Whitehorse Signals officer acted under direct command of the Northwest Highway System, but still reported to the Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System Headquarters in Edmonton on revenue from commercial traffic and Department of Transport weather reports.

Camp Takhini

Camp Takhini, like all army camps, displayed the usual selection of neat and tidy, nicely painted nondescript buildings that the military considers suitable for barracks, messes, and various types of storage. It also boasted an impressive headquarters building in which were located various administrative offices, including the Signals office. Married quarters were provided for the soldiers' families. Scattered through the camp site were trees, standing singly or in small groups between the buildings, that helped give the rather bleak camp a more pleasing aspect.

Camp Takhini 1960
Camp Takhini, 1960

We were formally introduced by the appropriate officer to our PMQ, a semi-detached house on Seine Square, facing inwards to the camp. Located at the edge of Camp Takhini, its back door looked out beyond a laneway and a fence to the Alaska Highway and its occasional traffic.

These married quarters were furnished, the furniture solid and suitable for the young families who were its customary occupants. As in Aklavik, the provision of furnished quarters saved the occupants both time and trouble. No time was spent in lodgings waiting for household furniture and effects to arrive from the considerable distance that we had come. Our few extra needs arrived fairly soon by truck. We found that the television set, which we had been advised to take with us, would have been better left behind in Winnipeg. Television was not available in Camp Takhini in 1959.

Although the army families were housed in Camp Takhini, the children's school, a large modern building, was in Whitehorse proper. Army buses provided transportation from the camp; their crews composed of a driver and another soldier whose business it was to keep order. According to our children, his commanding cry of "Sit down and shut up!" - in a parade-ground voice - usually did the trick!

Queen Elizabeth in Whitehorse 1959
H.M. Queen Elizabeth II walks along Front Street, Whitehorse, with Gordon Cameron, Mayor of Whitehorse (July18, 1959)

The Queen's Visit to Whitehorse

We had been in Whitehorse only a couple of weeks when, much to our surprise, the Queen and Prince Philip arrived there on July 18th. This was the first time I had seen the Queen since VJ Day, when a girlfriend and I celebrated by joining the crowd at Buckingham Palace to cheer the Royal Family as they waved from the balcony. She was then Princess Elizabeth, not yet married, and wearing the uniform of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), in which she had served as a driver. It felt quite extraordinary to see her again in such a remote place, so far from England, and now a wife and a mother.

Queen Elizabeth in Whitehorse 1959

Gordon Cameron, Mayor of Whitehorse, escorts the Queen along First Avenue (Front Street). Behind the Queen, Commissioner and Mrs. Collins and Bonnie Cameron, the Mayor's wife.

The whole town was excited about the visit. Everyone rushed first to the airport to cheer the royal couple's arrival by plane, then to the railway station, from which a special trip on the White Pass and Yukon Railway had been arranged. Crowds applauded as the royal party walked along Front Street to the station, boarded the train, and waved to us as it departed. After their train trip they returned to Whitehorse, where the Queen, who was feeling unwell, rested until the next day. She returned to Edmonton on the 19th while Prince Philip toured the other parts of the North that they had originally been scheduled to visit together.

The Brigadier General

GOC's Inspection - the blessing
GOC's inspection, Camp Takhini, Whitehorse, 1961: Bishop Greenwood, Brigadier Jones, Padre Alfred. (GOC: General Officer Commanding.)

Our commanding officer, Brigadier General Robert (Bob) Jones, was a credit to the Canadian Army in general and to the Royal Canadian Engineers in particular. He had done a splendid job in Europe in the Second World War, where, as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Canadian Engineers, he had pioneered the use of the Bailey bridge for river crossings. At two demonstrations for General Eisenhower, he and his men constructed a forty-foot Bailey bridge across a river in the astonishing time of fourteen and a half minutes - both in daylight and in the dark of night. General Montgomery gave due credit to the speed and efficiency of this mobile bridging method for its remarkable contribution to the rapid advance of his troops.

On his return to Canada after the war, Brigadier Jones was asked to take over the job of rebuilding the Alaska Highway, which was then, he discovered, little more than "a bulldozed trail through wilderness and mountains. Thirteen camps dotted the highway as well as numerous small airfields, all of which had to be supplied and maintained." (Quotations are from Bob Jones's obituary in the National Post, April 14, 2000.)

He stated, "I found that we were to take over a road that twisted and wandered through mountains and muskeg down to the farmlands of the Peace River area. There were an additional 200 miles of access roads to airfields and several emergency landing strips. There were a hundred temporary bridges in need of replacement and hundreds of culverts of timber made of native timber. Most of the road was poorly drained and many miles of dangerous curves would have to be rebuilt in order to make it safe for civilian travel.

"The winter of 1946-47, when Bob Jones took over the project, was extreme. He recalled working in sustained temperatures of -70ºF, with dips to -83ºF, when even gasoline turned to slush."

GOC's Inspection Parade 1961
Whitehorse: GOC's Inspection, Camp Takhini, 1961. (The Signals unit is at left front.)

The Officers' Mess

The Officers' Mess was, rather surprisingly, not in Camp Takhini itself, but downtown in Whitehorse, at the eastern end of Sixth Avenue. It was not a particularly memorable building but it served adequately as a home for the single officers in particular, and the regular meetings, functions, and entertainments of the officers in general.

During the short nights of the northern summer it seemed that, no matter what time the clock said, it was daylight when we arrived at the mess for a party - and daylight when we left to go home. This convenience helped make the whole business of driving to and from a mess function more relaxed and flexible than it sometimes was further south. By the time the shorter days and longer nights of winter arrived, the route to the mess had become a familiar one

The Brigadier was, naturally, anxious to maintain cordial relations between the military and the civilian populations, and encouraged the men under his command to mix socially with the townspeople. Consequently, the more respectable citizens of Whitehorse were frequent guests at mess functions, and both camp and town found that this mixture made for very good parties!

The local paper, the Whitehorse Star, published an article February 9, 1961, under the title "DND Bankrolls Local Economy." It states that the "backbone of the economic life in Whitehorse is the department of national defence payroll. Army and RCAF establishments here provide a stabilizing element in the community.

"However, their contribution is not only economic but also social. Perhaps more than in many army camps or air force bases, the soldiers and airmen take an active part in civic life. They join ball teams, fraternal orders, the drama club, PTA's, service clubs, hockey teams and they curl, ski, play darts, hold rummage sakes, hunt, fish, prospect . . . well, there are few sharp lines of division between service people and civilians. It's a friendly town and associations in public and in private are amiable."

The citizens of Whitehorse were indeed a compatible group and we appreciated their friendly welcome. It was always interesting to hear the many stories they could tell about life in the Yukon, its current events, and its past history.

[Next Page]

Pages: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

Return to top of page
Return to the Watts Family page