Early History of Station VEA Dawson City
The Royal Canadian Signals Radio Station at Dawson City, Yukon Territory has the distinction of being the first station completed, and “on the air’, of what is now known as the “Northwest Territories & Yukon Radio System”, with headquarters at Edmonton, Alberta. It was set up and ready for business early in October 1923; a few days later its Yukon mate at Mayo, Y.T. was completed and we were officially opened for public business on Oct. 20th 1923. In 1923 the N.W.T. & Y. R. S. was not even thought of; except, perhaps as a rather remote possibility -- If the Dawson-Mayo link proved satisfactory. Prior to 1923 the then young and recently organized Signal Corps had gradually and somewhat painfully proved its metal and possibilities of providing comparatively long distance Radio communication with low powered, low coast equipment and maintenance. In the fall of 1921 the Corps first experimented with a two station link between Ottawa and the R.C.A.F. Depot at Camp Borden; next year we tackled Forestry Department communication in co-operation with the then Civil Aviation ranch, with similar stations operated at Winnipeg, and Victoria Beach, Berens River and Norway House on lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. Early the following year (1923) we elaborated still further on this Manitoba System which had done yeoman service and earned for itself quite an enviable reputation for its work in remote places. We had now gained considerable experience, “know how:” and personnel, and by the fall off 1923 we were all set to provide communication between the isolated mining town of Mayo, and Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. Major W. Arthur Steel, technical officer of the Corps at that time, assisted by Lieut. H.E. Taber, planned and organized this first “Expedition Yukon” and the gear and equipment for it. Selected personnel consisting of Sgt. Bill Lockhart, Sigmn. Art. Lamb & Sigmn. Bill Whelan, destined for Mayo; and Sgt. Frank Hearth, Cpl. Cec. May and Sigmn. Charlie Routh booked for Dawson, gathered in Ottawa early in August 1923 for extensive “briefing” and outfitting for the then unknown Northern adventure. To all of us the mere thought of going so far afield and into the sub-arctic and glamorous Klondike was on par with making a polar expedition. And judging from the amount of gear, special clothing and equipment with which we were issued, and the instructions and advice poured into our wide open and receptive ears and minds we were enroute to positive isolation and arctic rigours beyond parallel and contact with the outside world for the next two years. The mere trip into Dawson in those days was something to brag about; as a matter of fact it still is, but whereas one may now fly at any time into the North country with speed and comfort, we then had to be content to follow the trail of ‘98. Four days to Vancouver, four days by boat up the coast to Skagway, Alaska, one day by train again to Whitehorse, then another two days by steamboat down the Yukon River to Dawson.
The cabin was in a very dilapidated condition after being vacant and abandoned for many years, and required considerable overhaul, renovation, remodeling and cleaning before we eventually installed our 3KW. 110- Volt Delco - a 160 ampere hour, 56 cell battery bank - battery charging panel - 1110 to 2000 volt DC Motor Generator Set - one 500 watt (2 AT.50 tubes) Signals Transmitter - one 4 tube Signals Receiver, and various controls and necessary wiring etc etc. Right here we’d like to dwell at some length on the technical and mechanics details of that first installation -- which was not far from the very last work in radio technique in those days -- but time and space does not permit. However, it was sturdy, compact, simple and quite efficient. Out antenna system, for the transmitter, was a 300’ 2 wire flat top T supported by 80’ portable, sectional pipe masts -- 10 sections of 3 1/2 steel tubes which fitted together similar to lengths of stove pipe, and held erect by 12 guys. The receiving aerial was merely 150’ of wire lead into the building from near the top of one mast. Our “earth” system of which we were extremely proud -- for a time -- was a copper sheet some 30” wide by 20’ long, buried at least 4’ deep under aerial centre and quite close to north wall of building, for a short direct connection with transmitter earth terminal.
Returning to our antenna array for a moment, it is rather interesting to note that we were so particular and anxious to have everything "just right" and accurately set up to provide maximum "directional effect" on Mayo that, rather than change or compromise a matter of 30 feet the plotted position of our east mast and guy anchors, we persuaded the Territorial Government to chop off 30 feet from the end of an old R.C.M.P. barn (being used as a Govt. warehouse) to permit the mast being erected accurately.
We came to Dawson as strictly military personnel, to operate a somewhat modified Army Wireless Installation under army rules and Signals procedure, but since we would be working in close co-operation with the local Government Telegraph Service, and the general public, especially in the matter of exchange of traffic to and from Mayo and outside points reached by land line from Dawson' and since the G.T.S. was long accustomed to the use of what is known as "Commercial Procedure", it soon became evident that we would have to modify our procedure to suit the "Commercial" variety. In fact while personnel wrestled and struggled to install the station, plans were already underway to introduce us to strictly commercial procedure, commercial rates, message forms, book keeping and accounting under the guidance and instruction of the local G.T.S. manager Mr. Geo. A. MacLachlan.
To him and Major Steel and Lieut. Taber we owe our present procedure and accounting system which was lifted practically bodily from the G.T.S and first used between Mayo and Dawson, and later became standard for all our stations handling "Commercial Traffic".
Our introduction to the Yukon was for the purpose of establishing and providing reliable communication to and from Mayo and Dawson,. The Treadwell Yukon Mining Co., working rich silver deposits at Keno Hill, some 40 miles N.E. of Mayo, were already linked by telephone with Mayo, but that was all. Prior to our arrival Keno Hill and Mayo were literally marooned. It took weeks, sometimes months, to communicate with Dawson and the outside by mail – via river boats, June to mid-October, then by slower overland stage (Horse drawn sleighs) all winter. A wire link between the two points had been considered, but was soon forgotten and never again discussed as soon as "Radio Service:" proved its overall efficiency. Dawson was already linked to Whitehorse, and to outside points, by land line (the G.T.S.), so our job was to extend this facility by wireless into the Mayo and Keno Hill country. "Outside" by the way, is a typical Northern term for anywhere south of rail-head or terminus.
Well, despite the comparative simplicity of our gear and installation one or two "bugs" were encountered and had to be ironed out long before opening day. One of them was discovered the really hard way by Sigmn. Routh who, while transmitting, happened to touch an exposed part of the sending key which was at that time:"in" the high tension or plate circuit, and he connected with a 2000 volt D.C. wallop (low current, fortunately) via his left hand and the top of his head from the metal head-band of the Brown type head-phones. He was glued to the key and took the juice for several seconds before his predicament was noticed by Major Steel who quickly kicked off the high power switch. By this time Routh was shaking uncontrollably like a man with convulsions, breathing with great difficulty and evidently in a bad way. We carried him outdoors and resorted to artificial respiration for some time before he recovered sufficiently to tell us what happened, or rather how he came to touch the key with his left hand. We found the crown of his head and two fingers of his left hand badly burned, and examination and inspection of the set revealed that this danger of shock would always be present until receiver and transmitter were segregated – instead of a combined hook-up of one battery for all tube filaments controlled by a "change-over" switching arrangement.
However, we finally opened for general public business on Oct. 20th 1923, using army A, B and C message forms and a double word check procedure – word check or count as per army method plus the commercial count, present at the opening ceremony were Gold Commissioner (Governor of Yukon) Geo. P. MacKenzie and his wife; Inspectors Telford and Field of R.C.M.P.' Territorial Judge John Black' former Yukon M.P. Dr. Alfred Thompson; Geo. Coffey, manager of Yukon Gold Co.; Warren McFarland, manager of Northwest Gold Corpn.; G.B. Edwards, General agent of local White Pass and Yukon transportation company, and Art Devers of the Dawson news staff – plus R.C.S. personnel. Enthusiastic messages of congratulations were exchanged with Mayo's delegation of notables, and all concerned were highly pleased and delighted with results. Long before this opening date the last boat had left for rail-head at Whitehorse. We don't recall if major Steel was aware of this or not;' he was so immersed in the construction work that it is quite likely he gave little thought to how or when he would leave for outside. Result was, he had to go out over the long 400 miles overland trail by horse drawn sleigh. He left us on Nov. 2nd 1923, and has never been back to Dawson; and we never did learn how he enjoyed his long and tedious experience.
At first, the traffic between Dawson and Mayo was not exactly heavy or demanding, especially after we became familiar with the hitherto unknown intricacies of tariff rates, commercial accounting, etc. But that first winter we did considerable testing and experimenting; for months we had daily tests and calls with High River, Alberta, about 1475 miles air line south of Dawson and – with our little 500 watt CW output, and our 4 "R: valve receiver – made numerous and quite satisfactory contacts, although far from consistent from day to day We learned even then, but didn't actually realize its significance until much later, that low power low frequency was too unreliable for long distance communication.
As time and winter conditions clamped down cold and long we also learned that atmospherical conditions varied considerably from day to day' that what we believed was 'static" was man made local interference;' that the Dawson Utilities distribution system of wiring was very "hay wire", leaky and full of faulty connections and electrical apparatus' that were too far away from broadcasting stations to receive programs on the far from sensitive receivers then available; that conventional buried "earths" became practically insulated in the dry, frozen ground, and next thing to useless; that frost action heaved and twisted our pipe masts, which were merely set on top of the ground, and the guy wires required frequent adjustment to compensate for this movement.
Later on we discovered that excessive frost action disturbed the bases on which our Delco engine, and the Motor Generator Set were mounted. To reduce this disturbance spring bases were designed on which the heavy machines literally floated – a greater degree of steadiness as well as much less vibration to the entire building was obtained by this method.
That first winter we also learned that heavy coatings of frost on aerial wires caused reduced indicated transmitter output, but did not reduce the received signal strength to any marked extent; that starting the Delco in its unheated room was comparatively simple when we preheated the crank case and cylinder head with a blow torch, had the lube oil very hot, spark plug almost read hot, and primed with hot gasoline before switching to its regular kerosene fuel, also pre-heated. We also soon learned that the heavy clothing we'd been issued with was ideal for outdoors wear but a bit too heavy for our indoor life, and we soon modified out dress to suit the occasion.
That first winter also proved to us that Dawson City was a very friendly and comfortable place in which to live, and far more pleasant, attractive and congenial than we ever expected; with practically every attraction and convenience of a big town – except accessibility – plus a spirit of genuine friendliness and camaraderie rarely experienced elsewhere but in the North.
In the summer of 1924 the N.W.T. & Y.R. S really got started. By fall of that year we were relaying most of our traffic outside via mayo, Simpson and Edmonton. Cpl May was transferred to Fort Simpson that summer, and Cpl. Gordon Armstrong replaced him in June of that year. That fall we dismantled our sectional pipe masts and erected two substantial 100; lattice steel masts (known as Type B). The material for these masts arrived on the last boat, Oct. 8th. Assembly and erection proved far from pleasant in below zero temperatures which soon appeared. Station personnel of three did the assembly work in between regular calls and office routine, while local labour built and buried eight anchors and two mast bases. This new aerial array, with a four wire flat top was finally completed Nov. 11th 1924. Earlier that year, July 31st to be exact, we contacted and thereafter maintained regular daily skeds with WUM, Circle City, Alaska, U.S. Army Signals system.
The summer of 1924 introduced us to continuous daylight and every known variety of radio inductive interference, plus a tropical brand of static. We tried all sorts of filters and gadgets to reduce the local racket and improve our reception, but more often than not we were forced to operate at odd hours and time to take advantage of infrequent quiet spells free from excessive noise.
Use of a makeshift counterpoise on our receiver also reduced the noise level and pick-up of excessive noise from grounded circuits and apparatus throughout town.
The winter of 1924-25 found us rapidly becoming expert with commercial procedure and accounting, which was now officially adopted; also with such things as Imprest Accounts, Clothing and Equipment Ledgers, Station Reports, Valve Reports, Engine Reports, Atmospheric Reports etc etc. Lt. Taber also became quite familiar with the 150 miles overland stage route to Mayo; he commuted between Dawson and mayo quite often.
In June 1925 Sigmn. Routh was transferred back to Depot and Sigmn. Ted Glynn replaced him. Sgt. Heath went "outside' end of July to be married on Aug. 27th, and returned to Dawson with his bride early in September. By this time a more substantial and carefully designed counterpoise system had been erected to replace the temporary arrangement found so effective and efficient some months previously.
Things went along without unusual incident that winter. Of course we were seldom free of minor difficulties and worries such as weak signals, heavy local interference, temporary failures, engine and battery troubles, and numerous other trials and tribulations encountered and overcome as a matter of course and routine, and which in most cases turned out to be valuable experiences to be used and utilized to advantage later on. For instance, when our 150' single wire receiving aerial collapsed, we didn’t relish the idea of working outdoor in 40 below zero temperatures at the time to repair it, but hooked the big 4 wire flat top to our receiver, with results that were literally astounding – the noise level increased somewhat, but the signals simply boomed in much louder than ever before. We therefore elaborated and modified the change-over switch to accommodate the big aerial to receiver or transmitter, and didn't return to a single wire, separate aerial until years later.
In June 1926 we bid Good-Bye to Lt. Taber and welcomed Lt. Cliff Underwood as Officer In Charge. Sigmn. Glynn also left that month and was replaced by Cpl. Harry Ewing. Although our records are somewhat vague in this respect we believe that a Lt. Leppard arrived to take over from Mr. Taber before "Undy" appeared on the scene, but for reasons now unknown remained with us only about two or three days. Ewing, however, arrived just in time to start meteorological work. We took over this duty from a local resident who for years had taken readings twice daily and handed them in at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to the G.T.S. for relay to Victoria, B.C. – but we, with three men on the station as a reason, perhaps, had to take the readings early enough to get the first tone on the air by 4 a.m.
For the next two years we carried on more or less smoothly and quietly with little or no change to routine or equipment, other than perhaps a new type of transmitter tube and a new Marconi receiver. But Dawson's first plane in ten years came over from Fairbanks in the summer of '26 to search for a missing man. It was a big event and attracted hundreds of local residents who had never seen a plane before. next year (1927) a group of Yukoners organized the first "Air Express & Mail Service" between Whitehorse – Mayo – Dawson with a Ryan monoplane "Queen of the Yukon", a sister ship of Lindberg's famous "Spirit of St. Louis". The "Queen" first arrived in Dawson on Nov. 11th 1927 and was feted and acclaimed for days. The idea of Yukon's own air transportation system was indeed a novelty in those days and was enthusiastically received and proclaimed; but lack of any aids to flying, plus normal hazards of weather and equipment, discouraged the enterprise and it was soon abandoned.
In August 1928 now QMS. Heath was posted to Ottawa, while Cec. May, now CSM, replaced him. Later that month Cpl. Ed. Parsonage relieved Cpl. Armstrong; and Lt. Underwood also relinquished his Yukon command. "Undy", by the way, was the last commissioned officer to be in charge of the Dawson and Mayo stations.
The records of the next five years are rather sketchy and incomplete. As far as we can determine, personnel changes and replacements featured this period; with Harry Ewing out for medical attention in March 1930, relieved by Cpl. Stan. Reid. Then in 1931 it looks like CSM. May and Cpl. Parsonage headed outside while CSM. Armstrong returned as Warrant Officer In Charge (WOIC), and S/Sgt. Harry Yelland came in to relieve Parsonage. In 1932 it appears that Yelland left to take charge of the Mayo station, and Reid went outside while Sigmn. "Red" Waddell and Sgt. "Newt" Plunkett reported in to Dawson.
After five years absence Heath, now Sgt. Maj. (W.O I) returned to Dawson, Aug. 16th 1933 to once more take charge of what he always, and fondly considered "his" station. SM. Armstrong left for the Depot a few weeks later. To Heath it was like coming home again, and in no time at all was settled into the old familiar routine and surroundings as if he'd never been away.
By now the call sign of Dawson was no longer XWBA but, since 1929, VEA, and some progress was being made with "short wave", or S/W as we commonly referred to it. The more or less famous Signals M7X, Short Wave (or S/W, or High Frequency, or HF) transmitter and a welter of special aerials, leads and gadgets of all sorts had been installed, and we had accumulated several modern receivers and, incidentally, the facilities to receive occasional broadcasts from Pacific coast stations which had recently been opened in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Even in 1933 our broadcast reception was erratic and inconsistent. The receivers available were mainly intended for standard broadcast frequencies, and we were still a long way from the comparatively low power source of the broadcasts; in addition we were just beginning to realize that atmospheric, or ionosphere conditions greatly influenced reception in this area, especially the reception of high frequency of short wave signals which were then just commencing to come into more of less general use, and it was no fault of the receiver if signals failed completely for days at a time. Our own long wave, or comparatively low frequency signals however, remained fairly consistent and reliable day after day.
In the summer of 1934 Red Waddell was posted to Burwash Landing, a small "Bush" station operated by the newly organized pan American Airlines on its route from Fairbanks to Whitehorse. Instead of another operator being posted to Dawson to replace him, we hired a local lad to act as messenger, janitor and counter-clerk. We were now a two operator station yet we kept the business moving as before; but if one man went sick, or was off duty for any length of time it made things quite awkward for the other man, because we were still handling weather reports, and three times daily by now, at 3 am, 9am and 3 pm., plus regular traffic.
We certainly missed that third operator, especially whenever trouble developed with engine and batteries and lots of times we were on the verge of hollering for more help or saying "to hell with it all". Meantime, S/W was being experimented with extensively to ascertain and check some of its peculiarities, workable and consistent frequencies, etc. But the M7X transmitter was patterned very much after the Signals SITD.500 long wave rig. It was the "Tuned-Grid-Tuned-Plate:" circuit with two VT5B valves in a series feed, push-pull connections; and, with two sets of suitable, ¼" copper tubing coils, ranged from 19 to 54 meters. No refinements whatever. Very simply constructed and easy to "get at". Sometimes it worked; but often it just wouldn't. For four long years we wrestled, coaxed and begged it to justify its existence.
In 1935 we received our first really worthwhile "break" – we pensioned off the Delco, Batteries and Motor Generator Set in favour of city power rectified by a separate and special Marconi Rectifier unit shipped in to us. None too soon, either! The Delco power plant and associated gear had done its fair share of work for 12 long years, and to keep it going much longer would have taxed our ingenuity and swindling sanity to the utmost.
Of course the new Rectifier had to arrive much the worse for wear and tear in transit, minus several vital parts broken or displaced in shipment. But we eventually tot it to work OK, and the day we switched over to rectified city power was indeed the "dawn of a new day" as far as we were concerned and the signal for a bit of a celebration to usher in the new and, as it turned out, more efficient era to follow; that was the start of many improvements, and the introduction of new and up to date equipment.
1936 was notable for our second experience with flood conditions. By June 9th water surrounded the station and barely covered the floors of the rear rooms which were 10" lower than the operating room. No equipment was moved out this time; we merely piled everything movable on the tables and counter, and also raised all wiring and leads as high as possible without disconnecting anything. No skeds were missed, and no serious inconvenience resulted this time, although we were forced to wade around in knee rubbers to get to and from the screen housing our thermometers, and had to resort to a boat or canoe for travel further afield.
We bid farewell to Sgt. Plunkett on June 20th, who remained for a few days to coach L/Cpl. Reid in his numerous and varied duties after Reid arrived in Dawson June 12th.
1937 brought us something really radical in the way of new equipment. We got our first glimpse and experience of and with the Marconi 2 cabinet or section 1 K.W. transmitter, new Marconi receivers and dozens of new type valves. No sooner was this imposing and awe inspiring apparatus set up – and the old SITD.500 , with its Marconi rectifier, shipped elsewhere – than we received and set up the wonder of wonders we'd been waiting for: the Marconi PT.200, 200 watt, cabinet type, S/W, crystal controlled phone and C.W. job.
We'd heard and read of such things; and crystals; and band-passes; intermediate frequencies; modulator power amplifiers; drive circuits, etc etc., but never laid eyes on such things until NOW.
Getting this new gear into the station, by the way, was a problem in itself. We had to take off three doors and door frames to start with, and one door opening had to be widened at least two inches by means of a saw; a special saw, that ripped through nails and spikes as well as the wood of the door frame. Then after the equipment was safely inside the room in which it was to be erected, we had to re-hang the doors, and make a new one for the enlarged frame.
This new equipment caused quite a flutter' we were as excited as kids at Xmas as we carefully and eagerly delved into boxes and crates without number and brought to light strange and mysterious gadgets, pieces and parts; regular skeds and routine suffered considerably as we gradually scattered a huge mass of material and equipment all over the station prior to tackling the job of assembly and erection.
Armed with instruction books in one hand and blueprints in the other we approached the installation and final tuning job with a certain amount of nervousness and trepidation, which soon wore off as we became familiar with the various preliminary stages and phases of the installation. Due to many interruptions and limited personnel, progress was necessarily slow, and it was late in July before we had the new gear set up and on the air.
Now we were all set with lots of power – a whole 1000 watts when necessary – on long wave; and 200 watts output on short wave, and first class modern equipment, including radio-telephone facilities which, to us at that time, was quite a novelty. But strange to relate, the 1 K.W. job never did work with any outstanding degree of efficiency on its full rated output, and when it did, would not kick out any stronger signal than when on half power, at which setting we normally worked it with no better results than obtained with the old reliable SITD.500. But our PT.200, although not behaving according "to the book" (and never had) did boost our morale and pride considerably, with good strong signals and clear voice – whenever conditions were favourable. With the advent of the IT.200 , and to a lesser extent the 1 K.W. job, we had another worry to contend with – RELAYS, and their adjustment and maintenance. We soon discovered we had a much more complicated and delicate affair to handle than ever before.
However, by now the White Pass & Yukon Route had introduced summer and winter air transportation into Dawson and district. Three planes, including a Ford tri-motor job, were put into service as early as 1935, but the service was rather erratic and haphazard until the planes were radio equipped and contacted by us in that summer of 1937. Then our work and routine increased by leaps and bound, as frequent contacts with planes in flight helped maintain them on some degree of regular schedule by providing weather and landing data etc etc.
A call for assistance brought Cpl. Jack Coderre to our aid in 1938., and after four years of steady daily routine as a two operator station he was received with great glee and jubilation because new we could take a day off occasionally; go see the doctor and dentist, and get acquainted with our family again. Incidentally, now Major Taber visited us this summer on an inspection tour, and he was with us for several days before departing for outside again.
The rather ideal three operator set-up didn't last long, however. War was declared in Sept. 1939, and a few days later Coderre was posted back to Depot, and left Heath, Reid and the messenger once more "on their own".
But before Coderre departed we packed up the 1 K.W. transmitter without any regrets whatever, and shipped tit to Mayo, while we welcomed the return of another Signals transmitter, modified for A.C. operation, known as the SITD. 500C, together with its own rectifier unit the Signals RE.6 using a 4 866A rectifier valves. 1939 also brought us an official issue, for the first time, of that mechanical dot maker and fast operators delight known as a "bug". For years we had used our own personal machines, but more or less unofficially because for some time they were frowned upon, if not actually forbidden, until they became a recognized necessity and actual issue to certain stations about 1936.
The war years passed us by with hardly a noticeable ripple to mar our normal routine; one or two war-time restrictions and precautions were introduced, such as special coding of meteorological reports, and the censoring of all messages handled etc., and that was about all. But general business gradually picked up despite the war time slump from the prosperous, near-boom years of 1935 to 1939.
Sgt. Reid took time off in August 1941 to get married; and we fired our civilian messenger in August 1942 and enlisted Sigmn. Alex Low locally. Alex not only excelled as a lowly messenger but soon turned into a first class brass pounder and meteorologist to relieve the strain in those departments formerly presided over exclusively by Heath and Reid.
In April 1944 Heath went to Edmonton for medical attention and hospitalization, following which he enjoyed 28 days furlough – the first in 11 long years – before returning to Dawson about end of June. He missed all the excitement and turmoil of a GOC's inspection of the station conducted by Maj. Gen. McKenzie and staff on April 28th; and more upheaval and uproar occasioned by our third flood early in May.
This flood was by far the worst experienced in Dawson. The water reached a height of 13 " in the operating room on May 9th, (about 3" higher than the 1925 inundation) but, thanks to valiant and strenuous efforts on the part of station personnel, failed to damage any vital equipment which was either removed to safety and operated elsewhere, or lifted and cached on tables and counter high above the water level. To assist in every way possible during the critical flood days Capt. Cec. May flew in from Edmonton with emergency equipment, and two technicians, Walker and Dalman, from the Whitehorse station. By the time FH got back on the job everything was back to normal except for evidence everywhere of the high water which left heaved and buckled floors and linoleum, warped insulating boards on the walls; and chairs, desks and tables and doors much the worse for their three days of soaking up the waters of the swollen Yukon.
On Oct. 7th 1944 Low was posted to Edmonton and Signm. Dennis Eluted replaced him a week later.
1945 came in with very little fanfare other than the usual new-years festivities, but turned out to be one of those years noted for momentous and historical events and happenings before going out with a veritable blast of trumpets, hullabaloo and rejoicing in its wake – not all of which was occasioned by V-E and V-J, for before the end of the year, we moved into a brand new station with every modern convenience, plus modern remotely controlled transmitters and receivers.
A detachment of 18 R.C.Es in charge of Capt. Rod Saunders arrived July 4th 1945, and a few days later commenced work on the site for the new and attractive, modern building which now occupies a prominent corner in Dawson's business section formerly occupied by the Yukonia Hotel and the "M & M" Saloon (of early days fame) which were razed by fire May 22nd 1940.
Tons of ashes, charred lumber and tangled debris of all kinds had to be removed before foundation work could be attempted; then more time than anticipated was necessary to sink piling into frozen earth down to bedrock, or perpetually frozen gravel, but after this arduous and complicated preliminary foundation work was completed the remainder proceeded quite rapidly. While this town work was in progress another crew was engaged clearing a large area of bush and trees for the remote aerial array and the small building for the equipment, in the hills some two miles east of the town site.
Theoretically we had little or nothing to do with this new construction work, but we soon found ourselves very much in demand for information, transportation by Jeep (which had been restored to us) and even advice and general attention and mentor to all and sundry connected with the new work. Needless to say our routine was quite hectic and demanding at times, and for at least five months we could safely say there was never a dull moment.
Air Force personnel, specialists in pole-line and telephone construction work, came in on last boat of the navigation season, Oct. 8th and by end of November completed the setting up and rigging of the pole line carrying the 26 pair lead covered control cable from town office to remote station. Sgt. Walter Thomas, of Signals, came in about the same time and attended to the stringing of the necessary power line and installing transformers.
Sgt. Maj. "Dusty" Royds and a Mr. Jack Watson, from "C.S.R.D.", Ottawa, arrived Oct. 15th to superintend erection of aerial gear, transmission lines, or lead-ins, and the setting up of transmitters, receivers and control units. Despite the cold, snow and unusually wintry weather prevailing by this time, the work was proceeding rapidly and smoothly when, on Oct. 29th tragedy struck suddenly and unexpectedly with the death of Jack Watson. Royds and Watson were busy at the remote site on aerial assembly work that morning when, without warning Watson collapsed and failed to respond to simple first aid, and by the time Royds, aided by RCAF and RCE personnel rushed him by truck to the Dawson hospital not more than 15 minutes later he had passed away. Cause of death was declared due to cerebral haemorrhage or coronary occlusion. Watson's sudden demise was a rude shock to all concerned and progress was quite noticeably affected for several days, and until after the funeral held locally on Nov.4th. S/M Royds keenly felt the loss of his close friend and partner, and left for outside Nov. 7th.
Nine days later another Signals Installation & Maintenance crew of four NCOs arrived to complete the work which had been so rudely interrupted. They, with Capt. Murray who arrived Nov. 23rd finally set up our new PV 500 (L/W), and the new AT.3 (S/W) 250 watt, transmitters and six receivers, and had everything ready for testing early in December.
Severe weather and lateness in the season prevented erection of the aerial and transmission, or feeder, line for the PV.500 long wave transmitter; it was tuned to two of its four frequency capacity and simply fed into an off length temporary, 1 wire L aerial, and was operated that way, with mediocre results until the rest of the construction work was completed in September 1946.
However , the new set-up was functioning fairly well by Dec. 8th so we simply and rather eagerly collected what records and office furniture was necessary from the old log cabin station we'd occupied for 23 years, moved into the spick and span new quarters and went on the air to officially open for general business on Dec. 12, 1945. By now all RCE and RCAF and all but CSM. Pye of Signals had departed. Pye remained behind for several days to coach and instruct us in :"the fine points:" of the new complicated lay-out; but he too left for outside on Dec. 15th and we were eon our own again; this time with something worth bragging about and showing off and demonstrating with pride to the dozens of locallites who dropped in to view its wonders and attractions. Once again, too, we were back to a three man staff; Sigmn,. Elsted was posted to Edmonton Dec .8th and until the situation was eased somewhat with the arrival of Sgt. Earl Slack in July 1946 the three of us were more than fully occupied -- especially whenever it was necessary to make repairs, adjustments and alterations (which was quite often) to the new equipment at the remote station.
1946 was not far advanced, and the paint in the new station hardly dry before we noticed quite an increase in business, and an entirely different aspect, and we realized that at long last the R.C. Signals in Dawson had "come of age", as it were. Our previous 23 years experience and sluggish progress, almost overnight, became very ancient history as we blossomed forth all of a sudden into adult and professional status and a veritable glare of publicity and prominence. Now we were right in the centre of town, instead of isolated and marooned in the obscure environs; and we saw more people and activity in one day than in six months at the old log station.
Also, we soon discovered that our technical, mechanical and maintenance worries had proportionately increased. Plenty of "bugs" remained for us to run to earth and most of them were aggravatingly complicated by being at the remote station, which at times was difficult of access either due to deep snow or gooey mud preventing anything but a caterpillar tractor or "shanks mare" getting to it.
During 1946 we entertained an unusual number of visitors from Signals, Engineers and Airforce who dropped in at various times on business and tours of inspection. In August we enjoyed a three hours visit from our Director of Signals, accompanied by three other Sigs officers. The only similar, previous visit we have on record was in August 1939 when Col. P.E. Earnshaw, the Director of Signals at that time, visited us for three days.
On Aug. 28th 1946 a civilian crew of four men, with S/Sgt. Barnes, RCE, i/c, arrived to assemble and erect our two 150' steel masts, and complete the earth system, Long Wave aerial and transmission line. This was completed, except for a part of the intricate earth mat, by Oct. 7th and we then proceeded with great enthusiasm and anticipation to coax 10 amps or more of aerial current from the PV.500 transmitter which the instruction book and the new aerial system promised . BUT, alas and alack, no such heart warming and ether blasting power could be wheedled into the aerial on any of our authorized frequencies. We had to be content with the same old feeble three amps after all. To say the least, we were disappointed. But it's been like that every time! From our 1921 days of the 120 watt set, through SITD.500s, M7xs Marconi 1 KWs, PT.200s etc, we've been sadly disillusioned – none of them behaved according to the glittering promises of "the book of words' which accompanied them. Nevertheless, we always put out a good signal, so must be thankful for small mercies and small outputs.
In Nov. 1946 we welcomed Sigmn. Bill Bushell to the fold, and a few days later ushered L/Sgt. Bill Hunka on his way back to Edmonton, and settled down to what proved to be the coldest winter ever recorded in Yukon. Temperatures as low as 73 below zero (Feb. 3rd '47) were experienced, and during Nov., Dec., Jan. and to the 10th Feb. the average temperature was about 20 below zero daily.
And now, after 19 years close association and attention as NCO and WO i/c, SM Heath is about to "sign off" the Dawson station, and the R.C.S., enroute to discharge and pension after 30 years with Signals; about 4 years with the old C.E.F. in the first world uproar, then with the R.C.S. since apr8l 1921.
He has seen and helped VEA, Dawson City, grow from that first simple log cabin to its present elaborate and modern installation; from a two station local link, to all stations world wide service; from six calls a day, six days a week, to almost continuous service night and day; from 10 w.p.m. and crippling interference, to double the speed through comparatively noise free remote receivers; from ten messages per day, to a hundred; from tariff rates averaging $3.50, to a mere $2.00; from home-made wood-burning stoves, to the latest oil fuelled hot water radiators; -- from bush, to big business.
And that, in brief, is VEA, Dawson City, from October 1st 1923 to April 30th 1947,