History of Canadian CESM

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This is a compiled history of Canadian Communications Electronic Support Measures (CESM) from it's inception after the First World War to today.

The origin of this work is unknown, at least to me! It has come to me by way of the Communications and Electronics Museum. Someone, thinking the material might be of interest, sent them a copy but the donor did not know it's provenance. Parts of it are recognizable as being from a short history on the Navy's CESM efforts but there has been considerable material added to that. The text for the Navy portion is found in various official publications but it's original source is likewise unknown. If anyone can help identify the person of people who have put the work into developing this history, please let me know at webmaster@rcsigs.ca.

Until the origin of this material is ascertained, and permission for it's use requested, this history is made available on a provisional basis.

Those familiar with the subject will see that the last section of the history is well out of date. In addition, the history is Navy-centric and lacks Army and Airforce details. (Although WW2 Army Sigint histories do appear separately on this site.) If anyone wishes to provide additional information, it will gladly be incorporated.



The history of Canadian Communications Electronic Support Measures (CESM) begins when the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) did wireless intercept after the First World War on request of the British Royal Navy. The intercept site was located at Esquimalt, British Columbia sometime around 1925. To date, all documents indicate the operators were British and all information was shipped back to Britain. The Canadian Navy's only role was providing the facilities.

Crerar drafted yet another memo [year unknown. Ed] inviting the Admiralty to assist in the establishment of the Wireless Intelligence Service. For reasons unknown, the Chief of Naval Staff, Commodore Percy W. Nelles, rejected this offer with these words:

"The commitments for Naval Signal personnel make it impractical for the Naval Service to provide any personnel for this service now and in the near future." and "that the first requirement for Canada is the more simple organization, i.e. the development of directional wireless stations both on the West and East coast. These stations would meet an immediate and important requirement for the defence of our harbours and our trade and would be a valuable aid to each aim of the Canadian Forces."

The RCN was more concerned with establishing Direction Finding nets that would safeguard Canadian ports and sea vessels rather than wireless intercept for intelligence purposes. The Naval Service's attitudes in regards to wireless intercept would later change with influence from the British Admiralty.

The RCN Wartime "Y" Activities

The letter "Y" was used to refer to the intercept of wireless transmissions. It's unclear exactly why or when "Y" was chosen as the term, nonetheless during these early years of wireless intercept the business was to be referred to as "Y" by all Allied parties involved.

Upon the outbreak of war, the RCN promptly struck a deal with Department of Transport (DOT). The RCN was granted the use of existing DOT monitoring stations, which were at the time, policing Canadian transmitters. As well they were given access to DOT's HFDF stations, presently being utilized for the guidance of airplanes.

The initial DOT HFDF sites to provide assistance to the Navy were: St. Hubert Quebec, Shediac New Brunswick, St. Louisburg, Cape Breton, and Botwood in Newfoundland. The use of Botwood Nfld required approval from Britain, since Newfoundland at the time, was still a British colony. Although the Navy received fixes as early as September 1939, it wasn't until 8 December 1939 did they begin to receive wireless intercept.


DOT's commitment to the Navy's cause was strong enough for them to build an additional station near Halifax known as Hartlen Point. Built on a land located at the eastern gateway to Halifax harbour, allowed for an entire view of the sea in every direction. This site began operations in late 1941 or early 1942 tasked with DF, specifically U-boat targets. No Navy personnel were employed here, only experienced DOT operators.

Hartlen Point's watch consisted of four operators, not counting the officer-in-charge. The operators rotated through all positions on a daily basis, each operator working the D/F in succession. The personnel were highly experienced operators; the average length of experience was over eleven years.

By June 1942 a total of 14 operators were handling the naval tasks: four of them being DF operators and the remainder utilized five receivers in the task of intercepting German U-boat transmissions.


Harbour Grace, Newfoundland had an uninterrupted sweep of the northern Atlantic providing bearings on U-boat transmissions and copying traffic on both mobiles and control.

It was intriguing to realize that Harbour Grace was one of the first sites that the Navy was solely responsible for. DOT had no involvement with this particular site.

Watch consisted of eight ratings; six of were on receiving, an experienced telegraphist on the D/F and a leading telegraphist in charge. The station was run by a Chief Petty Officer. The personnel were divided into four 8-hour watches, rotating on a two-day basis, allowing a forty-eight-hour lay-off every eight days. Their lodgings were provided by private homes and boarding houses in the town itself; some three miles from the base. A station wagon with civilian operator, shuttled personnel back and forth at shift changes.


The letter "Z" was used by RCN in referring to the study of enemy HF wireless transmissions through the mediums of RFP (radio figure printing). RFP was a means of identifying wireless transmitters by the characteristics of the signal emitted, TINA was the name given to the equipment employed in this process. TINA was given to the RCN by the British Admiralty in December 1941 and by January 1942 operations on an experimental basis had begun in a location near Ottawa Department of Transport Station. In May 1943, "Z" operations moved to the RCN station at Gloucester but due to the drop in U-boat W/T traffic, the RCN chose to install TINA at Harbour Grace.

Through the use of TINA, operators were able to identify enemy wireless operators by the unique characteristic rhythms in their individual Morse transmissions. The potential value of the information that could be derived during wartime was obvious. Under favourable conditions, through a combination of RFP analysis and other sources of intelligence, one could state what type of vessel originated a W/T signal and often the exact identity of the vessel. In such a case, enemy ships could be effectively tracked. The potential of TINA was limited and its usefulness was chiefly an aid to tracking. It was permissible in most cases to state that since two transmissions were made within a certain time interval by the same operator, that they originated from the same vessel, but two transmissions made by different operators were originated by two different vessels did not necessarily hold.


Upon the collapse of France, the Admiralty requested RCN assume all coverage of French Naval frequencies. The RCN in turn, asked DOT for the use of Forrest Manitoba to cover these targets. This site, also known as DOT3, was manned by DOT personnel in May 1942 until relocating to Stevenson Field Winnipeg; about eight miles to the west of the city proper on Whitewold Road.

All French Naval code and cypher intercepted was forwarded to Admiralty by cable and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) teletype. The preambles and signatures of the messages were coded. Over the years, Winnipeg was responsible for neutral shipping, German shipping and Japanese naval intercept.

Winnipeg, not unlike other wireless facilities, housed two separate sites; one being the "Y" site, the other a DF site. The "Y" site was DOT operated and controlled, but the DF site was manned by naval personnel.


By now the RCN had a well-founded program of cooperation with DOT but was looking to expand its organization. In doing so, the Navy sought out the assistance of RCAF in 1941. The use of RCAF's navigational and meteorological facilities would add to the much-needed directional finding required.

The RCAF agreed upon a maximum of four RCN telegraphists per site, to man the following RCAF HFDF stations: Pennfield Ridge New Brunswick, Cap D'Espoir Quebec, Sydney Nova Scotia, Rivers Manitoba.

The priority of Rivers Manitoba was German U-boat activity on the East Coast. This site, along with Portage la Prairie when it became operational, increased the fix accuracy immensely of U-boats. Ucuelet, Coal Harbour and Allaford Bay, all in British Columbia, were the remaining sites at the disposal of the Navy by the RCAF.

Bare in mind, that eighty percent of the time, these stations were free for use by the RCN, the remainder of the time they were employed by the training schools. Likewise for the DOT HFDF sites; although appreciative, there was often frustration on the part of the Navy in regards to the sharing of facilities. It wasn't uncommon to receive "no fixes" on critical targets such as U-boats. Nonetheless, the Navy's use of RCAF and DOT facilities for conducting wireless intercept and directional fixing of enemy targets made the RCN's contribution to the war effort without a doubt - a success.


The naval ratings were posted for a year at Cap D'Espoir. This station was located in the Gaspe Peninsula, providing DF on U-boats and carryout out "Y" intercept in a separate building. This site was operational 24 hrs a day. On 11 th November 1942 the Cap D'Espoir "Y" building was completely destroyed by fire and all equipment was lost. The operators who stood the last watch before closing down for the night, reported that conditions were normal; they had shut down all motors, stoves banked for the night, drafts closed, and station locked and made secure. The investigating officer for the RCMP was of the opinion that the fire was caused by some kind of fault with the coal stove, although the station investigating team revealed nothing to collaborate that theory.


Gordon Head was situated on land that is now occupied by the University of Victoria. Two separate buildings were constructed; a "Y" intercept station along with a HFDF site used on tip-offs from the intercept site. The station became operational 4th of June 1940, eventually becoming the focal point of the Navy's commitment to wireless intercept on the West Coast.

Initially, Gordon Head was under the jurisdiction of Far Eastern Defence Organization Singapore, keeping watch on duty O for Orange. (Duty O for Orange is believed to be a term used to identify intercept from Japanese Naval targets.) All intercepted traffic was cabled directly to Singapore, with copies sent directly to Naval Service Headquarters Ottawa (NSHQ). Along with watching out for Japanese wireless transmissions, Gordon Head operators were involved in monitoring German raider frequencies, commercial and diplomatic frequencies being assigned from time to time by the British Admiralty - all traffic being cabled directly to London.

The Navy in 1942

By 1942, the Navy had progressed to the point where they were obtaining intercept and DF from 19 sites. Seven "Y" stations, four DF and eight combined "Y" and DF stations. Seven out of the twelve DF units were also used by the Flying Services (DOT or RCAF).

In the process, the RCN had become part of a world-wide "Y" organization obtaining intelligence, through the monitoring of enemy wireless. Besides the intelligence gathering, this organization established a network of Direction Finding stations. Through triangulation of bearings originating from 10 stations in Canada and Newfoundland, another 10 stations in the USA, 13 stations in the UK, 2 in South Africa and five stations elsewhere around the world; they were able to fix positions of enemy units at sea.


An Allied "Y" Committee Conference with reps from England, United States and Canada was held in Washington DC on 17 Apr 1942.

The meeting's agenda included discussions on the duplication of intercept. Pointing out deficiencies of the "Y" effort in Canada. This conference discovered intercept received from Canadian sites; specifically Army and Navy west coast sites as duplication of effort.

In order to eliminate the duplication; it was recommended that Canada establish its own "Y" sub-committee within Canada allowing for collaboration between the services along with the building of closer ties between Canada and the US in these matters.

In conjunction with US efforts, closer ties were accomplished between Canada's Army, Navy and Air Force. In January 1943, approval was met for the linking of Canadian West Coast DF stations to the USN West Coast Net. This gave an uninterrupted semi-circle of DF stations from Kodiak Alaska to San Diego California. The USN control station at Bainbridge Washington was now indicating the frequency which Gordon Head would take a bearing, with results being passed to the USN.

The next integration between the Canadian stations and the USN west coast "Y" stations again occurred at Gordon Head. Thirteen receivers were allocated for specific Japanese naval frequencies in an effort to prevent duplication with the USN net. Finally in November, Bainbridge assumed control of assignments tasked to Canada.

As a result of this major organizational change, RCN operators were withdrawn from Coal Harbour and Ucluelet DF facilities to Gordon Head "Y" by June 1942. Canadian sources would transmit all raw materials to US, reference Japanese traffic and would receive whatever intelligence emerged. During this time Army and Air Force personnel were attached to this section for training in Kana Morse.


The RCN received several recommendations from the Chief of British "Y" mission during the same time period as the "Y" meeting held in Washington.

His recommendations began with building a DF station at Gloucester and a communication research/DF site in London Ontario.

In addition, the repairing and reconditioning of Cap D'Espoir, recently acquired from the RCAF and the construction of three DF/"Y" stations for an inland west coast organization. The suggested locations for the inland organization were Grand Prairie, Red Deer and Lethbridge Alberta. They would then be connected by a land line to a US Naval "Y" station to be erected in Montana; which in turn, would control a chain of inland USN DF stations. Building a DF station at Masset BC, which could be controlled by Gordon Head and the erection of Ionospheric Measurement Station at Churchill, Manitoba with equipment being supplied by the Admiralty rounded out the recommendations from the British.

However, the RCN had ideas of their own. In an effort to become self reliant, the RCN had decided to build new sites and expand others, thus eliminating their dependency on DOT and RCAF facilities.

The chosen site for this new station was Coverdale New Brunswick. It would house "Y" and Direction Finding capabilities for the purpose of monitoring German Naval frequencies. Once built, the Navy could dispense with use of both the DOT "Y" and DF stations at Hartlen Point along with the combined "Y"/DF station near Ottawa. (These DOT stations would then be employed on the interception of illicit W/T traffic in Canada under the control of the Army.)

It was the combination of RCN's plans for improvement and British recommendations that eventually lead to the expansion of the Navy's involvement in "Y".


On the recommendations by the British, a direction-finding station was erected in Gloucester, becoming operational in 1943. Upon conclusion of the war, Gloucester's role began to change; a portion of the facility was deactivated allowing it to be used as a training ground for Communications Special.


Massett (old spelling) being located at the northern end of Graham Island in the Queen Charlotte Islands group; saw its initial involvement with the military during the Second World War. Around 1940, the RCAF built a mesh landing strip located on Marwell Beach, outside Masset, adjacent offshore seaplane facilities - contributing to Allied Anti-Submarine Warfare operations in the Pacific.

Originally the RCN was established in Masset as a wireless station; part of a Navy Ship-Shore Communications Network sometime before 1942. Reports indicate Masset's role in the wireless "Y" business began when the 1942 Washington Conference put an end to any building of "Y"/DF sites on the West Coast. So the Navy revamped the wireless station in Masset for "Y"/DF intercepting.

The intercept started with three receivers assigned to Japanese Naval targets in November 1942. The Navy went ahead with full coverage of these assignments by the end of December. However, Masset was not without problems; a West Coast visit report mentions the very low output from Masset due to exceedingly low morale and erratic reception.

RCN reactivated Masset in 1949 as a HFDF station in the Sup Rad Sys conducting comm research. However, shortly after its reopening, the station was heavily damaged during an earthquake and operations were suspended until 1951. Since then it has played an active role in integrated RCN/USN Eastern Division Pacific High Frequency Direction Finding Network.

Females Make Their Mark

It was unclear when women officially began their role in wireless intercept. Information to date allows one to speculate that an increase in recruitment of women for shore duties such as wireless intercept began in 1943. By this time the war had taken its toll on the male population able for combat duties, leaving the RCN no other choice but to replenish its ranks with females. Not to say women couldn't do it otherwise, but given the time period, attitudes and beliefs by in large did not afford women the latitude.

The decision was made to replace male personnel at Gordon Head by RCNS operators which required a Japanese Morse (Kana) school opening at HMCS Signal School, Esquimalt in July 1944.

Approximately 85 WRCN operators were trained in Kana and by October 1st the first two classes of WRCNS arrived at Gordon Head.

Approximately four months later the switch was complete and from that day on the station was operated successfully by a WRCNS staff.

In September 1944 other sites such as DOT station at Strathburn and Naval W/T station at Lambeth Ontario were employing both male and female operators with females being in the majority at Strathburn.

During a visit to England by Lt. Low, he observed all "Z" operations and classification work was performed by British WRENS who were most capable. The RCN based their decision on this observation and decided that Canadian "Z" should be operated by WRCNS personnel, wherever this could be done considering the locations and amenities of the isolated Canadian stations. Two RN WRENS were requested and ultimately sent to Canada to train Canadian WREN personnel for these duties. They arrived November 1943 and spent three months between NSHQ and Gloucester and Harbour Grace stations.

The Final Years of WWII

In early 1945 Gordon Head remained the hub of the Navy's West Coast intercept operations, although intercept total was low due to unsuitable antennas and inexperienced WREN operators.

Winnipeg DOT station ceased providing seven positions to the Navy's war efforts in June on account that improvements had been made to antenna arrays at Gordon Head and the war was drawing to a close.

As for the naval East Coast operations, Coverdale continued to operate in a peacetime role. RCN personnel continued to operate out of the Gander facilities with equipment on loan from the American forces; despite the fact that control of the airport officially returned to Newfoundland after the war. When Newfoundland entered confederation in 1949; the RCN formally acquired the property now referred to as the Old Navy site - hence Naval Radio Station Gander was born.

The majority of the naval operations in sites owned by DOT or RCAF were deactivated during 1945-46.

Roots Take Hold in 1946 for Supplementary Radio Stations

Considering there was no immediate threat to Canada from Germany, there remained a cautiousness to the world political situation, specifically the Soviet Union. As well, all three services, the Army, Navy and Air Force had by now established receiving sites that could play an active role in peacetime. Providing assistance to Search and Rescue as well as keeping an ear on the political shaping of the world.

February 1946 saw the Canadian parliament through an Order in Council, grant the Joint Chief of Staff power to administrate and maintain facilities to collect data in support of communications research. The three military services would provide 100 positions: the Navy would be responsible for 40 manned positions, like for the Army, the Air Force responsible for the remaining 20 positions.

Canada established a civilian organization on 1 July 1946 - the Communications Branch National Research Council (CBNRC); their role was to govern Canada's SIGINT, and provide tasking for the military. The CBNRC being the forerunner to what is now known as Communications Security Establishment (CSE), received a report (date?) on the status of all Canadian post-war intercept facilities providing the following facts:

The Navy is responsible for 40 positions to be distributed as follows: Coverdale NB 20, Churchill Area 13, Prince Rupert BC seven. Presently, Coverdale is in existence with only four of the 20 positions manned; Churchill area will be built when cabinet approval is obtained. Prince Rupert BC station has been completed and vacancies have been filled by the Civil Service Commission. It will take two years for the Navy to provide the 40 intercept positions required.

It will be appreciated that the Communications Research Committee be called upon to inform the London Signals Intelligence Board and United States Communications Intelligence Board of the progress of intercept facilities in Canada which we agreed to provide as a contribution to the overall SIGINT effort.

It is felt that the slow progress made during the last seven months and the unpromising outlook may have an adverse effect on Canada's position in the SIGINT field. Moreover, it is feared that our failure to make more progress may seriously affect the overall intercept program, which will in turn reduce the volume of Signals Intelligence urgently required by using authorities in UK, USA and Canada. So far as our own Communications Branch is concerned, this may seriously affect the assignments upon which we are at present working.

This report went on to provide recommendations out of concern for Canada's present role, or lack of, in the SIGINT community. The report suggested that there is a higher priority placed on the manpower requirements for the intercept stations. The report made an example of the Army: "the Army's priority for recruiting intercept operators in the Royal Canadian Signals as only fifth from the top is not good enough." The report stressed the need for acceleration in the building and equipping process at the RCAF stations in the Whitehorse area, the Navy station in the Churchill area, as well as the new Army station in the Vancouver area. The latter would replace the two existing Special Wireless stations at Victoria BC and Grande Prairie, Alberta.

The Navys Position in Communications Research

The Navy began their concentrated efforts in Communications Research by choosing the direction finding facility situated at Gloucester Ont, as the home for this unique business 29 Dec 1947. By early 1948, they had initiated Gloucester as the administrative HQ and trade school - co-locating it with HMCS GLOUCESTER (HFDF).

The Navy enjoyed a luxury that was not shared by the Army or Air Force services; the abundance of personnel. This enabled them to generate a separate trade.

Operators were selected from the nine regular sea branch radioman trades - all sea going. They were drafted from their shipboard billets, inland to Gloucester for specialized training and formed the nucleus of this unique and newly formed branch known as Communications Special Branch.

The mid-fifties saw a change of names; Communications Special became Communications Supplementary (CS). During 1960, they became known as Radiomen Special (RS) - until settling on Communicator Research during the integration process of 1966.

In order to provide the 40 positions required of them station wise; the Navy reactivated Churchill facilities under the name Naval Radio Station (NRS) Churchill in May of 1948 and acquired Gander's radio facilities when Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949 - renaming it NRS Gander. They would also reactivate Coverdale and open NRS Aklavik, thus eliminating their original intentions of establishing themselves at Prince Rupert, BC.


NRS Churchill was established 1 August 1943 during WWII as an ionospheric station by the RCN in support of the U-boat HFDF net. Following the war, Churchill was demobilized until the Navy afforded additional construction to the Churchill location, reopening as NRS Churchill which once again provided HFDF. During the ensuing year, in an effort to provide forty positions for communication research, NRS Churchill expanded its operational commitment into the SIGINT field and was commissioned 1 Dec 1950 as HMCS CHURCHILL.

The station was located near Fort Churchill situated on the southwest side of Hudson Bay at the mouth of the Churchill River, Manitoba. This station continued to operate until 15 June 1965, where upon SIGINT operations officially ceased.


In July 1949 the RCN established NRS Aklavik, Aklavik NWT.

During the early stages of this site, personnel consisted of six to 12 men with a Petty Officer in charge. Personnel were provided accommodation for dependants, however when the site originally opened, personnel and their families along with the permanent residents weathered rustic conditions, and severe hardships. Conditions they had not endeared before: the town lacked central heating, water and sewage, or modern fully equipped houses.

Although Aklavik grew to be a moderately settled town by the early 1950s, it's restricted waterways and instability of the silt and permafrost terrain were considered by experts as inadequate for the new construction. This site would later be replaced by NRS Inuvik in 1961.


It's not known specifically when Coverdale was opened, however it is believed to have initially begun its role in the RCN as an HFDF site as early as 1941. The Coverdale station was located approximately three miles from Moncton New Brunswick, on the opposite side of the Petitcodiac River. Reports indicate that a HFDF site opened in 1941 contributing to Allied ASW operations in the Atlantic during the Second World War. Initially it was staffed by WRCNS, but as part of the Navy's self-reliant plans, new buildings "Y" and HFDF activities were constructed sometime in 1943 with operations commencing in 1944.

After the war the station continued to provide HFDF support for SAR purposes in addition to maintaining a small nucleus of trained operators. With the post war slump ending on the decision for Communications Research, Coverdale's potential value was once again appreciated. Gradual enlargement of the operational scope and physical facilities took place. In 1949 the station was commissioned as HMCS COVERDALE. The station continued to provide support to anti-sub activity, SAR activity and maintain research facilities in support of the Communications Research of NRC.

In 1950 the RCN and the United States Navy (USN) agreed to coordinate and standardize direction-finding activities for search and rescue operations in the Atlantic. Coverdale, along with her sister station at NRS Gander became members of the CANUS Atlantic High Frequency Direction Finding Network. With this new agreement, came an operator exchange program between the USN and RCN. Coverdale would eventually be closed July 1971 as part of the Beagle project.


Chimo an Eskimo word for "Are you Friendly" was given to Fort Chimo and the location for a naval HFDF site between 1949 and 1952. This site was located just south of Ungava Bay in northern Quebec. Due to logistic problems this site was deactivated in favour of a more suitable site located on Baffin Island known as Frobisher Bay.


NRS Frobisher Bay began operating in the RCN-USN Atlantic HFDF net in 1953, replacing the facilities at Fort Chimo. The station was located along side several other military and civilian operations already being carried out here by Canadians and United States government agencies.

In 1958 on request from the United States Navy, NRS Frobisher began acting as a Naval Communication Facility (NAVCOMFAC) providing a relay for comms with United States Military Sea Transport Ships (MSTS) engaged in replenishment and supply of Distant Early Warning (DEW) surveillance stations in the eastern Arctic.

Annually between May and October, six additional radiomen from the Pacific Command and one ET2 from the USSN were posted to the station to carry out the MSTS resupply. Due to the lack of available work space; these operators were forced to set up operations in the narrow entrance way of the USAF Strategic Air Command receiving site located in Frobisher at the time. By 1960 a new operational building was built, which allowed room for both the HFDF operations and NAVCOMFAC.

Prior to 1960 the complement consisted of one officer and 13 men, the officer position was normally filled by a CPO; however by 1965 the complement went as high as one officer and 23 Radiomen Special.

Restructuring SRS

On the 7 Sep 1950, the Navy not satisfied with its reorganization to this point, instituted a Senior Officer Supplementary Radio Stations who would report to the Director of Supplementary Radio Activities (DSRA). By 1951, all Naval Radio Stations of the Royal Canadian Navy that did not fall within the terms of general communications, were grouped together under the command of the newly assigned Senior Officer, Supplementary Radio Stations (SOSRS). The Senior Officer who landed this appointment would also have the additional responsibilities of Commanding Officer of HMCS GLOUCESTER. The four smaller stations designated NRS, remained commanded by an Officer-in-Charge or Chief Petty Officer-in-Charge, tenders to HMCS GLOUCESTER.

The stations comprising this new organization were: HMCS GLOUCESTER, HMCS COVERDALE, HMCS CHURCHILL, NRS Gander, NRS Aklavik, NRS Masset, and NRS Fort Chimo.

During the period of 1951-62 the stations expanded and the number of Communicator Special/Supplementary (CS) persons increased in numbers accordingly.

The Navy in the 60s


The RCN had been established in the western Arctic since 1949 with facilities in Aklavik. During the early 1950s emphasis on northern development came to the forefront in the political minds of Canada. A need for national influence and presence in the north sent northern planners searching for a focal point; which would provide improved facilities for linking the remainder of Canada with the western Arctic by air and water. As well as allow for proper administration, education and medical care facilities. Aklavik's terrain considered by experts to be inadequate for the proposed new construction resulted in a search for a more appropriate location. This location was on the east channel of the Mackenzie River Delta, about 50 miles south of Mackenzie Bay in the NWT, 68 degrees north by 33 degrees west. The place would be called Inuvik (an Inuit word meaning "Place of Man".

Construction of the town commenced in July 1958 and with it so did the construction of NRS Inuvik.

NRS Inuvik became operational at 0001Z on the 20th of March 1961. The Inuvik station would later be commissioned on 10 Sep 1963 and be officially recognized as HMCS INUVIK. By 1964 there were 106 Radiomen Special, five officers and 30 civilians. The site would become an exciting posting for many military personnel until its closure in 1986.


Due to Bermuda's excellent geographical location, it was believed that a HFDF facility built on her soil could fill a critical gap in the expanding RCN-USN HFDF Atlantic network. However the Bermuda government had reservations on allowing the Americans who were already occupying Bermuda land to acquire more. Instead, after many negotiations, the Bermuda government gave the necessary permission for the Royal Canadian Navy to establish a receiving site located at Daniel's Head Somerset, with a transmitter at Ireland Island Bermuda. Both locations being part of a British Royal Navy Wireless Station that operated between 1939-49.

The site was activated on a one year trial basis as of the 3 July 1963. The initial complement comprised of one officer, and fourteen men, unaccompanied; with the USN providing accommodation. Over the course of less than a year, the site proved to be a success, thus becoming a permanent station on 1 April 1964.

Within the next three years the site underwent a face-lift with erecting of permanent antenna pads and other necessary construction required in making it a permanent site. In the early days, Gloucester was responsible for drafting people who were coming to Bermuda.

Men would be made dental fit, provided with NRS cap tallies, transport warrants, travelling route orders, government bills of lading for 160 pounds of surface luggage, kit and all the necessary inoculations.

By the end of 1963 the HFDF Atlantic network in which the RCN was participating with USN had expanded. RCN now had five sites to the USN's ten. The RCN stations were: Frobisher, Coverdale, Gander, Gloucester and Bermuda. This Atlantic HFDF was primarily providing support to the CANUS and NATO anti-sub warfare operations and Search and Rescue (SAR) activity.

Integration and Unification

"Integration and Unification," on 19 July 1966 created the Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio Systems (CFSRS) and the inception of Military Occupation Code 291, Communicator Research (Comm Rsch) Trade.

Modeled after the Supplementary Radio Station organization that existed in the Navy for 20 years, CFSRS would be responsible for all stations actively involved in Communications Research.

Stations previously controlled independently by the three services would now be directed by a Commander headquartered at HMCS GLOUCESTER. Each station name to be preceded by Canadian Forces Station (CFS) and the officers were made Commanding Officers responsible to the Commander in Gloucester. Army and Air Force personnel at all ranks were posted to HQ as staff for this integrated system.

Canadian Forces Stations

The Army sites to join this organization would now be known as CFS Alert NWT, CFS Leitrim Ont and CFS Ladner BC. The RCAF's stations would now be known as CFS Whitehorse Yukon, and CFS Flin Flon, Manitoba. Remaining sites being provided by the RCN would now be known as CFS Churchill Manitoba, CFS Inuvik NWT, CFS Gloucester Ont, CFS Bermuda, CFS Frobisher Bay NWT, CFS Coverdale NB, CFS Gander NF and CFS Masset BC.

This newly organized system known as Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio Systems, would be responsible for the operation of facilities conducting communications research and HF direction finding, providing information to CFHQ and other authorized agencies.

The 291'ER IS BORN

On 1 October 1966 members from the Royal Canadian Navy Radioman Special (RS) trade, along with Radio Telegraphic Operators (R & TG) of the Royal Canadian Signals Corps and Royal Canadian Air Force Communications Operators (Comm Ops) woke up and began their duties under this name, Communicator Research. Their new Military Occupation Code (MOC) was 291.

Prior to this date, men from the Army R & TG trade and the Air Force Comm Op trade had the option of remaining in their original trade or becoming a 291'er. Having had a taste of what this trade was all about, the majority of operators chose to become 291'ers.


Not long after the inception of CFSRS did people see the need for cost cutting measures. SRS had several isolated stations costing enormous amounts of money to maintain.

The combination of high costs and advancements in technology lead to reorganizing and modernizing SRS activities under "Project Beagle". The goal of this project was to reduce maintenance cost and enhance operational effectiveness all the while maintaining continuity.

By May 1972 Project Beagle had largely been completed. The first of several stations to close was located at Frobisher Bay (closed 1 Nov 1967), followed by Churchill (closed 15 June 1968), Whitehorse (closed 1 July 1968), Coverdale (closed 15 June 1971) and Ladner (closed 15 July 1971).

Alert, Inuvik, Leitrim, Gander, Masset and Bermuda all saw expansion and modernization. In fact, upon the closure of Ladner, personnel and equipment at Ladner were moved to CFS Masset to complement the newly built operations building. The same was said for Coverdale's closure, all operators and equipment were transferred to Gander's newly constructed ops building (present day location).


In her infancy, NRS Gloucester was a HFDF site. Operations began here on 23 February 1943. By 1945, Gloucester's role began to change, with a portion of the facility being deactivated and used as a training ground for Communications Special. Eventually the site became the official school for the Special Communications Branch with its first course commencing in 1948. Commissioned in 1950, HMCS GLOUCESTER became not only the training facility, but also the home of the Special Communications Branch. Its CO being the Senior Officer for all Special Radio Stations (SOSRS); responsible for the administration and supervision of all Special Communication Stations. Gloucester's motto would become "Knowledge through Discipline".

HMCS GLOUCESTER continued to be home for many naval recruits through the 50 and 60s, until the fall of 1972 at which time it was moved to Canadian Forces School of Communications Electronics & Engineers, Kingston Ontario. (Now known as Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics.)

The following was taken from a recruit's brochure on HMCS GLOUCESTER and the Special Communications Branch printed in 1960 stated the following:

The Special Communications Branch maintains normal point-to-point naval communications links and provides radio direction-finding support for the US-Canadian Search and Rescue Service. It lends communication support to the Distant Early Warning Radar Line, and it supplies information used in communication research and development. These, of course, are only its shore commitments. The Branch also has its sea-going component, a component whose men are engaged in what is called Electronic Warfare.

The Basic Course which the trainee faces in Gloucester prepares him towards qualifying for his first trade group. The course lasts twenty-two weeks, during it the trainee learns to read the Morse Code at twenty-two words per minute and to type at thirty words per minute.

He also learns communication procedures used in the handling of messages and is taught how to operate and maintain many pieces of radio equipment.

When he has completed the Basic Course in Gloucester the Radioman Special is drafted either to sea or to one of three operational stations - either NRS Aklavik in the NWT, HMCS CHURCHILL at Fort Churchill Manitoba or to HMCS COVERDALE in Moncton NB.

He then commences a three month on-the-job training period at the end of which he is eligible to write his trade Group One qualifying examinations.

The 70s and Onwards

Although the brunt of Integration and Unification was now behind them, operators were still getting used to results of tri-service.

Gone were the individual rank structures of the three services; jargon and terminology often unique to individual services was now being spread amongst the trade and would eventually be accepted by newcomers as simply - military jargon - not knowing the association with specific elements.

SRS continued to see changes in its own right, the 4th January 1971 SRS HQ moved from Gloucester to be co-located with DCIS on the 4th floor of "A" Building, Cartier Square. Project Beagle saw its completion in the summer of 1971 with the closures of Coverdale and Ladner.

By October 1972 the transfer of trades training for 291'ers moved from Gloucester to CFSCEE, Echo Company, Kingston, Ontario; CFS Gloucester closing on completion of the move.

Command and Control of CFSRS continued to change hands; by the spring of 1976, complete control of SRS transferred from NDHQ/VCDS to the Commander of Canadian Forces Communication Command (CFCC). As a result, several months late, CFSRS HQ packed its bags and moved to be co-located with CFCC HQ at Tunney's Pasture (also known as the "Green Box").

Next to no changes were made in the administrative structure of CFSRS during the late 70s and early 80s. 291'ers continued to work hard and play hard, in a trade that continued to be restricted to male personnel only.

By the end of 1984, the trade was beginning to see and adapt to female operators at the outstations - ending approximately 25 years of operation without females. Initially, the number of female operators remained low, but has since progressed As a result of more technological advancements along with political decisions, 291'ers began to see a change in scenery.

CFS Inuvik ceased operations 1 April 1986. All personnel who had the pleasure of being posted there have sorely missed this station.

To accommodate the flock of 291'ers making their way south from Inuvik, the trade saw expansion in their duties at 1st Canadian Signals Regiment Kingston Ontario. In addition, 771 Communications Research Squadron was authorized as a unit 14 October 1987 to be located at CSE, The following year a Letter of Agreement signed by CFSRS/MARCOM/CSE established a Cryptologic Direct Support Element (CDSE) at 770 CRS. Prior to the establishing of CDSE, 291'ers saw duty aboard ships on a "as required" basis.

In 1989 the formation of CFSRS Det Augsburg Germany was established with one officer and 32 NCM. Unfortunately due to political changes, the Americans chose to close this installation, resulting in a short-lived posting for 291'ers.

A permanent posting at Fort Meade was eventually established due to the high quality of work displayed by those fortunate 291'ers who could be temporarily posted there, during the Gulf War.

The trade has gone through a lot of changes in its history, and the future holds even more. It appears, as we head into the mid 1990s, with yet another round of budget cuts, combined with technological advancements, the world of a 291'er will see significant re-shaping.

CFS Leitrim continues to expand, to accommodate the remoting of various SRS stations. As a result, future 291'ers may never see another posting other than Ottawa.

The often-talked about experiences shared from a posting to CFS Alert, could become a thing of the past for a 291'er. Future operators will only hear about Alert through war stories from those who have been. No longer will 291'ers be able to enjoy the tranquil life of fishing and hunting, associated with a posting to Masset BC. The single personnel will never experience the party life in Gander. These are just a few of the social changes that will be negated from a trade known for its kinship.

As before, the trade has been forced to shrink its number of postings. One can only hope that we the present and the future 291'ers will uphold the pride, the professionalism and the character of those who we have replaced.