History of the Northwest Territories Yukon and Radio System (1950-60)
|«--||History of the Northwest Territories Yukon and Radio System
There were no station changes during 1950 but demands for trained personnel for field units in Korea seriously depleted the unit strength resulting in the curtailment of services rendered at various stations. Most of the personnel posted to the Active Force Brigade Group were single and as married accommodations at most northern stations were quite limited, the problem of suitable replacements was rendered doubly difficult Some single replacements were supplied, fresh from Group I training at the School of Signals, but required Meteorological training and considerable on-the-job experience before being able to carry their weight so their usefulness was confined mainly to the smaller stations. A stepped-up program for the construction of more married quarters in the north was adopted but it would be a year or two before this would alleviate the situation to any extent.
Winter Army Exercise requirements claimed the services of 13 System personnel during the first 3 months of the year. Employed at Whitehorse on Exercise "Sweetbriar" were WO 1 Vince, WO 2s Crowell and O'Ray, Sgt. Oslund, Sigs Ellis, Jenkins, Mcroberts, Subsbear and Hogan and at Churchill on Exercise "Sundog " were Maj. McCauley, SSgt. Runnalls and Sgts. MacKnight and Thibeault
Tragedy was to strike the System twice during 1950. First, at approximately midnight 24th April, a private motor car driven by Cpl. Bob McKenzie, with three other unit personnel as passengers, went out of control and crashed into a telephone pole 8 blocks south of the Radio Station, on 127th Street in Edmonton. Sig. Ken Stewart was killed, McKenzie suffered a broken jaw and chest injuries, Sig. Howe a broken leg and back injuries and Sig. Newman a broken leg and face lacerations. The second occasion was late in the evening of 22nd December when Cpl. Johnny Kot was found dead in a shed at the rear of his home.
Another fine example of Signals `derring-do' in the north occurred at Hay River, NWT in May 1950, bringing the award of the King's Commendation for Brave Conduct to Sig. Mike Carter. On his own initiative and knowing full well the risk involved, Carter crossed and recrossed the flooded, ice-jammed mouth of the Hay River, delivering messages and instructions in connection with a seriously ill Indian woman. Later, when instructions were received from a doctor to evacuate the woman to Yellowknife Hospital, Carter again crossed the river and assisted in bringing the patient back on a stretcher. Brave and selfless acts such as related above served only to further enhance the fine reputation the System personnel had been creating throughout the North for close on to 30 years.
Commercial Telegraph communications were cut off in Canada from the 22nd to 30th of August 1950 during the Railway strike. However the operation of the NWT&Y Radio System was not affected to any great extent. Traffic which was normally accepted from northern stations and passed to CN or CP telegraphs in Edmonton for local delivery or furtherance was now either phoned or mailed from the Edmonton Radio Station if for local delivery or airmailed to destination if for points beyond Edmonton. Also, outgoing traffic for northern points was accepted at Edmonton Radio Station provided it was prepaid. The strike was settled and normal communications were restored before the situation created any complicated problems.
Commercial traffic handled by the above means during the strike period approximated 55% of normal, the percentage drop being attributable of course to the fact that customers across Canada outside the city of Edmonton had no means of filing traffic for transmission to stations of the NWT&Y Radio System, such traffic normally being filed at CN or CP Telegraph offices which were now closed. Local Edmonton traffic to and from the north was affected only to a minor degree as extra phones were put into service at the Edmonton Radio Station to cope with delivery and acceptance of traffic and extensive use was made of the mail service.
Commercial traffic from Yukon points such as Dawson and Mayo, normally transferred to the Northwest Communication System (CN) at Whitehorse, dropped to practically nil when northern Communication System suspended service. Customers preferred to utilize the excellent airmail facilities between their points and the 'outside' rather than file a telegram which could only be handled by normal means as far as Whitehorse, then airmailed to destination.
Inter-station traffic on the System was affected in a small way as transportation companies business in the north slumped to a certain extent due to the non-delivery of freight at terminals.
The emergency measures adopted by the NWT&Y Radio System for delivery and acceptance of commercial traffic during the strike period were quite adequate and could in no way be construed as "strike-breaking ".
As in 1950, Active Force Brigade demands continued to deplete the unit of trained soldier personnel to the extent that it was operating on 75% of its establishment. As no soldier replacements could be expected, authority was obtained to hire civilians to cover the soldier vacancies thus affording some measure of relief. These civilians also required Meteorological training and considerable on-the-job experience before being able to take their share of the load.
Despite the fact that the System was operating 25% under establishment, there were still five officers and 200 ORs and civilians on strength which, by comparison with the total strength of one officer and approximately 50 ORs shortly after the outbreak of World War in 1939, clearly indicated the expansion which had taken place.
Early in 1951 it was decided that the interests of the Army would be better served if the responsibility for communications in Whitehorse, and from there to Dawson and Mayo, be transferred from the NWT&Y Radio Station to the Canadian Army Signal System under direct control of the Northwest Highway System Headquarters (Whitehorse). There were various reasons for this decision, mainly the fact that the Army's operational status in Whitehorse had increased since 1946 to the extent that it was now filing approximately 60% of the total traffic handled by the Whitehorse Radio Station. Also, all commercial traffic received from Dawson and Mayo and commercial traffic filed locally for Edmonton and points beyond must be transmitted over the commercial company landline facilities now available, therefore the NWT&Y Radio System had no good reason for maintaining wireless communication between Whitehorse and Edmonton.
So, effective the 1st of June 1951, the Whitehorse Radio Station operated by the NWT&Y Radio System since 1935, was deleted from the System establishment. Although now a CASS station, Whitehorse was still responsible for relaying traffic to and from the System stations at Dawson and Mayo and was responsible directly to the OC NWT&Y Radio System for the accounting for commercial traffic and revenue and, the handling of Department of Transport weather reports. The only channel of communication between System Headquarters and Whitehorse was now through the Edmonton Major Tape Relay and over the leased landline facilities of the CASS.
The deletion of Whitehorse brought the System station strength down to 22.
Also in June 1951, the System lost four prominent personnel, well-known throughout the Signal Corps, when their applications for commissions were accepted. Selected for a Classified Commission was WO 1 Hugh "Snoot" Ross , famous primarily for his prominent proboscis and secondarily as an operator at Fort Norman in the 1930s, IC McMurray in the 1940s and IC Yellowknife at the time of selection. The other three were candidates for Short Service Commissions. They were: SSgt. Ron Routledge, winner of the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his exploits with a secret radio transmitter in a Jap prisoner-of-war camp after the fall of Hong Kong; Cpl. Joe McIsaac, whose ready wit and inimitable style of writing when reporting the 'notes of Interest' from the various isolated northern stations had delighted countless readers for a number of years; and Cpl. Bud White, winner of the King's Commendation for Brave conduct in the rescue of a man from drowning at Fort Chipewyan two years before. They would be sorely missed and were but the first of many to depart the System in the next few years to become officers.
The manpower situation continued to worsen during 1952 as more qualified NCOs were posted to the Active Brigade and the few replacements provided, being trained only to Field Unit Level, lacked the ability to operate at a satisfactory rate of speed. Attempts were made to hire civilian operators but suitably qualified ones, willing to serve in the north, were very hard to find, especially in view of the fact that the Department of Transport was also on the search for operators and at a much higher rate of pay.
The shortage of Radio Mechanics was also acute and it was necessary to form an inspection and repair tem based in Edmonton to visit all stations at regular intervals carrying out technical inspections, maintenance and repairs.
Meantime the System's overall commitments were steadily increasing with the volume of commercial traffic being up 19,000 messages over the previous year. This appreciable increase was due largely to the frenzied interest in Uranium, centred in the Beaverlodge Lake area of northern Saskatchewan and in base metals in the Mayo, YT area. In fact, at times, the dally volume of commercial traffic handled to and from Beaverlodge Lake exceeded that handled collectively by the rest of the System but generally amounted to approximately 30% of the total System commercial traffic.
To partially offset the increasing difficulties encountered in properly carrying out the commitments with the establishment so far under strength it was decided that the responsibility for operating some of the smaller, more isolated stations where weather reporting was the main function should be shouldered by the Department of Transport.
In this manner it was hoped to make operators available for posting to the larger stations where their services were more urgently required. It had been found necessary to increase the staff of Beaverlodge Lake Radio Station from two to five to cope with the increase in business at that point. Other stations were in similar straits.
Embarras Radio Station, taken over by RC Signals from US Signals in November 1944, was the first station to go on the abovementioned basis and was handed over to Department of Transport on 1st June 1952. Other stations would follow as and when the Department of Transport was able to provide the personnel to man them.
The loss of Embarras reduced the System station strength to 2 1.
The policy of equipping as many as possible of the married quarters with furniture at Department of Defence expense in order to facilitate posting of married personnel to and from northern stations was continued during 1952. Eleven sets of furniture were shipped to such stations as Norman wells, Simpson, Resolution, Providence, Brochet and Fort Smith, bringing to 22 the total number of married quarters completely furnished.
Technically, numerous improvements were made at various stations, mainly to the antenna systems, control lines and emergency power equipment, while at Headquarters in Edmonton most of the equipment for the installation of low and high frequency radioteletype at Edmonton, Yellowknife, Smith, Simpson and Norman Wells was received.
With the long-hoped-for advance from hand-keyed circuits to radioteletype operation about to become a reality, arrangements were made with the US Signal Corps in June 1952 for the TMO, Capt. Walt Stevenson and his Foreman of Signals WO 1 Don Bastock to visit the Alaskan Communication System Headquarters in Seattle, Washington to study the radioteletype equipment and circuits in operation there. The week of 17-2 1 June was spent in this endeavour and much useful knowledge was obtained.
The year also saw three more Warrant Officers selected for Classified Commissions thereby depleting the ranks of the brass-pounders still further.
First, WO 2 Cy Jones, who had been in charge at Norman Wells off and on since June 1946, (he and Bastock seemed to have this station cornered, the command having alternated between them at least twice during this period) was relieved by Sgt. "Nancy" McPherson, commissioned and posted off the System.
Next, WO 2 Gordie Ingram, a pre-war System vet, who had just relinquished command at Aklavik and assumed similar duties at Fort Simpson, was commissioned and posted to Edmonton, taking over the duties of System TMO vice Capt. Walt Stevenson, who had been in ill health and was now returned to the RCS of S.
Then, to culminate the year's personnel sabotage, WO 2 Gordie Drinnan, another pre-war System vet, now employed as a shift supervisor at the control station in Edmonton, was selected for similar up-grading. On commissioning, Lt. Drinnan was used to cover the unit Quartermaster vacancy. This vacancy had existed since 1951, when Capt. Johnny Johnston was retired due to ill health thus throwing an extremely heavy extra burden on the CO and 21C in the interim.
The policy of bringing out certain selected personnel from northern stations for Diesel Mechanic training at Union Tractor Company, Edmonton was continued, with 8 men satisfactorily completing their courses during the year. This type of training had commenced in the late '40s and consisted usually of two months practical maintenance and repair work under the guidance of experienced Diesel Mechanics in the Union Tractor shop.
A sharp decrease in the number of power plant failures at stations where such personnel were employed readily showed the value of the training.
The system's 30th anniversary year saw no change in the number of stations in operation. However great strides were made in the expansion of radioteletype facilities at some of the larger stations.
Testing of high frequency RTT transmissions between Edmonton and Yellowknife, which had been carried out spasmodically since 1946, and finally borne fruit. Many technical difficulties had overcome, modifications made to the equipment and antennae, and traffic was now being handled both ways with a good percentage of reliability. In addition, low frequency RTT equipment had been installed at Edmonton and Yellowknife, which increased the flexibility of the circuit tremendously.
By year's end both low and high frequency RTT circuits were also in operation between Edmonton and Fort Smith while Fort Simpson and Norman Wells, the other two main stations, patiently awaited receipt of certain items of equipment from Ordnance to complete similar RTT installations.
The old dyed-in-the-wool brass-pounders did not readily accept new-fangled, 60 word-a-minute, automatic equipment, in fact they looked upon it with contempt and scorned its use unless supervised closely by wiser superiors. Eventually however even the most bitter unbeliever was grudgingly forced to admit that, despite numerous re runs when conditions were poor, R TT operation was far superior to the fastest hand-keyed circuit.
The die-hard Morse operators had their chance to gloat though on many occasions during the summer months when high frequency blackouts and extremely heavy atmospherics on low frequencies rendered the RTT circuits utterly useless for hours at a time and sometimes for several days on end. At such times it was still possible to switch over to CW and pass intelligence between stations. Granted it was a slow arduous procedure, sometimes calling for the transmission of each word two or three times, but nevertheless it was possible to keep urgent traffic, such as aircraft movement reports, cleared, until conditions returned to normal on the RTT circuits.
During such exasperating periods when the keyboard operators sat around twiddling their thumbs while the Morse operators kept the traffic moving slowly, one important fact became quite clear, namely the versatility of the Morse operator. Under normal conditions he was not only expected to function on the CW circuits, but also do his share of key work on the RTT circuits. He was quite capable of this dual role. The reverse was not true in the case of the keyboard operator having no knowledge of Morse, was limited to his own trade and the moment the RTT circuits became inoperative he became ineffective until such time as they were restored.
Another improvement that took place at most stations on the System during 1953 was the replacement of military pattern vehicles by commercial pattern, Four Dodge 4 X 4 trucks were retained for use at Dawson, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells and Yellowknife because of the rugged terrain over which the vehicles must operate. Seven commercial half-ton panel trucks and one station wagon were shipped to northern stations while two half-ton panels, one station wagon, one 3-ton stake truck and one 114-ton utility truck were taken into use at Headquarters in Edmonton. The conversion simplified the vehicle maintenance and repair problem especially at northern locations where only the services of civilian garages were available.
During January and February the facilities of the Norman Wells Radio Station were used for Neutral Sigs purposed in connection with Army Exercise "Bulldog 1 ". The aim of this Exercise was for friendly airborne assault troops to dislodge enemy paratroops which had previously captured the Imperial Oil Refinery and all important installations in the area including the RC Signals transmitter and receiver sites. System personnel from Edmonton, WO 1 Cal Vince acting as Signalmaster, WO 2 Ed Newnham, operator and WO 2 Walt Dawson and Sgt. Jack French as radio mechanics bolstered the station staff during the exercise.
At Yellowknife, the interchange of weather traffic between the Department of Transport weather office at the airport and the RC Signals Radio Station was speeded up considerably by the installation of a teletype loop to replace the FM radiotelephone link.
Again considerable attention was given to improving antenna systems. Beveridge antennas were erected by technical maintenance personnel at Brochet, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells and Yellowknife.
Later in the year SSgt. Ozzie Oslund, in charge at Fort Simpson achieved some measure of distinction by being chosen to attend a Foreman of Signals course in England.
It was not a particularly exciting year for the 30th Anniversary but nevertheless a busy and satisfying one.
Late in January, in a quest for further knowledge of radioteletype operation which was still much of a mystery to most of the System personnel Maj. Charlie Jessop and Lt. Gordie Ingram paid a week's visit to the US Signal Corps Alaska Communication System Headquarters in Seattle. Information gained there assisted materially in completing the RTT installations at Norman Wells and Fort Simpson, and improving the circuits already in operation. By July, both low and high frequency RTT circuits were put into service between Edmonton-Norman Wells and Edmonton-Fort Simpson. Also three 2.5 KW Wilcox transmitters (HF) were put into use at Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells. This meant that the five main stations, Edmonton, Fort Smith, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells were now right up-to date as regards communication equipment and capable of coping with any foreseeable volume of traffic.
While all these technical improvements were taking place, the Unit Quartermaster's staff had not been idle. The conversion of all northern stations from self-accounting sub-units to distribution areas of Unit OM at Headquarters was steadily being carried out. OM representatives visited each station carrying out station audits and conversion . The changeover was completed in February. The new accounting procedure resulted in a more efficient method for handling stores and equipment.
Four more sets of PMO furniture were shipped north bringing to 26 the total number of furnished PMQs. These PMQs were located at: Aklavik - 2; Brochet - 1; Dawson - 1; Fort Good Hope - 2; Fort Norman - 2; Fort Providence - 1; Fort Resolution - 3; Fort Simpson - 4; Fort Smith - 4; Norman Wells - 4; Port Radium - 1; and Wrigley - 1. An additional 5 sets were ordered for delivery in 1955.
With oil-heating, running water and complete furniture now available, living in quarters on a northern station had lost all the fearsome pioneering aspects of 20 and more years ago. During the old days one bucked, split and piled one's annual supply of firewood, hauled drinking water in pails from the nearest unpolluted well, sometimes up to half a mile distant, melted snow in a tub all day Saturday to obtain enough water for the weekly communal bath and performed many other intriguing little chores. In fact all modem refinements of city life could now be found at all except the most remote northern stations.
Construction of new antenna systems, control lines etc had become too great a task for the limited technical maintenance staff to contend with the 1954 program so a 7-man line crew was brought in from RCS of S at Kingston to assist. This crew was busily employed at various stations from the 1st of May right through until 'freeze-up' in late October.
Both Quartermaster and Technical Maintenance Sections of Unit Headquarters had been fast outgrowing their accommodations and the point had been reached when something must be done about it. It was decided that combining the two departments in one new building would result in the more efficient operation of both. Therefore plans were drawn up on this basis, approval obtained and tenders called for a combined QM/TM building with construction to start in 1955.
In the traffic department peak volume was reached 10- 11 August, when HRH, the Duke of Edinburgh was in the Northwest Territories on his aerial tour of Northern Canada. A press party of approximately 20 accompanied HRH in order that full coverage would be given to his every activity. Signals prepared themselves well in advance for the expected deluge of press reports by sending in extra personnel to Fort Simpson, Port Radium and Yellowknife, all scheduled as stops for the Royal Tour.
A small aerial armada was required to move the complete party. The RCAF supplied 5 Cansos, 2 Mitchells and 2 Dakotas; the RCM Police one Norseman and Wardair, Yellowknife, one Otter on floats.
Complete air-ground coverage was supplied to this fleet by RC Signals stations at Fort Simpson and Port Radium. This was quite a task.
Normally August is the peak traffic month of the year with conditions usually at their poorest and this year was no exception. However despite adverse conditions, well in excess of 20,000 words of press, in addition to normal commitments, were handled with a minimum of delay during the 2-day tour period. Thousands of words, in addition to those handled by Sigs, were written by the prolific fourth-estaters during the same period but mercifully this over abundance was flown to Edmonton by a RCAF Silver Starjet courier.
With no noticeable weeping or gnashing of teeth the Signals Territorial Eskimo Medical Clinic otherwise known as RC Signals Radio Station, Ennadai Lake, was turned over to the Department of Transport on the 18th of September 1954. All equipment on the station, except stores of an exclusive military nature, were handed over.
The operation, maintenance and administration of this station had been extremely difficult during its five-year existence due mainly to its remoteness. Those difficulties were further complicated by the almost continuous necessity of rendering aid to the Kazan River group of Eskimos living in the area, to save them from extinction by sickness and starvation.
The loss of Ennadai Lake left the System with 20 stations in operation.
Although semi-annual inspection trips to all northern stations had been carried out by the CO or his representative over the years, during which station and personnel problems were discussed, there had always appeared to be need for the station commanders to meet centrally in order to exchange views on common difficulties encountered and to iron out inter-station problems.
It was decided that the ideal solution would be to bring all the station commanders out to Edmonton at the same time once a year for this purpose and in addition bring them up-to-date on all operational and administrative matters pertaining to northern stations of the System.
Thus was born the first NWT&Y Radio System Station Commanders Course which was conducted at Headquarters from 29th November to 10th December 1954.
Arrangements were made with the RCAF to pick up personnel involved at Norman Wells, Simpson, Yellowknife and Fort Smith where they had been assembled from the smaller stations by other means. Return arrangements were of a similar nature.
The course syllabus included lectures of Administration, Stores Accounting, Traffic Handling and Accounting and Technical Maintenance all given by NWT&Y Radio System Headquarters department heads. In addition, outside sources were called upon to provide lectures on such related subjects as Army Works Services, Weather Reporting, Ground Observer Duties in regard to Unidentified Aircraft and Flying Objects and pay and Pension matters. Many free discussion periods were allowed for in connection with each subject during which all uncertainties and problems were thrashed out and clarified. Refresher Marching and Drill periods were also held.
The course was considered a complete success which would not only benefit the station commanders individually but result in a smoother and more efficient operation of the System as a whole.
Army Exercise "Bulldog N" was carried out in the Yellowknife area during the latter part of February '55 with the NWT&Y Radio System supplying the Neutral communication links. For this purpose Sgt. Bill Brownlee and Cpl.s Cyd Carr and Gill Kaye were flown into Yellowknife and Sgt. Bud Stevens into Fort Smith (the relay point whenever direct Yellowknife-Edmonton communication became difficult).
February also saw the commencement of construction on the Distant Early Warning System project, more commonly known as the "DEW Line", along the Canadian Arctic coast. The portion of the DEW Line which was to use NWT&Y Radio System communication facilities to the utmost during the construction period extended from Cambridge Bay on the east to the Alaskan border on the west and consisted of a number of radar sites. Two of these sites were control stations; Cambridge Bay,' responsible for the eastern half,' worked into Sigs Yellowknife and Cape Parry,' responsible for the western half, worked into Sigs Norman Wells.
As the bulk of equipment and supplies for the DEW Line sites was airlifted on a round-the-clock basis, more and more weather information and increased air-ground-air coverage were required from the NWT&Y Radio System stations. In addition, as Marconi Company, sub-contractor to Western Electric Company on the DEW Line, installed communication equipment at various sites" they in turn began filing hourly weather reports which were passed through their control stations to the RC Signals relay stations, thence to the forecast office in Edmonton. Many extra hourly reports and forecasts were also passed from Edmonton north for use at the various airports.
The circuits from RC Signals at Norman Wells and Yellowknife to the DEW Line control stations at Cape parry and Cambridge Bay were hand-keyed and unable to handle this additional weather information, the increased air movement traffic and the tremendous volume of construction traffic properly. Therefore Marconi Company supplied and installed radio teletype equipment in their Cape Parry and Cambray control stations as well as in the RC Signals relays at Norman Wells and Yellowknife, thus relieving the congestion on these circuits.
At the Edmonton end it was also necessary to supplement the existing equipment to keep the heavy volume of traffic moving smoothly. Western Electric Company installed a Model 19 Teletypewriter and tying reperforator on the Edmonton Radio Station end of the pony loop to the offices of Northern Construction Company, as well as typing reperforators on the receive circuits from Norman Wells and Yellowknife. The installation of this equipment meant that traffic to and from the DEW line could now be handled entirely by automatic tape transmission at 60 wpm resulting in a marked increase in speed and efficiency.
To improve the weather information available for aircraft involved in the DEW Line airlift, the Department of Transport decided to open a forecast office in Yellowknife in August 1955 and called upon the NWT&Y Radio System of course to handle the large volume of various types of weather reports required for such an office to function. Since the RTT equipment in use was not adapted for the transmission of weather symbols and all-weather traffic was handled by the hand keyed circuits, it was not possible to carry out such a commitment fully until such time as the Department of Transport provided weather symbol keyboards for the RTT equipment at Edmonton, Fort Smith, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson and Norman Wells. This was done early in 1956 and full use was made then of the RTT equipment for the dissemination of weather information between the weather office in Edmonton and the four main northern stations.
The increase in aircraft movement also created air-ground-air service problems. RC Signals installations were located anywhere from 4 to 14 miles from the airports at the main northern towns boasting all weather fields so it was becoming increasingly impracticable for them to control aircraft movements at these points. The Department of Transport however was located right at the airports in question, operating Radio Range stations and doing field maintenance, so it decided that they were in a much better position to exercise the necessary aircraft movement control By the end of May the Department had taken over all air-ground-air communications at McMurray, Fort Smith and Yellowknife, while Canadian Pacific Air Lines assumed the same responsibilities at Norman Wells. This of course relieved the pressure on the Sigs staffs at these stations a great deal and they were able to handle their other heavy traffic commitments much more efficiently.
Other Sigs stations such as Fort Simpson and Port Radium were less fortunate, their air-ground-air and beacon services being called upon 24 hours daily for most of the year. Things were really hopping at Headquarters in Edmonton also, especially during the peak traffic months of July and August when it was not an uncommon sight to see the Signalmaster, Lt. Gord Drinnan, Chief Operator WO 1 Cal Vince, and even the CO, Lt. Col. Don Grant on occasion, shoulder to shoulder with the operators, pounding brass, perfing tape, checking traffic or performing any of the many operating room duties, in order to keep the wheels turning smoothly, avoid delays and prevent pile-ups.
Late in April 1955 the Unit Quartermaster Stores were moved to temporary quarters in an unused RCAF warehouse at the northeast end of Edmonton Municipal Airport so that construction could be started on the new combined QM/TM building at unit headquarters. The original plans for this building called for extensions to the existing QM building on the south and west sides. Work commenced on the 31st May and was progressing satisfactorily with the excavation completed, cement for footings and basement walls poured when, on June 19th, the south and west walls of the old OM building collapsed into the new excavation. This of course brought construction work to a halt pending a decision as to what action should be taken now. Eventually the balance of the collapsed building was demolished and removed. Plans were drawn up then for a complete new building, construction of which would not commence until the following year.
RC Signals Radio Station, Wrigley was turned over to the Department of Transport on the 3rd May 1955, thus terminating one of the most unique services rendered by any station of the NWT&Y Radio System during its existence. You will recall that when Wrigley was re-opened in '48 Sigs assumed all airstrip maintenance duties such as grading, rolling, snow-ploughing, etc. This handover brought the System strength down to nineteen.
The second Station Commander's Course was conducted at Headquarters Edmonton from 28 Nov - 9 Dec with 15 of the 18 northern station commanders attending. Transportation difficulties made it impossible for the other 3 to participate. Again the course was considered a complete success - of mutual benefit to the individuals and the System as a whole.
A glance at traffic figures for the year ending 31st December 1955 revealed that 300, 000 more messages had been handled by the System that in 1954, for an increase in estimated revenue of $620,000.00. This 42% increase in traffic was mainly due to the DEW Line project activities.
One of the least known or appreciated services performed by System personnel in the north was that of Ground Observers for the RCAF which entailed the immediate reporting by "flash" message to Air Force Defence Headquarters in Vancouver all sightings of unidentified aircraft or flying objects. A fine example of the conscientious manner in which those duties were carried out was provided by WO 2 Bill Morris, Station Commander RC Signals Port Radium and given proper recognition in January 1956. A "flash" report originated by Morris had been instrumental in alerting defensive forces participating in Joint Aerial Defence Exercise "Cracker Jack" held in December 1955 and had contributed considerably to the success of the exercise. For his efforts in this regard, Morris received letters of commendation from General E Partridge, USAF Commander, Northwest Aerial Defences, Air Vice Marshal LW Wrag, RCAF, Assistant Commander and Major General C Vokes, General Officer Commanding Western Army Command. This recognition was not only gratifying to Morris but to all volunteer Ground Corps observers as it brought home the fact that one of their routine unidentified aircraft sighting reports might some day be responsible for, saving our continent from surprise aerial attack.
The 18th of February 1956 saw the System pruned to eighteen stations with the handover of Brochet to the Department of Transport. This station, in operation since 1948, had always been a difficult one to administer and maintain due to its location and accessibility from Edmonton.
DEW Line airlift activities continued to increase and in mid February it became necessary to have RC Signals Aklavik join Fort Simpson and Port Radium in providing 24-hour dally beacon and air-ground-air services to assist the military and civilian aircraft flying equipment to the DEW Line sites.
Also during February, Aircraft Advisory Centres were set up at Norman Wells, Yellowknife, Cape Parry and Cambridge Bay. Flight Plans on all aircraft engaged in the DEW Line airlift were passed to these centres as well as to Air Traffic Control in Edmonton in order to keep a closer check on all phases of the extensive operation and thus increase the safety factor. This procedure boosted traffic considerably, to what extent is not exactly known but it probably was a good portion of the 100% increase noted in all types of traffic handled during the year 1956.
Hopes of bringing the System up to full strength once more were revived when anew establishment was authorized in February. This establishment provided for the conversion of 58 soldier vacancies to Part V Civilian Positions and the local Civil Service Commission was asked to spare no effort in filling these vacancies as quickly as possible. This was to be a long drawn out process however as civilians with the necessary qualifications and willing to serve in the north were not easy to find.
Two System stations, Aklavik and Norman Wells were favoured with a visit from the Governor General of Canada, Rt. Hon Vincent Massey, in the course of his tour of Northern Canada and the DEW Line during the latter part of March and early April. All members of the station staffs were presented to him. Special arrangements were made for the expeditious clearance of traffic and press releases over the System throughout the tour with Aklavik handling 20,000 words of press and Norman Wells, 14,000 words, most of which was relayed from the DEW Line sites through Cape Parry.
In June Hay River became the first System station to utilize UHF for air-ground-air communications. Pacific Western Air Lines, engaged in the DEW Line airlift, Canadian Pacific Air Lines on regular northern airmail and passenger service and DEW Line airlift, plus RC Signals, had all been involved in providing air-ground-air communications in this area. This multiplicity was considered inefficient and it was agreed that one agency should provide this service. Since the RC Signals station at Hay River was open 24 hours dally in the normal course of operations, it was decided that it should assume this responsibility. Owning to interference in the area, the System air-ground-air transmit (4355 Kcs) and receive (3023.5 Kcs) channels were none too reliable so Pacific Western Airlines agreed to supplement the Sigs HF equipment with VHF equipment, operating on 122.2 Mcs. The new service, on both HF and VHF channels, went into operation on the 22nd of June.
By the end of July 1956, construction on the western section of the DEW Line was practically completed and the Marconi Company circuit from Cape Parry to RC Signals Norman Wells was closed down. Henceforth all DEW Line traffic would be handled over the Yellowknife Cambridge Bay circuit. At the same time Canadian Pacific Air Lines moved their base of operations for the DEW Line airlift from Norman Wells to Yellowknife. These changes brought deep sighs of relief from Sigs personnel at Norman Wells who had been working under terrific pressure since the commencement of DEW Line construction well over a year before.
August, one of the hottest months of the year, was just a little hotter at Aklavik, as fire totally destroyed the transmitter building and all equipment therein on 2nd August. Fortunately a standby transmitter had been installed in the main station building for such an emergency and it was possible to maintain limited communications and services while replacement equipment was being obtained. Spare equipment was shipped from Norman Wells, Fort Simpson, Chipewyan and Edmonton, installed and normal operations were resumed on the 12th of September. Investigation revealed that the fire could have been caused by a lack of proper insulation and clearance where the transmitting antennae feeders passed through the wall of the building. Steps were immediately taken to ensure no recurrence of the same nature by the installation of adequately insulated panels and proper feed-through bowls at all stations of the System.
On Sunday 14th October sorrow descended on the System once again when Sig. Budd, EB, of Western Command Signals Regiment, was electrocuted at Fort Smith while carrying out repairs to RC Signals control cable there. The control cable was strung on a pole line also used by Northern Canada Power Commission for a high voltage power line and Budd accidentally came in contact with the lethal high voltage.
The 3rd annual Station Commander's Course, attended by 13 WOs and NCOs from northern stations was successfully carried out from the 19th to 30th November.
Traffic handled was double that of the previous year, amounting to 2,554,207 messages of all types, for a whopping estimated value of $5,115,5 77.00 while the cost of operating the System for the same period was $1,500,000.00.
The year closed with the System still under strength to the extent of 37 personnel despite strenuous efforts to fill the new Part V Civilian vacancies.
A rapid falling off of DEW Line traffic was noted during January 1957. This was due to the setting up of a permanent DEW Line circuit utilizing VHF Forward Scatter Propagation between Cambridge Bay and Fort Nelson, BC. This circuit was proving to be very reliable and the bulk of the DEW Line traffic previously routed via RC Signals Yellowknife was now being handled in this manner with a Private Wire connection to the Edmonton offices. By early summer a pony loop had been installed between the Department of Transport and the station at Fort Nelson and the weather reports were now being handled by this means, in fact practically all DEW Line traffic was now passing over their own facilities.
As the DEW Line assumed its own communication chores and more experienced operators were required and were offered fabulous salaries, in the range of $ 750.00 - $900. 00 a month for service in the north, with the result that the System's already poor personnel situation was further complicated as some of the more mercenary minded soldier and civilian operators sought greener pastures
Dawson and Mayo stations experienced a few tense days around mid-May as dangerous flood conditions existed in both areas. Heavy winter snows and a sudden May thaw causing an early breakup of the Yukon, Klondike, Mayo and Stewart Rivers created the abnormally high waters. At Dawson one PMQ and a Butler hut warehouse were flooded, otherwise there was no damage to Sigs installations and very little throughout the rest of the town as all hands turned out to build emergency dikes. Forty thousand sand bags were filled and used for this purpose before the waters receded and the danger passed on 28th may.
At Mayo the situation was a little more critical The basements of all Sigs buildings were cleared of equipment and stores and arrangements made to continue operations from the transmitter site, which was on higher ground, if it became necessary to evacuate the main station building. help was obtained from the United Keno Hill Mine and the river banks and radio station dyked with gravel Basements of all Sigs accommodations were kept clear by means of sump pumps and additional pumps flown in from Whitehorse and Edmonton until the recession of the flood waters on 26th May. If the waters had risen any higher it would have been necessary to carry out plans to evacuate the lower section of the town.
About the same time, over on the Mackenzie River at Norman Wells, personnel of the RC Signals station could have used a few thousand gallons of the Yukon flood waters handily. While burning off the dead grass at the transmitter site, the fire got out of hand and did considerable damage to the transmitter building before personnel were able to bring it under control however damage to the equipment was negligible, the transmitters only being off air for three and a half hours during which time contact was maintained with Edmonton over the Department of Transport Radio Range circuit. As the fella once said - despite hell and high water - Signals carry on!
Plans had been laid by the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources over the last 2 or 3 years to move the town of Aklavik from its low-lying location on the Mackenzie River Delta to a site on higher ground. The site chosen for this purpose was 35 miles east of Aklavik and known as Aklavik East Three (eventually officially named Inuvik in 1958, and pronounced In-00-vik, accent on second syllable). Construction on the various buildings and services had commenced the year before and by Spring of '57 activities had reached the point where it was imperative that the contractors and various Government Departments involved have some reliable on-the spot communications. At the request of the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources and the Department of Public Works, the Department of National Defence undertook to provide this much needed service.
On the 12th of June 1957, RC Signals Radio Station, Aklavik East Three was opened by Cpl. 'Pete' Gray who had been posted from the Yellowknife Radio Station. Accommodation for Gray and station equipment, consisting of a 100B LF transmitter, AT3 HF transmitter and two AR88 receivers, was provided by the Department of Public Works. Traffic and aircraft activity at East Three steadily increased during the year to the point where the services of a second operator were definitely warranted but none could be made available until the following summer. However in the meantime, in a mistaken effort to ease his plight, Gray was issued a GI bicycle of uncertain vintage with which to expedite his deliveries. This metal monstrosity became the bane of his existence and the townspeople soon became used to seeing him wandering about the tundra at all hours of the day and night, carrying the bicycle more often than riding it and babbling of the injustices of man to man, in his quest of elusive addressees.
This station was the last to be opened by RC Signals in the north prior to commencement of the complete handover of the System to the Department of Transport in the Fall of '58. The opening brought the number of stations in operation once more up to nineteen.
Although the Edmonton receiving station was originally located on the northern outskirts of the city, industrial and residential developments had surrounded this area. In order to maintain noise-free reception it now became necessary to either move the station or remote antennae to a noise-free area. It was decided to test the feasibility of installing antennae at a remote site and feeding signals over a coaxial cable to the receivers at the existing station location. Special low and high frequency loop antennae were supplied and installed by Electronics Laboratories of Canada, Vancouver, BC, at the Department of Transport receiving site, four miles north of Sigs receiver station. The cable installation was completed and comprehensive tests commenced during the month of June. Prior to the styroflex coaxial cable installation, Capt. Ralph Kerr, WO 2 Walter Tomlinson and Sgt. 'Doc' Tweed attended a familiarization course at the Communications Products Company plant in Marlboro, New Jersey. Here they received instruction in the proper handling and installation procedures for the styroflex which was manufactured by this Company.
Two System stations were called upon to contribute in a small way to the International Geophysical Year Programme of the Defence Research Board. During July, special recording equipment was installed by Defence Research Board at Fort Good Hope and Yellowknife. RC Signals personnel at these stations were instructed in the operation and routine maintenance of this equipment and undertook its operation for the next year.
Late in September '57 initial advice was received at System Headquarters that the Federal Government had ordered the handover of the System from the Department of National Defence to the Department of Transport. Immediately work was commenced on the preparation of various summaries dealing with the operation of the System. These summaries covered such items as details of Equipment and Operations, Facilities and Services provided, Cost of Operation, Revenue from Commercial Traffic, Estimated Revenue of Traffic handled for Department of National Defence and other Government Departments and a plan for the handover which would not affect the efficiency of the services provided by the System.
The die was cast and Signals were to leave the north after many years of noteworthy service in its opening up. It appeared from the initial planning that it would take approximately 2 years to effect the handover and no change from the normal routine would become apparent to Sigs for some time yet.
The Defence Research Board had been experimenting with Low Power VHF Scatter Communication Systems in conjunction with Ferranti Electric Limited of Toronto and now requested the cooperation of the NWT&Y Radio System in operating a test circuit of this type of wave propagation between Edmonton and Yellowknife. This project was to be known as "JANET". Little is known by the writer of the principles of this type of propagation but it is believed that it is basically dependent upon the existence of meteor trails in the upper air which permits a path for transmitted signals. The intelligence to be transmitted is taped up on a standard teleprinter keyboard and stored in a portion of the equipment known as the "memory box". When the meteor trail conditions are right the transmitter is automatically turned on which in turn triggers the receiver at the distant station and transmission is carried out at the amazing speed of 1400 WPM as long as the meteor trail conditions remain suitable. The received intelligence tape is then fed from the receiver terminal "memory box" through a converter and translated into print on a standard 60 WPM teleprinter. In preparation for the operation of the "JANET" test circuit, Capt. Kerr and Sgt. Bell of the Edmonton Technical Maintenance Section and Cpl. Halversen, Radio Mech. at Yellowknife spent the month of August 195 7 at the Ferranti Electric Limited Laboratories in Toronto on a course to familiarize them with Low Power VHF Scatter Communication Systems. Initial equipment for the "JANET" project was received from the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment QRTE) at Shirley Bay, Ottawa in September and installation work was carried out at Edmonton and Yellowknife by the System personnel trained for the purpose. Testing however was not to commence until early in 1958 under the supervision of Ferranti and DRTE engineers.
Most operators were under the impression that 1956 had been the System's peak traffic year but when 1957s figures were compiled they proved this to be in error by a fairly wide margin. An all-time high of 3,172,628 messages were handled in 1957 for an estimated total value of $5,235,042.33, despite the loss of DEW Line traffic during the year. This represented 618,421 more messages handled than in 1956 for an increase in estimated revenue of $120,000.00. Offsetting the DEW Line traffic loss of course was that gained from the feverish activity at the new Aklavik town site of Aklavik East Three and a commercial development boom in the Fort Smith area.
Army Exercise "Bulldog IV" was carried out in the Wainwright, Alta. area during the week of February 10-14, 1958 with NWT&Y Radio System cooperating to the extent of supplying high and low frequency equipment and an operating position in the Edmonton Radio Station. From here, personnel of 1 Airborne Signals Troop operated LF and HF circuits with the "heavy drop platform " in the DZ area at Camp Wainwright. Late in February the new QM/TM building was finally completed, accepted from the contractor by 13 Works Coy RCE and handed over to NWT&Y Radio System. Jubilation was rife amongst the QM staff which had been in exile at the northeast end of the Municipal Airport for the last three years patiently awaiting this great day. In fact some of them exhibited the same tell-tale symptoms noted in personnel coming out from a remote northern station after a tour of duty of the same duration, that is to say, they were slightly "bushed". Nevertheless, in less time than it takes to tell, they had all stores and equipment moved and were comfortably settled in the eastern half of the fine new building and were rapidly becoming re-adjusted to the amenities of civilization once more.
At the same time, the "brain-trust" or Technical Maintenance Section was busily engaged occupying the Western half of the building. It was none too soon either as all these highly strung, temperamental individuals were developing claustrophobia from long incarceration in the close confines of the old Married Quarters building. Needless to say, both sections were very happy with their new accommodations.
Testing of the Edmonton- Yellowknife "JANET" circuit began in March. Results were poor with a very high error rate in the test intelligence passed. Engineers JH Crysdale, from DRTE and SJ Gladys, from Ferranti Electric arrived in Edmonton in June to try and iron out the difficulties. They immediately condemned the Headquarters site as unsuitable due to the high noise level and moved the "JANET" equipment to the Department of Transport remote receiver site, 4 miles north of Edmonton Radio Station. Results from this location were somewhat better but, during a period of wireless 'blackout' from 7th to 10th July, no signals were received which indicated that the circuit was not operating on meteor trails and that transmission was not reliable under severe ionospheric disturbances. Testing was discontinued late in July with the departure of Crysdale and Gladys. All of the "JANET" equipment was turned over to Alberta Signals Squadron for re-activation at a later date.
Testing of the LF and HF loop antennae located at the Department of Transport receiver site and fed by styroflex coaxial cable to the Edmonton receiver site was completed in August. Results of the tests were forwarded to Army Headquarters for a decision as to whether this type of equipment would be adopted or not. Pending such a decision the styroflex cable was recovered and turned over to Alberta Signal Squadron along with the associated equipment.
September 18th, 1958 dawned bright and clear but it was a black day for Signals in the north. On this date RC Signals Radio Station, McMurray, Alta. was handed over to the Department of Transport, the first station to go in the transfer of the System as ordered by the Federal Government one year ago.
Granted, the reasoning behind the decision to hand the System over to a civilian department of the Government was sound, still it was hard to realize that a glorious era of achievement for RC Signals was quickly coming to an end. There was solace however in the knowledge that they had played an exceedingly important role in the opening up of the vast mineral and oil rich lands of the country which they served and while doing so, had built up one of the most efficient communication networks in the world.
Three more stations were handed over before the end of the year, namely, Fort Chipewyan 23rd September, Fort Smith 3 1st October and Ha y River 2nd December. Despite the change in control, these stations continued to function as in the past, as it had been agreed that there would be no change in the services rendered, operating procedures or traffic accounting until such time as the control station in Edmonton was handed over. It had also been agreed that the Department of Transport would continue to employ the civilian component of the station staffs even though they lacked Radio Operators 2nd Class Certificates as required under Department of transport regulations,
Handover procedures were the same for all stations. First, a Unit Board, consisting of a unit officer as President, a member from RCE and a member from the Department of Transport (in a non-official capacity) was convened to report on the state of all public and non-public property and accounts. Approximately 2 weeks in advance of the date indicated for handover of the station dependent on the size of the station) a Unit Audit Team from the QM Section (usually SSgt. Bob Ballantine and Cpl. Ron Gould) would proceed to the station to carry out a completed and detailed audit of all records and accounts, except the commercial traffic account. This entailed sorting, identifying, counting and tagging all stores, including barrack and Engineers. Stock-taking sheets were completed by this team, to reveal any surpluses of deficiencies, and given to the President of the Board to assist in the handover. Lists were prepared by the QM showing all Ordnance, RCE, RCASC, medical supplies and Signal Stores, including control cables, pole lines and expendables, which were to be transferred or loaned to Department of Transport. On the handover day these lists would be reconciled at the station and signed by the Department of Transport representative, acknowledging receipt of stores, accommodation etc. Also on the handover date, the commercial traffic bank account would be reduced to NIL by drawing a draft in favour of the Receiver General and a balance struck in the station ledger to reveal the monies still due the Receiver. Usually these formalities were completed and official message of relinquishment filed on behalf of Department of National Defence by the President of the Board at 2359 hours on the same day, with the station re-opening at 0001 hours the following day under the control of the Department of Transport and with anew call sign. Well in advance of each handover all agencies and individuals having business dealings of any nature with the station were advised by letter of the tentative date for the change in control. The Quartermaster was responsible for getting such information out to service heads and contractors having agreements affecting the station, while the Signalmaster had the commercial telegraphs, airlines, navigation companies, other Government Departments, private commercial outstation operators and all holders of authorized credit to advise. Needless to say, the postage took quite a licking (no pun intended) especially in regard to the larger stations such as Yellowknife, which had approximately one hundred authorized credit customers alone.
Shortly after World War II, NWT&Y Radio System had installed and operated low-power broadcast transmitters at Whitehorse, Dawson, Aklavik, Norman Wells, Hay River and Yellowknife for the benefit of these communities. This service was of course outside of normal duties and soon became too burdensome for Sigs personnel to cope with so local citizen volunteer committees were formed to assist in the operation of these broadcast stations. Control of CFWH, Whitehorse had passed to headquarters Northwest Highway System when the RC Signals Radio Station, Whitehorse was turned over from the NWT&Y Radio System to West Command Signal Regiment in 1951, the equipment at CFNW Norman Wells had been destroyed by fire in the early '50s and not replaced but the other 4 stations had functioned more or less satisfactorily all these years.
Now, in 1958, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation decided that it was their responsibility to provide broadcast services for the residents of the Yukon and Northwest Territories and arrangements were accordingly made for the CBC to assume control of the existing broadcast stations. By year's end the CBC had taken over operational control of CFYT Dawson YT, CFHR Hay River NWT and CFYK Yellowknife and the same would be done at CHAK Aklavik as soon as possible. So, Sigs were practically out of the disc-jockey business and it was a known fact that no System personnel had been able to retire on "payola" derived from the operation of the broadcast stations.
Traffic showed a decrease in messages handled of 711,00 from the all-time high of 3,172,628 the year before, with a consequent drop in the total estimated revenue of $241,600. 00.
Little of note occurred during 1959 as the handover progressed smoothly with the Department of Transport taking over stations when they were able to provide the necessary personnel. Fort Reliance and Fort Providence were transferred on the 11th and 15th of March respectively, with the Sigs personnel involved only too glad to say farewell to these lonely, 'off- the-beaten- track'. posts.
On the 16th of march, the CW circuit in operation between NWT&Y Radio System station Edmonton and the Department of Transport., Aeradio station,' McMurray was closed down permanently. In future all weather and administration traffic would be passed over Department of Transport radio and landline circuits between these two points,' while all commercial traffic would be handled over the Northern Alberta Railway Telegraphs.
Effective the 1st of April all civilian employees on strength of the NWT&Y Radio System were transferred to the Department of Transport except the two janitors at Headquarters who were transferred to the strength of Alberta Signal Squadron. This move was designed primarily for pay purposes as the civilians employed at stations still under Department of National Defence control would continue to be administered by the Unit until the stations were actually handed over to Department of Transport.
Next station to go was the main R TT station at Norman Wells on the 27th of April. This was the second of the four main northern RTT stations to be taken over. It was planned to turn over the responsibility for al1 traffic handling along with that of accounting and revenue for all commercial traffic to the incumbent Department of Transport as soon as possible, within the date tentatively set for the 1st of July.
On the 17th of May all technical stores, and a small stock of barrack stores, held in Edmonton, were tuned over the Department of Transport. Approximately 1,260 items of non-expendable stores and 4,700 items of expendable stores were involved. These stores were handed over in situ and a section of the TMIQM building was released for use by the Department of Transport.
The 19th of June saw the Fort Norman Radio Station handed over. This station, although a busy and extremely useful relay from its opening in 1930 until the inception of the Norman Wells station 35 miles down river in 1943, had deteriorated to the extent that it was little more than a weather reporting station.
Effective the 1st of July the system's Receiver General Commercial Traffic Account was transferred from the Department of National Defence to the Department of Transport and the Department of Transport took over the operation of the Traffic Accounting Section at NWT&Y Radio System Headquarters and assumed responsibility for all traffic handling on the System despite the fact that eleven stations remained under Department of National Defence control Immediately thereafter, the CO, and WO 1 Vince as Signalmaster, heaved deep sighs of relief as a great burden had been lifted from their shoulders.
Plans for the Royal Tour of Her Majesty the Queen and HRH Prince Philip called for them to be in the Yukon and NWT from 18-21 July, with visits scheduled for Whitehorse, Dawson, Mayo, Yellowknife and Uranium City. However after arrival at Whitehorse on the 18th, Her Majesty was taken ill and was unable to honour Dawson and Mayo with her presence the following day. Prince Phillip eased the disappointment of the citizens a great deal by carrying out these aerial visits. HRH spent 2-1/2 hours at Dawson inspecting the many interesting historic relics of the Gold Rush Days of '98 and an hour at Mayo looking over the rich mineral properties thence back to Whitehorse for the night of July 19th. The next day Her Majesty's health was a little better and she was flown direct to Edmonton to rest while Prince Philip completed the visits to Yellowknife and Uranium City. HRH spent an hour at Yellowknife and two hours at Uranium City - Beaverlodge Lake inspecting gold and uranium mines before rejoining Her Majesty in Edmonton the night of the July 20th. The Queen had recovered sufficiently to attend the official functions planned by the City of Edmonton, such as opening of Coronation Park, on 21st July before boarding a special Royal Tour train for Saskatoon in the late afternoon.
The Northern phase of the Royal Tour did not affect System traffic to any great extent as the press party filed their material covering the Dawson and mayo visits with the commercial telegraphs at Whitehorse and held the Yellowknife-Uranium City material until arrival at Edmonton. Despite this, Dawson handled 122 Royal Tour messages, Mayo 25 and Yellowknife 76 during the short time the party was in the north. In addition, RC Signals at Dawson, Mayo and Fort Simpson rendered extensive air-ground coverage of the various aircraft involved in this phase of the tour.
Shortly after the Dawson visit, the CO NWT&Y Radio System was in receipt of a letter from the Royal Tour Transport Officer asking that thanks be forwarded to Sgt. Joe Murree and his staff at RC Signals Radio Station, Dawson City for their kind assistance and cooperation which contributed largely to the success of the visit at that point.
August saw the control of four more stations pass to the Department of Transport leaving just seven to go. Inuvik, Aklavik and Fort Good Hope were transferred in rapid order on the 9th, 13th and 15th respectively and the control station in Edmonton was taken over on the 3 1st.
Government planning a few years previous called for the moving of the town of Aklavik, scene of so many memorable Sigs episodes over the years, to the new townsite of Inuvik. At the time of the station handover there was no indication that this handover would take place. To the contrary, all appearances seemed to point to continued growth and prosperity for both communities.
At the control station in Edmonton, the handover was a little more complex as the Department of Transport was not able to fully staff this nerve centre. The transfer was carried out with the understanding that Sigs would cover the imbalance, with Department of Transport relieving as quickly as suitable replacements became available. This situation remained until year's end.
Meanwhile, back in the Unit Orderly room, four unobtrusive but nevertheless important cogs in the System wheel, were tearing their hair right down to the base of the follicles, trying to cope with the massive documentation necessary to effect the postings of the personnel inv9lved in the handover of the stations. Capt. Ross Anderson, Adjutant, was cracking the whip, WO 2 Tom McKay, Supt Clerk was adroitly dodging it and Sgt. George Behm (pronounced Bame, same as same) and LCpl. Al Bedard ( no relation to the renowned zither player of the same name) were taking the lash. Being favourably equipped with seeing-eye typewriters, these harassed individuals were about to get the disenchanted 'eyes and ears" of the north of their various ways with the utmost of despatch. In fairness to Our Leader it should be chronicled that the majority of the off-System postings were exactly what the individuals had asked and hoped for.
Fort Simpson, the original relay station from the Yukon to the "outside", established in 1924, was relinquished, to the Department of Transport on the 20th of September.
Since the start of the System Handover one year previous, countless letters had been received at Headquarters from airlines, water transportation companies, mining firms, government agencies and numberless private individuals, all expressing sincere appreciation for the outstanding services provided over the years and the deep regret at having to say goodbye to Signals in the north. These letters were most gratifying, confirming the knowledge of a job well done.
Yellowknife was chosen as the station at which symbolic ceremonies to officially mark the occasion of the transfer of the System to the Department of Transport would be held. Elaborate preparations were made well in advance and the historic event took place on the 6th of November, 1959.
In the operating room at the Yellowknife Radio Station, Lt. Col. D Grant, CO NWT&Y Radio System, opened proceedings by introducing Col. ET Munroe, representing the Minister of National Defence, the General Officer Commanding Western Command and the Director of Signals. Col. Munroe then addressed the assembly, briefly outlining the System history and terminating his remarks by formally relinquishing control of the System to Mr. HJ "Jeff" Williamson, Regional Director of Air Services, Edmonton District, Department of Transport, representing the Minister of Transport. At this time Col. Munroe wrote a message announcing the relinquishment and handed it to a Sigs operator for transmission to the Minister of National Defence. Mr. Williamson then spoke to the gathering, acknowledging the fine reputation RC Signals had built for themselves in the north and expressing the vow that his Department would carry on in the same tradition and endeavour to improve upon it if at all possible. He then drafted a message announcing formal acceptance of the System, which he handed to a Department of Transport operator for transmission to the Minister of Transport.
The large crowd then repaired to an unoccupied Married Quarter to partake of refreshments, which had been expertly prepared and laid out invitingly by that peer among chefs, Pte Al Reynolds. Many compliments were received regarding the variety and excellence of the food and many guests were heard to express amazement upon learning that even the perfect French pastries were a product of Reynold's wizardry. Highlighting this reception was the presentation of a mounted, suitably inscribed, silvered Morse Telegraph Key by Col. Munroe to Mr. Williamson, to tangibly mark the occasion of the System handover. Speeches were also heard from such prominent guests as Mr. CL Merrill, Administrator of the Mackenzie, Frank McCall, Area Administrator, "Scotty" Gall, Hudson Bay Company store manager and member of the Territorial Council and "Ted" Horton, Mayor of Yellowknife. All speeches took the same trend, that of eulogizing System personnel, expressing regret at their departure and wishing them well in their future endeavours.
Representatives from the press, radio and TV in Edmonton were also present and gave full coverage to the affair.
Much credit for the success of this Symbolic handover must go to Maj. "rosie " Larose, 2 IC NWT&Y Radio System, and Lt. Bob Becker, Quartermaster, for the planning and organization, as well as to WO 1 "Red" McLeod and his Yellowknife station staff, along with Sgt Bob Ballantine, Sgt. George Behm and Cpl. Ron Gould of the Edmonton staff, for their active and wholehearted cooperation in the preparations.
With the transfer of Yellowknife completed, the Department of Transport now controlled all the main RTT circuits from Edmonton to the north and Sigs were left with 5 secondary stations. This number was reduced to 4 on the 9th of December with the transfer of Beaverlodge Lake Radio Station. The handover of this station was without doubt one of the easiest for the Audit Team. There were no buildings of any description or power plants to account for as all accommodation and power were supplied by Eldorado Mining & Refining Company thus making it a relatively simple matter of checking the technical and a small amount of office equipment. A similar situation had prevailed at Inuvik, where the Department of Public Works supplied accommodation and power. Revenue from the Beaverlodge station had dropped off considerably in the last year as most of the uranium mining companies were finding it impossible to operate profitably and were closing down. Eldorado Mining & Refining Company planned to continue operations but would be unable to absorb many of the unemployed miners so, at handover time, the future for this area did not look too bright.
Traffic figures for 1959 are only available for the period 1 Jan - 1 Jul, at which time the Department of Transport took over the traffic accounting for the System. During this 6 month period, 1,234,471 messages of all types were handled for an estimated value of two and one half million dollars.
With but four stations left under Department of National Defence control as of the 31st of December 1959 the strength of the Unit was down to four officers, 41 ORs and 17 civilians for a total of 62 as compared to five officers, 132 ORs and 58 civilians for a total of 195 when the handover commenced in September 1958.
TM, QM and Adm sections at NWT&Y Radio System Headquarters in Edmonton had been reduced to minimum required to wind up the System's affairs and little of note transpired until early February.
Now the time had come for the two pioneer stations, at Dawson and Mayo installed in 1923, to cash in their chips. Mayo and Dawson were transferred on the 10th and 15th of February respectively with no fanfare leaving only Port Radium and Fort Resolution.
The Canadian Army Signals System station in Whitehorse continued to handle traffic to and from Dawson and Mayo following the handovers until the 1st of March, at which time the Department of Transport had completed the necessary installations in Whitehorse to take over on their own. Immediately this was done, the teletype circuit between the Signal Centre and CNR Telegraphs was cancelled and the CASS station ceased to handle commercial traffic.
Next on the list was Port Radium. This was another easy handover, as power and all accommodations, except one furnished PMQ, were supplied by the Eldorado Mining & Refining Company. In fact the QM auditor had everything in such a state of readiness that the Handover Board was able to proceed by air from Edmonton, carry out the transfer during a two-hour stopover, and return to Edmonton the same day.
At the time Port Radium appeared doomed to become a ghost settlement before many months passed by, as Eldorado Mining & Refining company planned to cease operations for economic reasons by July or August 1960.
Finally, on the 25th of March, the last Sigs personnel to serve on the System north of Edmonton sadly "waved goodbye " to "the land of the midnight sun" as Fort Resolution was transferred, thus completing the handover of NWT&Y Radio System stations to the Department of Transport.
The string was all but played out, with only a handful of key personnel remaining at Headquarters in Edmonton to prepare for the Final Audit and Ordnance Inspection, dispose of files, records etc, before the Unit was reduced to NIL strength.
Now would be as good a time as any to mention the key part played by the Quartermaster Stores in the smooth operation of the System over the years. But let Lt. Bob Becker, last System Quartermaster, tell you in his own modest words.
"The Quartermaster Stores in a unit such as this, played a major role in the life of the System. They functioned more like an Ordnance Depot rather than a unit QM. Stocks had to be held in sufficient quantities and estimated requirements prepared well in advance. In the short shopping season available every station had to be supplied for a full year of operation right down to the last minor detail. This included spare parts, fuel oil, rations, stationery, medical supplies, barrack stores and clothing. Amounts had to be closely estimated as storage facilities on the stations were limited and undue wastage had to be controlled. Contracts were arranged for all service where required and payments arranged.
The packaging and crating of these stores was carried out during the winter months to have all in readiness for the opening of navigation each summer. Once the shipping season opened the Quartermaster and his staff had very little spare time and led a hectic life for the season. At the close of navigation in the fall preparations were then started for the following season and the usual visits of the Ordnance Inspection teams and DM Auditors. Taking it all in their stride a magnificent job was done each year the Quartermaster and his staff have been highly commended several times for the quality of the splendid job they have done.
As each station was handed over to the Department of Transport a complete audit and inspection was carried out and it should be mentioned here that at no station was there a discrepancy in stores at the handover. After being questioned by headquarters Western Command regarding the list of stores to be the subject of write-off action when no request had been made, it became necessary to include in each board of inquiry a statement that no write-off action was required. After all handovers were completed and the final Ordnance Inspection was held no discrepancies were found. This was the subject of considerable conjecture and several conversations by Ordnance Officers who apparently don't believe such a result possible in a unit of this size and scope. The claim was put forward that the Quartermaster and his staff are either supermen or miracle workers. It is a known fact they are both, so they can be given high praise for their work and efforts over the years. The Ordnance Officers finally came to the same conclusion and appended the most glowing remarks on their final inspection report.
This section had attained the size, importance and efficiency mentioned above through the continuing efforts of numerous Quartermasters since 1943. Prior to that time all system supply was carried out by D Sigs in Ottawa. During the hectic war years, this method was found too slow and impractical, so the responsibility was shifted to Edmonton.
WO 1 Sammy Ranns pioneered the QM Section in Edmonton earning his commission in the process. He was followed by Captains Bill Chew, Jack Bridges, Johnny Johnston, Charlie Jessop, WO 1 George Purkess (filling in, in an acting capacity for varying periods) and finally Lt. Bob Becker, commissioned from SSgt. for the purpose. To all these individuals must go a certain amount of credit for the fine record established by the QM Section.
The Technical maintenance Section developed in a similar manner, post war, to peak efficiency, under the able guidance of such officers as Capt.s Frank McCauley, Walt Stevenson, Ralph Kerr, Lt. Gordie Ingram and WO 1 Don Bastock (commissioned in '59). All that is left of this once proud Section is the "Diesel Doctor", Sgt. Les McLean, who has ministered to all the ills, minor and major, of the power plants at northern stations for the past few years.
The Traffic Accounting Section also warrants honourable mention. From a fairly simple chore carried out by the WO IC Edmonton Radio Station up until 1930, the bookkeeping necessary to account for the System revenue grew and grew coincident with the northern development and the System expansion, until it required a staff of six accountants and clerks to see that the Receiver General was not short-changed. WO 1 Frank Heath had practically snatched himself bald headed by the time the need for a full-time bookkeeper was first acknowledged in November 1930 by the posting of Sgt. Cec Shaw to Edmonton for this purpose. Shaw cried for help in 1943 and Sgt. Ross Glover was sent to his aid, and so it went, with additional personnel being added as traffic load demanded. The way they juggled figures up, down and across, but always coming up with the right balance, would have done justice to a team of accredited chartered accountants.
This department functioned, along with the Operating Section, under the control of the Traffic Superintendent (later known as the Signalmaster). The term "Traffic Superintendent" always was somewhat confusing as, prior to the System becoming organized as a Unit and taking over control and administration in 1944, it was known as the Northwest Detachment, RC Signals, and the Officer Commanding the Detachment was also the Traffic Superintendent. After the Unit was on its own, the establishment was increased by one officer to carry out the Traffic Superintendent duties, and known as the Signalmaster. Actually there were only three full-time Signalmasters from the creation of the vacancy until System count down, they being Lts Fred Lane and Gordie Drinnan with WO 1 Vince covering the four year gap between them and the last two years of our mathematical manipulations.
No chronological outline of the System history would be complete without acknowledging the fine efforts of the officers who were privileged to guide the destinies of the NWT&Y Radio system, both as a Detachment and as a Unit, throughout the productive years of its existence. As indicated in the establishment of the original five stations, Headquarters policy was to man each station with an officer and 3 OR operators. However by the late '20s, it was conceded that the stations could function quite capably under the command of a senior NCO and the officers, with the exception of one, were withdrawn for instructional purposes at the Training Depot in Camp Borden and other important Corps duties. The exception was Lt. RS "Bob" Hastings, who was moved from Fort Smith to Fort Simpson, which was considered the System control station at the time. He assumed the duties of the OC Northwest Detachment, RC Signals and "Traffic Superintendent, NWT&Y Radio System.
By 1931 it was realized that Edmonton was the logical point from which to exercise control of the System and Hastings was moved out to that point, serving there until the Spring of 1934 when he was relieved by Lt. "Bill" Lockhart, who you will recall handled the first message on the System as a Sgt. at Mayo in 1923.
Next came Lt. WO "Peff" Peffers in July of 1935 to serve the shortest term of duty in control of the System ever known, namely three months. "Peff" relinquished the reins to Maj. JE "Jakey" Genet in October 1935 and "Jakey" sagely conducted the thriving communication octopus through the boom northern mining years until July 1938 when Capt. GW "George" Smart took over. "George" carried on the good work until after the outbreak of World War //, when his services were urgently required elsewhere. WO I Ignatius "Nash" Neary was commissioned to take his place.
The crystal ball becomes a bit dim at this point but it is recalled for sure that WO 2 "Fudge" Isbister, serving as WO IC Fort Simpson was commissioned in the Spring of 1941 and appointed OC Northwest Detachment, relieving Neary for posting and eventual secondment to the National Research Council where his abilities could be employed to much better advantage. This change in command was strictly a paper one for a number of months however as Isbister was unable to get out of Fort Simpson due to the cessation of air travel over the well known "breakup" period. During this period he faithfully carried out his duties as a station operator and was the butt of many an early morning inter-station jest referring to the incompatibility of the situation. When aircraft finally ventured into Fort Simpson in June, Isbister took off on a prearranged inspection of the System at large, not arriving at his command post in Edmonton until sometime in August During this extended interlude, WO I Sammy "Duck Hunter" Ranns donned the cap and performed yeoman services as on-the-spot, acting OC of the Detachment
In December of 1942, Lt. "Cec" May, one of the System originals, commissioned as liaison officer at Whitehorse from his post as WO /C Mayo during the "Yankee" invasion of North-Western Canada, was sent out to take over from Isbister. "Cec" certainly had his work cut out and laid on the line, dealing with our friendly neighbours to the south, and it was not long before D Sigs in Ottawa realized the fact and posted Maj. "Jack" Pearson to Edmonton to assess the overall situation.
As a result of Pearson's observations, the System was reorganized as a self accounting Unit and henceforth would be responsible for its own administration.
Pearson actually took over the Northwest Detachment from May in September 1943 but it was not until the summer of 1944 that the System became a self accounting Unit, whereupon Jack Pearson became in effect, the first Commanding Officer of the NWT&Y Radio system. Jack retired to pension in July '47.
Taking over from Pearson in July 1947 was Capt. Frank McCauley, who had been Technical Maintenance Officer since returning from overseas in late '45. McCauley was promoted Major shortly thereafter McCauley was relieved by Lt. Col. Wethey in August '49 who in turn handed over to Lt. Col. Don Grant in Feb '51. Under Grant's continued guidance to the end the System attained a very high efficiency rating in all departments.
Northerners will also remember Signals primarily as magistrates, Airways and Transportation agents, acting minions of the law and prime movers in community affairs. It is the unmistakable fact that the fine reputation built by RC Signals during 37 eventful years of service in the yet-to-be-fully-exploited north country was not the result of the efforts of one, two or even three individuals, but rather the results of the combined efforts of every officer and man who served on this now non-existent arm of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals.
|«--||History of the Northwest Territories Yukon and Radio System