NWT and Y Radio System Vignettes
A collection of short vignettes from those related to the NWT and Y Radio System.
by Bill Poole
I first met Lefty McLeod when I opened up an RCMP detachment at Goldfields in June 1951. Given the activity in the area at that time, with numerous uranium mines, prospectors and service personnel, Goldfields-established in the 1930's but abandoned in later years-was given new life as the distribution centre of supplies for the area.
Hence, the province, the federal government and Eldorado Mining and Refining opted for a police presence. The occasional visit by the RCMP officer based at Stony Rapids was no longer adequate. The future Uranium City-located some 20 kms northwest of Goldfields was, in 1951, but a few surveyor blaze marks on trees.
Lefty was employed by Saskatchewan Government Airways and flew their Beaver aircraft based at Goldfields. He serviced the many uranium mining camps, prospectors, government personnel and RCMP of the region. Among the very few bush pilots working out of Goldfields, Lefty was considered to be top drawer.
Once, when in the Stony Rapids area, Lefty came across the beautiful waterfalls on the Grease River. He reported his finding. Subsequently, it was named Lefty's Falls, but much later this was changed to Hunt Falls.
On July 15, 1952, a radio message was received from Eldorado-the federal and largest uranium mine in the area-that an employee had been found dead in his bunk. The circumstances were suspicious and the RCMP was asked to attend.
Subsequent investigation suggested that a crime might have been committed. RCMP headquarters at Prince Albert was advised that an autopsy was needed. Arrangements were made to have an RCMP aircraft land on the dirt airstrip at Eldorado to pick up the body and take it to Regina. Unfortunately, a suitable aircraft from Edmonton would not be available for three days.
The weather was hot. What to do with the deceased? The use of the Eldorado's meat locker was quickly ruled out: It was thought that the 700 employees would be upset. Further inquiries revealed the presence of a mine tunnel on an island on Beaverlodge Lake. It would be quite cool inside, a good place to keep the deceased for three days.
A pine box was assembled and the dead miner placed inside. The box and its contents were taken in a freighter canoe to the island. My fellow constable and I struggled up the hill to the tunnel, opened the old wooden doors and deposited the box in the cool, dark interior.
Three days later, at my request, Lefty taxied his Beaver aircraft to the rocky island shoreline. But there was a problem. The pine box would not fit lengthwise into the cargo area. What to do? Lefty had the answer. Off came the cargo doors on both sides of the Beaver and the box was shoved in sideways. True, it extended beyond the aircraft's fuselage by a good twelve inches on both sides, but Lefty was not concerned.
He asked the junior constable to straddle the pine box-after all, he was wearing breeches, riding boots and spurs. From the comparative safety of the front passenger seat I began to explain that I, as the constable in charge, should occupy the more dangerous position. My protestations were drowned out in the roar of the Beaver's engine as we took off.
We were airborne but heading south. To reach the Eldorado dock on the lake, we had to go north.
At 900 feet above Beaverlodge Lake, Lefty banked the Beaver in a very tight turn. The junior constable dug in his spurs. I began writing my report to HQ in my head. How to explain the loss of the corpus delicti? How to explain the loss of government property, to wit: one barely used junior constable with spurs?
But, eventually, a very cool Lefty put the Beaver down and taxied to the dock. The pine box was quickly taken to the RCMP aircraft for the long ride to Regina.
For bush pilot Lefty McLeod, it was just another business day.
Stan Clark's lake trout
I am attaching a photo of Cpl Stan Clark a radio mechanic stationed at the transmitter site in Norman Wells during my TD there. During an off duty fishing trip he landed the lake trout pictured. I noticed that he was NOT listed in the nominal roll. Perhaps you may wish to add his name? He and Henry Oldcroft were very pleasant company.
Soup Campbell the resident radio mechanic left for a leave in Vancouver the day after we arrived. He lasted about a week in Vancouver and returned to the transmitter site for the remainder of his leave. Almost being run over crossing a street in Vancouver not paying attention to the traffic lights frightened him very badly. Forsaking family and whatever else that connected him to that city, he quickly returned to Norman Wells.
The System contracted a local aboriginal to supply 90 foot poles for the construction of a rhombic antenna at the town site station area. The poles were brought to a location just below the town radio station and were anchored slightly off shore. The temporary station manager (a corporal) signed for the poles and paid the native entrepreneur.
When Sgt Art Faulds the NCO/IC of the line crew had his men snake the poles on shore with the winch on the station 3/4 ton truck. He and the line crew were shocked to see that the native had removed the bark from only one side of the poles and grouped them so that they would not spin while under tow. Thus giving the illusion that they had been completely dressed.
This delayed construction of the antenna for a few days as the bark had to be removed by the line crew with spoke shaves and left to dry before the red and white aviation warning paint could be applied. The painting was done after the poles were erected.
The line crew were very impressed with the business acumen of the native and we split our guts laughing at this unexpected challenge.
As we were on TD, I'll hold all else.
Fond Memories of the Ack Arr 88
Read your whole site! Fantastic stuff. I have a memory that came from your pages.
I was a radio operator trainee in the Royal Air Force in 1959. I did my basic radio training at R.A.F Compton Bassett, Wiltshire, then to R.A.F Digby in Lincolnshire to do advanced training, finally graduating in January 1960 as a Wop/A. (Could receive the Morse code at 40 w.p.m. back then!)Then off to R.A. F. Butzweilerhof in Cologne, Germany. The common thread to all of this was the Ack Arr 88, (AR88 in your story). we used this radio until sometime in the early 1960's, then I had the distinction of using the replacement radio for the AR88, a 'Racal'1275? receiver. Don't remember if it had a more military designation. Made in Bracknell, Berkshire, as I remember. I do know, however, that I have the honor of being the first intercept operator in the RAF to f**k -up a Racal!
If you recall, and I am sure you do, to quickly change frequencies on an AR88, you could spin the dial very quickly, as it had no stops on it, you simply changed the megacycles separately. Not so the RACAL!! The Racal had a kilocycle range of only 1 Meg, so to change ther frequency, you had to go back to the start of the band for the next meg. I remember I spun the k/c band so fast that it came off the pegs on the knob, and disintegrated into the bottom of the case.
I quickly convinced the Seargant in charge of the 'set room' that I was used to the AR88, and forgot about the different k/c control on the Racal. He bought it, but I don't think the system was ever changed, it was considered to be superior to the AR88!
I was moved to a different section shortly after!
Brian Brady, ex Wop/A, RAF serial # 4248708, now living in Edmonton, Alberta.
The Yukon Link
I just wanted to let you know how interesting your project about the history of the RCSC - NWT & Yukon Radio System was to me. I was born in Dawson City, Yukon and lived much of my younger days in Mayo, Yukon, both communities that were home to two of the original stations of the radio system. Though I was only a young boy during the time the RCSG personnel ran the station in Mayo, I remember many of the families connected with the station before it was turned over to the Department of Transport (DOT).
It might interest you to know that a couple of the children of George C. Siteman, who is included in your member listing were school friends of mine in Mayo. I have a photo of the local Girl Guide Brownie troop with them in it and I could not, for the life of me, remember their last names. I remembered it ended in "...man". Another friend of mine from that era thought that it started with "Site or Syke". Looking at your list of those who were part of the system confirmed that their name was "Siteman". Your project has, in addition to providing much wonderful, heretofore unknown to me, information, also helped to clear up a mystery regarding the names of these two former school friends.
I do have one observation about your listing of those who served in the various stations in the system. I recall another name of someone who does not appear in your listing but who I know served in the Mayo station prior to it being taken over by the DOT. His name was Aubrey Lewis and he hailed from Nova Scotia. His son, Wayne, became one of my best friends. I cannot recall his rank for sure but seem to remember it being a Sergeant or maybe a Staff/Sergeant. Either prior or subsequent to serving in Mayo he served with the UN Peace Keeping Forces in the Congo. He has since passed away and I believe his widow still lives in Halifax.
Some of the other members of the radio system I noticed on the list that I knew were R.J.H. (Jim) Cripps, Matthew Henry (Harry) Ewing, and F. (Fred) Warren. It was Harry Ewing who, in December 1944, called the Whitehorse to Dawson bound flight in the air and had it re-routed to Mayo so that my pregnant mother, who was having complications, and her two attendants could be flown to Dawson where I was born shortly thereafter. After later retiring from the signal corp Harry, who was from Quebec, settled in Mayo, ran a transportation business with his son, John, and remained in Mayo until his passing in 1985.
For a time, my parents and I lived 26 miles down the Stewart River from Mayo by ourselves at what was called 26 Mile. During the summers the river steamers stopped by on their way up to Mayo but during the winter we were virtually isolated from contact with any surrounding community. In the late 1940's my parents obtained a ham radio license and subsequently was able to maintain contact with the RCSC station in Mayo, as well as the RCMP detachment there, where there was another ham radio. Our call number was VE8AU. As a result we no longer felt nearly so isolated from the rest of the world.
One final bit of trivia may be of interest to you. After the station in Mayo was turned over to the DOT, some years later it was decided to relocate the radio equipment to the airport and so the station building in the town was sold and moved. In the course of the move, an old wind-up, pendulum Canadian Standard clock that had been hanging on the wall of the station for many years, was being disposed of and my father, Renny Burian, asked if he might have it. It was given to him and he subsequently gave it to me. It hung in my home for a number of years and when my son, Wes, went out on his own he asked if he could have it. I gave it to him and he still has it, proudly displayed in the living room of his home in Pasadena, CA. So one item associated with the NWT & Yukon Radio System has found its way to California!
Thanks again for your efforts in preserving the history of a system that had a very great impact on the North.
Harvey J. Burian Parksville, BC E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hello to all:
After reading Sherron's latest MocTel, featuring the Army Signal radio system in the North, and seeing mention of Sgt Bill Lockhart in one of the photographs of personnel at the Mayo Station, I thought I should pass this on.
I have a bit of coincidental "trivia" to contribute to Michael's research and documentation of the NWT&Y Radio System.
I was a radio operator with Department of Transport in Whitehorse having arrived there with my family in 1957. In January 1960, I was transferred to Mayo and became one of 4 operators involved in the handing over of the station from the Army to DoT in February.
Station Mayo then changed its designated call sign from VEB to VFM8. Dawson City then became VFD2. Whitehorse became VFW.
After 7 years in Mayo, I transferred to the Department of External Affairs, Communications Division in Ottawa. We were responsible for running the vast communications network between all the Canadian embassies and High Commissions world-wide.
One day when in classroom, undergoing cryptography training as part of my indoctrination, my instructor told me that I was to report to "The Colonel" for an interview. The Colonel (none other than the former Sgt.Bill Lockhart in the MocTel photo) was the supreme commander of the total system and all of the communication centres. He had designed the whole network with a RCCS format and flavour.
So, with trepidation, I reported to his office as instructed. He invited me into his office and asked me to close the door. The conversation that followed took me totally by surprise. The first thing he asked me was to confirm (as he perused my file) that Mayo was my previous home, and when I assured him it was, he broke into a grin and asked if Archie Close and Joe Longton were still alive. He then informed me that he was instrumental in the establishment of the Signal Station at Mayo, as well as other sites throughout the NWT&Y system back in the 1920's. And so, I had a very enjoyable half hour with The Colonel as everyone employed in the system referred to him.
This happened in 1967. I found it quite incredible that his recollections of people and places were still so prevalent in his mind.
I wish you great success in your research.
George Howell Westbank B.C.
(A note from Jim McPherson)
I was born in Ft. Resolution in 1947. My Father was initially employed by D.O.T (Dept of Transport) as an equipment operator and he later went into business for himself. He had at one time or another operated a cafe, pool hall, boarding house, general store, theatre, gas station (first one in Ft Resolution with actual gas pumps). He also spent many years as the agent for Pacific Western Airlines, Canadian Pacific airlines. My mother was the postmistress for many years having replaced Fred Campsell upon his retirement. I am famiiar with most of the buildings in your photos [on the Ft. Resolution page] and I can recall having spent time at the old signals bulding which until the sixties was our only link to the outside. I can probably closely date some of your photos. I do have some old photos of Ft. Resolution in my collection which date from the late forties, fifties and sixties. Many are slides which were taken by my mother. I would be interested in seeing any other pictures you may have of Ft. Resolution.
In the second picture from the top on the first page of photos [of Ft. Resloution], the building in the left background is the old nursing station which stood until the mid seventies until it was condemned and torn down. I have the original shingle from the doctor who attended the nursing station in the mid twenties. His name was A.J.C Bourget. He is still remembered by some of the oldtimers in Ft. Resolution. Many of the old Hudsons Bay buildings are still standing and still in use today. These buildings stood directly across the road from the Signal Corps station. An old trader named George Pinsky sold his business to my father in 1963 and the building is still standing and in use today. With regards to the old Catholic Mission complex, only the church is still standing and in use. The hospital burnt down in the seventies and was never replaced. The old federal school was torn down in 1970 and was replaced by a modern facility in 1971. With regards to airport operations, only two of the original buildings are still standing. The living quarters for single men and the garage. The living quarters are notused as a weather station and C.A.R.S. station.
-- Jim McPherson
Community Radio Stations
(A note from Peter Radcliffe formerly of the CBC's Northern Service and now living in England)
Yellowknife and Hay River were the main locations during my association with the Canadian Corps of Signals, although I had dealings with Fort Smith and Fort Simpson.
Yellowknife radio station was CFYK, the transmitter, (an old AT3 modified to work on the broadcast band ), being located at Ptarmigan transmitter site, as the site was across the lake from the town, audio to the transmitter was via a marine cable. Service for the equipment was via a boat. at a later date a bridge over the Yellowknife River made things easier.
The Signals building was at a prime location, being located between the RCMP and the Government Liquor Store. Also the same group of buildings included the Northern Affairs Offices, the basement of which was being used as the studios of CFYK. Communication for the town centered on the Army Signals building, there was no road and no telephone system to the outside. Telegrams were via Morse code. As for names only Sgt, Red McLeod stands out.
In Hay River the CFHR transmitter located at the Army Signals site had to be moved when the river flooded the town, the transmitter was later relocated to the DEW Line scatter site, away from the river.
A plaque in my possession, has the following inscription,
RADIO STATION C. F. Y. K. "VOICE OF THE GOLDEN NORTH", OPENED IN THE BASEMENT OF THE DEPARTEMENT OF NORTHERN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL RESOURCES BUILDING, IN THE FALL OF 1949. IT WAS MANNED BY VOLUNTEER ANNOUNCERS AND WORKERS, WITH THE TECHNICAL DIRECTION OF THE ROYAL CANADIAN CORPS OF SIGNALS AND LICENCED AS AN ARMED FORCES RADIO STATION.
THE STATION WAS OPERATED BY A RADIO COMMITEE ELECTED EACH YEAR, WITH APPOINTED MEMBERS FROM THE DEPARTEMENT OF N.A.N.R. THE R.C.C.S. AND THE MUNICIPAL DISTRICT OF YELLOWKNIFE.
C.F.Y.K. OPERATED IN THIS MANNER FOR OVER TWO YEARS, DURING WHICH TIME MANY VOLUNTEERS WERE ASSOCIATED WITH THE STATION AND MANY ORIGINAL PROGRAMMES WERE BROADCAST FOR THE PLEASURE OF THE CITIZENS OF YELLOWKNIFE. RECORDS AND EQUIPMENT WERE BOUGHT FROM DONATIONS BY THE CITIZENS AND LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS. THE MUNICIPAL DISTRICT OF YELLOWKNIFE MADE AN ANNUAL GRANT FOR OPERATIONAL EXPENCES.
AT A CEREMONY HELD IN THE STATION THIS DAY, SUNDAY THE 14TH. DECEMBER 1958. THE MANAGEMENT OF C.F.Y.K. WAS FORMALLY TURNED OVER TO THE CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, NORTHERN SEVICE AND IT'S PIONEER EMPLOYEE PETER RADCLIFFE.
THIS PLAQUE COMMEMORATES THE HISTORY OF THE DEVELOPEMENT OF RADIO STATION C.F.Y.K. AND THE 28 YEARS OF SERVICE OF PETER RADCLIFFE AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE NORTHERN SERVICE OF THE CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION.
Childhood in Ft. Providence
I recall some the people at the Signals here in Fort Providence as a child but I would not know their names. I remember one character specifically because he used to visit us at Sandy Davison’s old house. My Aunt was given Sandy’s old house when he passed on because she used to do housecleaning for him. The young signal man used to dress up as a soldier and come over in the mornings sometimes just to visit. Sandy Davidson’s house used to be located just in front of the Signals on the river side. My Granny’s house was just outside the fence of the Signals compound. In the winter time we used to sneak on the powerful light that they used to measure the cloud ceilings in their weather observations. The Big Light was probably 2 feet in diameter and ever bright. I must have been around 10-12 years old at the time. I believe it was around 1954/55/56.
I also recall that the Signals used to have a large house where there used to be a lot of square dances.
Also one Signals officer-in-charge used to be the local Justice of the Peace for our community.
Joachim P. Bonnetrouge Fort Providence, NT
Memories of Brochet
My father, Tom Lamb, and my five brothers owned and operated Lambair Ltd. from bases at The Pas, Thompson and Churchill. We used to conduct charter flights into Brochet from The Pas in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
The flights I recall most vividly were in the 1950s when I was just starting my flying career.
The Army Signal Corps. ran the radio/weather station at Brochet. They also operated a low wattage broadcasting station from a dedicated hut on the lot. It was referred to as 'The Studio'. I don't recall the station identification, but was present on a few occasions when it was 'broadcast night' and messages would be sent out to the trappers at their camps. We pilots used to sleep in The Studio with our bedrolls.
Re the R.C. Web site. We all have memories of these Army radio stations. The one at Brochet used to broadcast music and news on a 2 watt station set up in a little shed. When we would make a trip there we used to sleep on the floor of the wee shack.
I still have a stack of telegrams sent by those stations to our office in The Pas. We didn't have any radios in the Norseman, Stinson, Cessna, Fairchild 24, etc. so we would communicate with telegrams from these stations.
I flew out of Ennadai in 1952 so had good time with the gang there. One of the cooks went stir crazy and fried up all their egg supply and nailed them to the wall. The airforce came in with a Canso load of grub. It was a comedy show watching them work their way to the dock.
08 Jan 2003
Re your request for Amateurs, from eras gone by, I thought to add my Fathers name to your list.
Raymond R Russell, VE8 BN, the " bolts and nuts ", station of Haines Junction YT, Mile Post 1016 on the Alaska Highway, at the junction of the "Haines Highway". 1948 to 1953.
Father was the Foreman at the maintenance camp and much to the chagrin of Mother, he made contact with an American "Ham", who was into horse trading and, so went Mother's sacred handed down, bone china, "6 cups and saucers", for a complete radio station, sanctioned by DOC, who were into improving communications along to 1202 mile highway from Dawson Creek BC to Beaver Creek YT.
While Mother never qualified as a ham, she was into DX and the station was always on whatever radio station came in the best and had the news. The odd time father would leave the station on which ever was the "call " Frequency and this allowed Mother to act on a few SOS calls, such as ships in distress as well aeroplanes. Those I remember well as Mother made the phone calls to "Rusty Martin " the local RCMP Officer.
I remember well, the QSL cards, collected by Father in a photo album, those disappeared later on after we moved to Whitehorse and Father founded, Russell Transport YT Ltd.
Unfortunately there are no photographs, this being a different story to do with Mother and her wish to send her memories to Scotland being as, she could not return herself, and I suspect all photos of the family history are at the bottom of Halifax Harbour. I forgave her for that.
I could add to this short story of Ray "Russ "Russell, to do with characters like "Silent Bill ", at Mile 956, Stony Creek YT, as well Ed Gilbert, C/S forgotten, but who operated the radar station at Lake Labarge, Just outside Whitehorse YT.
I'm not sure if you are looking for long stories or not, I do have memories, and could go on and on.
A high point in my life came in 1997 when I resided in Hay River NWT and took Fathers old C/S.
If this narration is a help to your cause, great, find attached my C/S as well E-mail Address.
73 s , to your self and all those concerned with your very worthwhile project.
I was privileged to serve at Providence with S/Sgt Watts. Providence was my best posting. I was 19 at the time and I have fond memories of the adventures.Some of them were:
Hauling water to the RC Mission during the winter when their intake pipe froze.
The whooping cough outbreak that required a nurse from Camsel Hospital Edmonton to be flown in to assist with the inoculations.
Taking the CP flight down onto the strip with our Christmas orders.
Saturday night hockey games from Toronto, then the all night bridge game until the 5 AM weather report. etc etc
SA 993 Peter Boxall (Goldsmith)