Radio forestry and aircraft in northern saskatchewan

Jump to: navigation, search
The following article was published in the Canadian Defence Quarterly circa 1929.[1]

Radio, Forestry and Aircraft in Northern Saskatchewan

By Major W. Arthur Steel, M.C., and Captain A.R. St. Louis, The R.C.C.S.

(See Sketch Map)

During the past few years the Forest protective work of the Royal Canadian Air Force has been gradually extended from Manitoba westward into Northern Saskatchewan. This expansion has brought with it additional requirements in communication and The Royal Canadian Signals were last year called upon to instal a suitable system of radio stations to provide for both ground, and air to ground traffic in Saskatchewan. A glance at the attached sketch map will show that the requirements are quite different from those to be met in Manitoba. The distances are very much shorter in Saskatchewan than in Manitoba but the various Forestry bases are more isolated since there are no railroads, roads or trails, except in the Winter time. During the Spring, Summer and Fall, canoes and motorboats constitute the only means for general transportation.

The Saskatchewan Forestry Department have up to date confined their efforts to the area South of the Churchill River. The headquarters for this district is at Prince Albert, a town of about eight thousand people, situated on the Saskatchewan River 90 miles North of Saskatoon. The main sub-bases in the area have been located at the famous old Hudson’s Bay Posts of Ile-a-la-Crosse and Lac la Ronge. It is expected that additional territory will be taken over next year and that a new sub-base will be created at Pellican Narrows, near the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border.

The waters of the Saskatchewan River at Prince Albert are not entirely satisfactory for flying boats and seaplanes, and the main flying base for the area has therefore been placed at Ladder Lake. This station is three miles from Big River, the last station on the C.N.R. line out of Shellbrook, Saskatchewan. During the flying season aircraft are detailed to the sub-based from the main flying base, but the transportation machines and reserve aircraft are held at Ladder Lake.

Due to the fact that the distances between bases are so much shorter in Saskatchewan than in Manitoba our standard 500 watt stations were much too powerful and it became necessary for the Signal Service to design and build lower power equipment to meet this particular situation. The question of transportation was a very important factor as it seemed quite probable that most of the apparatus might have to be flown in to the more northerly stations. Existing Army sets might have been utilized for this work but the upkeep and repair of this type of apparatus in both difficult and expensive especially in such remote stations. Again, the receiving equipment had to be suitable for reception from air to ground over long distances, and our present Army sets were not designed with this requirement in view. It was, therefore, decided to design special equipment to be manufactured by the Signals Inspection and Test Department. This decision was in conformity with the policy, originated at the time of the development of the S.I.T.D. 500 watt station, to develop in Canada special equipment to meet Canadian conditions:

Radio Forestry and Aircraft in Northern Saskatchewan image 1.jpg
The Saskatchewan Radio System

The conditions to be met in the design of this equipment may be summed up as follows, -

1. Portability – no individual part to weigh more than 200 pounds.
2. To operate without a station battery.
3. To be automatic in operation.
4. To be capable of being erected by a maximum of two men, and to be operated by one man if necessary.
5. To be capable of being installed in any type of building in any locality.

It would appear from the results of the first year’s operations that the SITD.100 plant fulfils the conditions laid down in a very satisfactory manner. The photographs of Plate 1.[2] show the various parts of the apparatus as installed in the test building in Ottawa.

The power plant consists of a small one horse power automatic Delco set using gasoline as fuel, and developing 32 volts direct current. This plant comes into operation automatically as soon as a load, as low as 25 watts, is connected across the generator terminals. That this plant is as dependable and as foolproof as other Delco equipment, is amply proven by the thousands of sets now in use by farmers and others throughout Canada and the United States. A further advantage of using equipment of such a standard nature lies in the fact that spare parts can be obtained in almost any part of the country. Due to the elimination of station batteries it was necessary to use alternating current for the transmitter so that the filaments of the valves could be lighted by a stepdown transformer and the plates supplied by a stepup transformer. A 500 watt motor generator set operates from the Delco mains and delivers single phase alternating current at 110 volts, 60 cycles, to the transmitter. Special provision has been made in the design of this motor generator set to minimize voltage fluctuations due to load. The transmitter itself is built on the same plan as our Standard 500 Watt transmitter and all parts are easily accessible both for adjustment and for repair. The necessary meters for the proper supervision of the adjustment and operation of the set are provided on the main transmitter panel, while the power transformer, rheostats, valves and main inductance coil are mounted behind the panel. The transmitter employs the well known Hartley circuit and a rapid variation of wavelength is provided by means of a condenser on the main panel. A double contact keying relay is used in this transmitter, one set of contacts being used to close the grid circuit and the other pair of contacts to control a resistance which is thrown into the filament circuit when the key is up. This protects the valve filaments against voltage surges. An automatic starter controls the motor generator set and is equipped with both armature and field protection. Three push buttons are provided for the use of the operator. The first push button places a lamp load across the Delco. This causes the Delco plant to start up. When the pilot light on the transmitter lights, the operator may utilize the second push button to start up the motor generator set. The third push button is used to shut down the motor generator set when the transmission is over. Between periods of transmission, the Delco may either be allowed to run or may be shut down by the operator. The power for the operation of the relay in the transmitter is obtained from the voltage drop across a resistance in the pilot lamp circuit. It will thus be seen that the transmitter operates without the use of a station battery of any type.

The receiving set has also been specially designed for this station. The circuit used is a modification of the well known Browning Drake receiver now so popular in broadcast reception. The valves employed only required 60 milliamperes for the filament an this power can, therefore, be supplied by three dry cells. A standard 108 volt dry battery is used to supply the plates of the valves, both for the amplifier and the detector units. Four valves are employed in this receiver, one being a stage of radio frequency amplification, one a detector, and the last two, transformer coupled audio amplification. This circuit is extremely sensitive, very stable and easy to operate. There are only two controls normally employed, although the reaction coil on the radio frequency transformer has been made adjustable so that the set can be instantly adapted for telephone reception or for telegraph reception.

Both transmitter and receiver are mounted on a table, similar to the table used with the 500 watt set. A standard key is used and the antenna and counterpoise connections are brought in to the main send-receive switch on the transmitter. Only one antenna Is used in this case and it is thrown from the transmitter to the receiver when reception is to be carried out.

The antenna system is based somewhat on the type used for the 120 watt set, with the exception that a counterpoise is used in place of a direct ground. No attempt is made to design the counterpoise for minimum resistance, but sufficient area is provided to give satisfactory operation over the distances to be covered. The question of ease of operation has been considered as of more importance than maximum output. The masts are built up from light angle iron but are erected in a manner similar to the 120 watt set masts, or the type “B” mast supplied with the 500 watt station. Light wooden mast bases and anchors are provided so that erection can be carried out on that rock if necessary. In this case it is only necessary to load down the anchors with loose rock. A two wire “I” antenna is used, 300 feet long, and supported on 10 foot pipe spreaders. Rubber cord insulators are used throughout in order to minimize weight. The counterpoise is located directly under the antenna and is about two-thirds its length. Three light wooden supports are used, one at either end and one in the centre. The lead-in from the counterpoise is taken off at the centre support. This construction makes it possible to erect the complete antenna system in almost any locality. Buildings already erected may be used provided accommodation can be given for the transmitter either at one end or at one side of the building. A small standard station building was designed for locations where existing buildings were unsuitable. Buildings of this type have been erected in Prince Albert, Ladder Lake and Waskesiu. Exterior views of these buildings are shown in Place 2.

In connection with the design of the transmitter, receiver and antenna system, many standard parts which have already been developed for use with 500 watt stations, are being employed. In this way it has been possible to minimize the number of new parts to be made and the number of spare parts which must be kept in stock in Ottawa. This is becoming an increasingly important problem due to the fact that the Department now has in operation a very large number of radio stations scattered throughout the length and breadth of the Dominion of Canada.

The apparatus was assembled and shipped from the signal shops in Ottawa as fast as each station was completed. The Forestry Branch and the Civil Government Air Operations Branch arranged for the erection of the necessary buildings at the different bases but the installation of the apparatus was carried out by a special erecting staff from Ottawa under Lieutenant Young of The R.C.C.S. The Prince Albert station was established first, followed by Ladder Lake, Waskesin, Ile-a-la-Crosse and Lac la Ronge in the order named. Lake Waskesin is the headquarters for the new Prince Albert National Park, and is located 75 miles North of Prince Albert, in the heart of one of the most beautiful districts in Canada. This park was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Canada on August 10th, 1928. At the request of the Dominion Parks Branch an additional 100 watt station was erected at this point to keep the park in touch with the Parks Branch and Forestry Headquarters in Prince Albert. Some idea of the natural beauty of the park can be obtained from the photographs of Plate 3.[2]

The new system came into operation as a whole in August of this year, just in time to demonstrate its usefulness during the Fall fire hazard season. A complete schedule was arranged, including morning, afternoon and evening periods for all stations. Prince Albert being made the directing station for the system. Since Saskatchewan Flying Operations are administered from Air Force Headquarters in Winnipeg, it was essential that direct radio communication should be provided to supplement the telegraph service out of Prince Albert. To accomplish this, morning and night periods were arranged between the Cormorant Lake station of the Manitoba system and Ladder Lake in Saskatchewan.

On account of the comparatively short distances between bases in Saskatchewan, a slightly different system of reporting fires has been developed from that in use in Manitoba. Only a few of the patrol machines were fitted with radio apparatus, therefore during each patrol the machines would land at one or more of the sub-stations and send in to forestry headquarters a full and complete report on the conditions encountered in the area covered. This system was adopted on account of the necessity for carrying Forestry Observers and fire fighting apparatus on practically all detection patrols. A series of articles has recently appeared in the Toronto Saturday Night dealing with the use of the aeroplane in forest fire fighting in Ontario. An official of the Ontario Department of Forests in a very well written article points out that the system requires a combined ground and air force backed by every improvement that good judgement and modern science can make available. This article sums up in a nutshell the necessity for a combination of scientific foresters, aeroplanes and radio in the fight to protect our national forests, or, to quote Mr. James Smart, Forest Inspector Saskatchewan: -

“Canada requires a thoroughly equipped flying organization superimposed on an efficient ground system, with fast and reliable communication close at hand, if we are to make any headway in protecting our vast forest resources.”

It is this fast and reliable communication service that the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals is striving to provide. How successful we have been can best be indicated by the results of the work of the past Summer. Traffic handled is an excellent indication of the value of any communication system and the following tables have been prepared covering the work of all stations for the months of August, September and October. The figures speak for themselves –

Table I.
Saskatchewan Radio System – Traffic Report
August, September, October, 1928.
Station Messages Words
  Received     Sent     Total     Received     Sent     Total  
Cormorant Lake 119 241 360 4,092 7,301 11,393
Prince Albert 266 396 662 13,381 15,830 29,211
Ladder Lake 691 536 1227 30,555 19,528 50,083
Ile-a-la Crosse 63 153 216 7,688 6,843 14,531
Lac la Ronge 132 86 218 3,813 3,766 7,579
Waskesiu 43 50 93 1,534 1,734 3,268
Totals 1314 1462 2776 61,063 55,002 116,065

Table II.
Saskatchewan Radio System – Operating Report
August, September, October, 1928.
Station Hours of Operation  
  Transmitter     Power Plant     Fuel Consumed  
  (American gallons)  
Prince Albert 126.0 211.0 62.00
Ladder Lake 134.2 600.0 130.50
Ile-a-la Crosse 57.3 277.0 91.00
Lac la Ronge 18.0 80.0 23.00
Waskesiu 41.5 272.0 66.75
Totals 377.0 1440.0 373.25

It might perhaps be interesting to give one or two instances of the part played by the radio system:

During the early part of September Flying Officer McDonald of the R.C.A.F. crashed in Buffalo Lake about sixty miles north of Ile-a-la Crosse. After a long and dangerous trip by power canoe Dr. Amyot reached the scene of the accident and was able to render the necessary first aid. Dr. Amyot’s action in making the trip through weather that even the Indians would not face, undoubtedly saved McDonald’s life, but it then became a question of getting him out to the hospital where proper medical attention could be given. By means of the radio system it was possible to get in touch with the Cormorant Lake Station and a plane was sent in with the necessary supplies. Flying Officer McDonald was not brought out by air but by motor boat, but all arrangements were effected first by plane to La Crosse and then by radio to Prince Albert and Winnipeg.

During the time that Wing Commander Gordon and Squadron Leader Godfrey were missing in the Peace River district it was possible for the R.C.A.F. officials to keep in touch with the radio stations at Edmonton and Fort Smith and in this way the first intimation of their forced landing on the Peace River was obtained. At the time of this accident Squadron Leader Stephenson, the Officer Commanding in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, was in Northern Saskatchewan. He was kept in touch with the situation by radio and was able to arrange for a cabin type machine to go from Cormorant Lake to search the Peace River between the Slave River and Peace River Crossing. While this plane did not arrive until after General McRae had effected the rescue, it was able to render great assistance in the salvaging of the equipment, and later it transported Squadron Leader Godfrey and Sergeant Major Graham to Peace River.

The installation of these radio stations in Northern Saskatchewan has been a great boon to trading companies and settlers in the district and considerable commercial traffic has already been handled. As a result of this, pressure has been brought to bear, both by the inhabitants and by the large companies trading in the area, to have the stations kept open all year. This request has been met by maintaining the stations at Lac la Ronge and Prince Albert throughout the Winter. Commercial traffic is being handled over this part of the system and, while the returns in dollars and cents may not be large, the value of the service in developing the country cannot be denied.

Related Photos

The following photos are not part of the published article but relate to the article.


  1. Military Communications and Electronics Museum Archives.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Not available in our copy.