The North West Territories Radio System (Canadian Defence Quarterly April 1927)

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The following article was published in the Canadian Defence Quarterly April 1927.[1]

The North West Territories Radio System

By Major W. Arthur Steel, M.C., The R.C.C.S.

A year has passed by since the last article appeared in the Quarterly on the radio work of The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in the MacKenzie Basin [Canadian Defence Quarterly, October, 1925]. During the period steady progress has been made in the development of this important service. By the fall of 1925 all of the main stations were in commission and during the past year no entirely new work has been undertaken. The temporary station erected on Herschel Island was completed and is now included as an integral part of the system. In addition, a new point of contact has been established at Bernard Harbour on Coronation Gulf, about 500 miles East of Aklavik. This station has been added to the system through the cooperation of the Hudson’s Bay Company. One of their motor trading boats, the “Baymaud”, equipped with a modern continuous wave radio set, is remaining permanently in that area and arrangements were made for the boat to work in conjunction with the other stations of the system, the operator on board acting as our agent in that district. In general, all traffic is cleared through Aklavik, but during the fall and winter months this station has been in direct touch with Fort Smith and Edmonton. Tests have also been conducted with this station on short waves, and on several occasions direct contact has been effected from the Ottawa Station of The R.C.C.S.

During 1926 there has been certain capital expenditures on the other stations of the system. This has taken the form of improvements in living conditions, and in greater conveniences for the handling of the large volume of traffic which has developed during the past two years. As explained previously, Fort Simpson is the relay or clearing station for the entire system. When this station was first established in 1924 pressure of time forced us to occupy existing quarters; these quarters have now become too small and it has become necessary to erect a new radio station, and buildings for the accommodation of the officer and detachment located there. The Hudson’s Bay Company have kindly leased us a tract of land close to the main trading post, and it is our intention to move the entire station to this site. The accommodation for the single men and the married quarters have already been erected and it is hoped to finish the construction of the radio station during the coming summer. It is very interesting to look back over the past four years and observe the increasing use made of the radio system by the general public. This is clearly shown by the rapid growth in the volume of traffic handled. The following chart has been compiled from the Traffic Returns made to the Canadian National Telegraphs and shows the business accruing to the radio system only. In addition to this, there is a total of $3,397.65 taken in by stations on the system for traffic handed over to various commercial telegraph and cable lines. The grand total is therefore $29,047.25 for 1926.

North West Territories and Yukon Radio System
Month 1923 1924 1925 1926
January   283.44 645.55 1,715.80
February   261.59 636.63 1,629.77
March   268.92 1,040.35 1,706.69
April   449.44 2,051.11 2,346.90
May   559.51 1,730.87 2,213.90
June   481.90 2,475.65 2,638.82
July   471.21 2,036.62 3,099.26
August   488.65 2,471.18 2,673.64
September               475.14 1,869.27 2,247.71
October 146.76 244.53 1,428.29 1,711.67
November 247.89 322.68 1,045.30 1,453.94
December 285.45 554.69 1,563.11 2,211.50
TOTALS   $680.10  $4,861.70 $18,999.93 $25,649.60

From the above table it will be noted that the business for 1926 shows an increase of practically 40% over the previous year. When the system was first inaugurated it was thought that it would not be necessary to keep these stations open for more than two or three hours per day. During the past year the volume of traffic has been so great as to necessitate their operation for an average of fifteen hours per day during the summer time, and for the full ten hour period during the winter months. For this reason we have been forced to increase the staff at several of the more important stations. The Aklavik station, which it was expected would prove of little importance from a traffic point of view, took in during the eleven months from February to December, 1926, a total of $6,225.67 for the radio system alone. We may fairly assume, I think, that these figures indicate the importance of the system to the public from the commercial point of view.

There have been a number of outstanding instances during the last fifteen months in which the radio system has been of particular utility. The first of these occurred in the early winter of 1926. A valuable deposit of gold was discovered in the vicinity of Fort Fitzgerald, Alberta, on the east bank of the Slave River, approximately twenty-five miles south of Fort Smith, N.W.T. This discovery was investigated by one of the largest mining corporations in Canada. The Company decided to develop their claims at once and enquiries were instigated regarding the transport of some thirty tons of freight and thirty-five men over the 300 mile winter trail from Fort McMurray to Fort Fitzgerald. Previous to this time the traffic over the trail had consisted of one trip every two weeks, using flat sleighs drawn by dogs or horses. This meant a tremendous increase in the transportation facilities. It was here that radio proved its value. In the ordinary course of events it requires six weeks from the date of mailing in Edmonton before an answer can be received to a letter sent to Fort Smith. By the use of the radio the mining syndicate were able to complete the arrangements for the transportation of their stores within a total elapsed period of three days. The Engineer in charge of the mining syndicate work has stated that the presence of the radio station at Fort Smith contributed very largely to their decision to work the property, as it enabled them to get their equipment on the ground in time to make full use of the summer season. The traffic over the Fort Smith Station increased rapidly during this period, the system being used extensively both by the syndicate and the large number of prospectors and claim stakers coming in from outside. During the month of March, 1926, 282 messages were handled, in addition to this, 3,965 words of press were sent to the outside and 3,216 received from Edmonton.

During a storm on Great Slave Lake, in August, 1926, the Alberta and Arctic Transportation Company lost a barge loaded with stores for the North. This was one of the last trips of the season and meant a serious loss, not only to the transportation company but to the many traders and trappers depending upon these stores for their subsistence during the winter. By means of the radio system from Fort Simpson and Fort Smith, information was rushed through to the shippers concerned and new stores obtained and sent to Fort Smith at short notice. The Transportation Company arranged for a boat to leave Smith at the end of the first week in September and the stores were delivered to their final destination before the close of navigation.

At the time of the Dominion election on September 14th, arrangements were made with the Telegraph Companies in Edmonton to obtain the election returns direct from the telegraph wires. These returns were broadcast from our Edmonton station and received direct by all of the other stations of the Radio System. In this way we were able to give the people living at Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Aklavik and Mayo, full information regarding the progress of the election. It has been interesting to find out, since that date, that the delay in this service was so slight that these returns were available in Aklavik at practically the same time that they were posted on the news bulletins in Edmonton.


  1. Military Communications and Electronics Museum Archives.