Manning of Communications Stations in Eastern Canada

Canadian External Relations - 1954


Volume #21 - 361.









Deputy Minister of National Defence
to Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs


Ottawa, February 7th, 1955


Dear Sir:

Your letter of 23 November 195484 recommending a policy for the manning of a U.S.A.F. communications facility at Gander has been studied in the light of:

(a) General Twining's letter of 22 November 1954 to Air Marshal Slemon (copy attached†).

(b) U.S.A.F. plans for overseas ionsopheric scatter circuits, and

(c) Your letter of 23 November 1954 to Chairman, Chiefs of Staff,† concerning the Commercial Cable Company's proposed voice and telegraph cable from U.S. to U.K. via Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland. (Reply not embodied herein.)

The attached map (Appendix "B"†) of major U.S.A.F. existing and proposed multi-channel long-haul communications through Eastern Canada shows that these circuits:

(a) are being, or will be, used to carry U.S. traffic across Canada to the territories of third powers.

(b) are parallel to existing or required communications of our Government (See Appendix "A"†).

There are, additionally, considerable numbers of U.S.A.F. high-frequency and low-frequency point-to-point circuits already established in the same area. Many of these are multi-channel, and some are parts of U.S. international networks.

From a meagre beginning, and by asking for a circuit here today and another somewhere else tomorrow, the U.S. has gradually built itself a great network of North Atlantic communications based largely on Eastern Canadian soil. Although this uses the best available sites at many Canadian bases and has required the assignment of numerous Canadian frequencies from our limited holdings, it carries little or no Canadian traffic and is entirely under U.S. control.

Scatter and cable techniques are capable of giving reliable communications in the auroral belt which covers much of Northeastern Canada and the North Atlantic. The conventional high-frequency and low-frequency radio circuits employed by our own Government in these areas are subject to serious disruption by magnetic storms and are, of course, prone to jamming. The Defence Research Board and the Services are turning their attention to the scatter techniques and have no doubt that the answer to many Canadian communications problems lies in this direction. Canadian manufacturers and operators must obtain experience in this field soon. Meanwhile, little by little, as one urgent demand has followed another, many choice sites and frequencies have been yielded and U.S. equipment has been installed in all sites.

I need hardly say how concerned I am about the mushroom growth of these foreign-owned international communications in our own defence area. All are legitimate requirements in the NATO defence arrangements, but the ownership and control of the circuits should be re-examined on the basis that any country's self-reliance is bound up with its ability to control the communications within its own boundaries. This is true, it seems to me, not only of military circuits but also of civil government and even commercial facilities.

I recommend that we consider taking over not merely the manning of one or two of the U.S.-owned scatter stations, but the ownership and control of all the U.S. long-haul communications facilities in Canada.

For both tropospheric and ionospheric scatter circuits, the following proposals appear in order of preference:

(a) Service ownership and maintenance.

(b) Service ownership: civil maintenance.

Because the Services are already over-extended in the technical field, (a) could not prove practicable within the next five years. Alternative (b) appears feasible and should be discussed at a meeting of interested departments. If the maintenance and technical operation could be done by the Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation or by the Canadian National Telegraphs, full governmental control would be achieved and franchise rights in Newfoundland would not be violated.

Purchase of the scatter facilities will be costly. However, this purchase cost could be amortized over the next seven or ten years and much of it, together with maintenance costs, could be charged back to the U.S. on the basis of their proportionate use of available circuits (probably not less than seventy-five per cent). Alternatively, since many of these facilities have been installed as part of the radar extension plan, the one-third/two-thirds term of the Pinetree Note might be used in relation to these to ensure that Canada's one-third expenditure buys ownership and control of items of international significance and continuing peacetime importance such as communications, while the U.S. two-thirds provides facilities primarily of wartime use and of a geographically limited role, such as the heavy radars and their gap-fillers.

The coaxial cable proposed by Commercial Cable Limited, roughly parallels the northern overseas scatter circuits. I understand the company is being authorized, in so far as Canada is concerned, to proceed with this project, subject to certain restrictions on the acceptance of traffic of Canadian origin. If this cable remains under U.S. control, the USAF communications could be transferred to it and the scatter circuits made ineffective by closing the U.S. relays in Greenland and the Azores.

To guard against this, it would seem wise for Canada to have some positive and absolute control over at least those portions of the cable lying in Canadian waters or traversing Canadian soil. The costs of this could presumably be recovered on the same basis as for the scatter circuits.

Pending the outcome of the interdepartmental discussions proposed above and Cabinet decision on the recommendations resulting therefrom, Air Marshal Slemon has advised General Twining that the Gander station may be opened by the use of U.S.A.F. personnel, without prejudice to the future manning of this and other scatter facilities (copy attached†). Meanwhile, I suggested that the Government press forward with plans for early Canadian manning of the Gander station in order to begin acquisition of first-hand experience of the scatter technique by whatever agency is to be given responsibility in this field.

A copy of this letter is being forwarded to Mr. Baldwin.

Yours sincerely,

C.M. Drury

84 Voir/See Volume 20, Document 498.