Military Communications and Electronics Museum | Musée de L'électronique et des communications militaires

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NORTH WEST TERRITORIES AND THE YUKON RADIO SYSTEM

By 1922 operating costs of the Yukon Telegraph Service became excessive for the services provided. The 1000 mile line from Hazelton, British Columbia, through Yellowknife to Dawson City, Yukon, alone cost $200,000 a year to maintain. By this time many lines were maintained by the expedient of having linemen stationed every 10 miles and doing daily foot patrols along the critical sections.

At the same time the Department of the Interior began calling for faster communications in order to administer the vast area under its control, therefore turned to the RCCS for a cost effective alternative. High Frequency radio was the solution and with the signing of a formal inter-department agreement in 1923, the RCCS began planning installation of stations for its new commercial role.


THE FIRST NORTHWEST TERRITORIES AND YUKON STATIONS

In the summer of 1923 Major W. A. Steele and 8 signalmen left Vancouver aboard the SS Princess Louise. From Skagway, Alaska, they proceeded by way of the White Pass and the Yukon Railway to Whitehorse, then by riverboat to Dawson City and Mayo. Sergeant Bill Lockhart was chief operator at Mayo and Sergeant Heath was his counterpart at Dawson. The RCCS radio stations opened at Dawson City and Mayo Landing on 20 October 1923. The stations used 120 watt transmitters which were set up in rented accommodations. It cost $1.50 to send a 10 word message or 50 word night message between two communities. 50 messages were sent on the first day. October 20 1924 saw a radio station open at Fort Simpson, NWT, and a terminal radio station open at Edmonton, Alberta. Telegrams from the north could now travel by radio to Edmonton where they were switched to Canadian National or Canadian Pacific telegraph systems. The NWT&Y system rapidly replaced the Yukon Telegraph Service land line as Dawson City's main link to the world.

WEATHER WATCHING

A VITAL "SIDELINE" AT NORTHERN RADIO STATIONS

Located across the belt where much of Canada's weather is born or first experienced, the NWT&Y radio stations were ideally located to make important observations, and ideally equipped to transmit them quickly. Radio operators became trained meteorologists, their regular reports formed a reliable basis for the official daily national weather forecast.

The instruments on display are typical of those found in a typical NWT&Y radio station and were provided by what was then the Meteorological Branch of the Department of Transport.

THE END OF THE NWT&Y

In September 1957 the Canadian Government ordered the RCSIGS to turn all 28 stations of the NWT&Y Radio System over to the Federal Department of Transport. Fort McMurray went first while Resolution, was turned over on 25 March 1959, the last NWT&Y station to close.

The NWT&Y Radio System, including its headquarters in Edmonton had closed entirely by 1965.

1 January 1979 NORTHWESTEL, a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian National Telecommunications, became responsible for northern communications. In 1969 NorthwesTel, then owned by BCE Incorporated, formerly Bell Canada Enterprises, began taking over communications for the entire Canadian north.