Done Without Wires

No telephone lines link Red Lake with the outside world but Red Lake talks "long distance" at will by radiophone

FREDERICK EDWARDS February 15 1939

Done Without Wires

No telephone lines link Red Lake with the outside world but Red Lake talks "long distance" at will by radiophone

FREDERICK EDWARDS February 15 1939

Done Without Wires

No telephone lines link Red Lake with the outside world but Red Lake talks "long distance" at will by radiophone


THIS DAY was Friday, December the ninth, 1938, and Douglas Cameron was in a tough spot. Pilot Cameron, flying a transport plane on behalf of Wings, Limited, was fogbound among hills north and east of Kenora, Ontario. His fuel supply was running dangerously low, and there was ice on the surfaces of his wings. He knew he was somewhere in the neighborluxxl of Willard Dike, because he could glimpse enough of the country through the drifting mists to show him familiar landfalls. That was the extent of his certain knowledge. Should he risk a forced landing on Willard Lake?

Douglas Cameron knew he was in a tight place. Still and all, he wasn't greatly worried. Wings, Limited, has a base at Flat Lake, seven miles south of the town of Retí Lake, in the heart of the famous Red Dike gold-mining area; and Cameron’s ship was equipped with a two-way short-wave radio-telephone set.

Thinking over the possibility of a forced landing on Willard Dike. Cameron radiophoned from his pilot’s seat to the Flat Lake base. Flat Dike radiophoned the Ontario Forestry Department station at Red Lake, outlining Cameron's difficulties, and asking for information. Jack Whey, the Forestry Department operator on duty at Red Lake, radiophoned Kenora, where Duke Tompkins was in charge. Tompkins used the land telephone to reach the Canadian Pacific station agent at Hawk Lake, which lies alongside Willard Lake.

The station agent, thoroughly familiar with conditions, said, emphatically, “No!” The ice on Willard Lake, he said, was in such shape that an attempt to land on it must inevitably result in a crash. From Kenora. to Red Dike, to the Flat Lake air base, and so to Douglas Cameron, still circling around in the fog, this word was relayed. Cameron asked for a report on conditions at Kenora. Over the same route and through the same medium he got word that the ceiling at Kenora was low, only about 500 feet, but a landing was possible. He flew to Kenora. made his landing safely. Lacking advice on conditions at Willard Lake, he must surely have cracked up attempting a landing, probably would have been killed.

A Town That Talks by Radio

THIS authentic incident offers the most recent example of the tremendous value of the short-wave radiotelephone system developed over the past two or three years in

the remoter hinterlands of Northern Ontario. In the case of Douglas Cameron, the rapid-fire communications made possible by short-wave radio-telephony saved an airplane, possibly a human life, from destruction. In other less spectacular ways, the system is promoting human and business relations, maintaining communication between an important but almost completely isolated community and the outside world.

There are other short-wave stations in remote parts of the Dominion, certainly, many of them equipped for telephonic communication, some privately owned, others operated by Governmental agencies. To be exact, there are eighty-four such stations, and they are strung out from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to Shannon Bay in British Columbia; from Leamington in the southwestern tip of Ontario, to Herschel at the northwestern tip of the Yukon Territory, which is practically around the corner from the North Pole. The essential differences between these systems and that operating in Northwestern Ontario are that in other areas short-wave radio-telephonv is either duplicated by telephone or telegraph land lines or both; is limited in range; or serves only a small community.

For its size, the Red Lake-Pickle Lake gold-mining district, north of Kenora and close to the Manitoba border, is probably one of the most isolated human settlements in the world. Depending upon the state of the international market for gold, there are at seasonable periods anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 people resident in this district. Yet it has no contact with the outside world save by difficult forest or water trails, by air and by radio.

There is no graded highway. In the winter months there is a snow road of sorts through the woods. In the summer there is a water route, through scattered lakes and winding streams, following which, people and supplies can get in with canoes or on scows. There is no railroad, no telegraph or telephone land line. For rapid communication there are only the air lanes, the radio and now, the radiophone.

Two-way Airplane Contact

THE present highly efficient short-wave radiophone system has been developed from the beginnings of the use of short-wave radio communication in the forestry service. The radiophone service itself is the growth of only two years, and it has taken giant strides since the day late in May, 1937, when the Hon. Peter Heenan, Ontario’s Minister of Lands and Forests, sitting in a Toronto hotel room, talked over land wires to Kenora and by radiotelephone to leading citizens of Red Lake, inaugurating the system which now links that formerly isolated community with the four corners of the earth.

For the use of the public, telegraphic and telephonic service is maintained through the short-wave stations the year round. Each of the three transport air lines operating in the territory has its own radio-telephone system, conveyed through the Forestry Department’s four stations. Forest rangers and the forty-one observation towers set at strategic points throughout the thickly wooded area, are equipped with portable two-way sets of their own.

So, although there is no outside telephone line into Red Lake or Pickle Lake, the mining Big Shot, sitting nervously in a Red Lake or Pickle Lake camp, chewing his fingernails while he awaits a report on a vital financial deal taking place maybe on Bay Street, Toronto. St. James Street. Montreal, or for that matter in the far-off money markets of New York or Dmdon, need never lose touch. At the appointed time he simply picks up the phone in his office connected with the company’s local private line and says. “Get me Kenora,” or. “Get me Sioux Lookout.” Through the Forestry Department station at Red Lake or Pickle Lake his conversation will be carried by radiophone to Kenora or Sioux Lookout, thence by land wires to Toronto, or Montreal, or London, across a continent, over an ocean, halfway around the world. Or he can send a telegram over the same route.

Airplane bases of Canadian Airways, Starratt, and Wings, Limited, maintain direct two-way ground-to-air radiophone contacts with their ships. Should a pilot forget a couple of sacks of potatoes, destined for some far-off camp, he can be called back to pick them up. In any emergency the communication between ship and base is immediate and certain. Money and time are saved.

Observers in the tall towers set on the hilltops report by radiophone any suspicious smoke signs, receive instructions from headquarters, talk to one another.

Recent Developments

THERE ARE four key stations; at Red Lake, Pickle Lake, Kenora and Sioux Lookout. Most of the equipment was installed by the Marconi Company, but a lot of imjx>rtant developments, especially with regard to the portable sets, have come out of the Provincial Government’s radio laboratories in Toronto. For these James Edward Watson, the thirtyeight-year-old Sujx-rintendent of Provincial Radio for the Ontario Government, his assistant engineer, Lash win J. Madill, a young man from Orillia, Ont., and his technician, Donald A. Cooper, deserve the credit.

In their workshops at Queen’s Park, just a short city block from the Parliament Buildings, these men have succeeded in developing a combination ultrahigh frequency short-wave transmission and receiving set which has won high praise from communications engineers all over Canada, including Bell Telephone technicians, before whom one of the earliest practical demonstrations of the set was made.

The future of this small, inexpensive, light and portable short-wave radio station seems limitless within its field. About thirteen inches high, less than a foot wide, the set costs only about $200 to build, has an operating range up to eighty miles with l(K) JXT cent reliability. These are the sets with which the forestry observation towers are equipped. They operate on an ultra-short-wave length —between live and seven metres—therefore are not effective for ground use over any distance, or in mountainous regions, but they are ixirfect for the forestry towers. Cased like a typewriter, they use a demountable aluminum tube aerial, which takes down into three sections, and can Ixi balanced on one finger. In actual service over the past few summer seasons, they have proved so effective that the now old-fashioned bush telephone, never very reliable, has been completely supplanted.

Another inqxirtant development credited to James Watson and his assistants, is a signalling device that makes it unnecessary to establish a definite time schedule between sender and receiver, as is the case with the usual pattern of commercial shortwave sets. Operating on a fixed wave length, the calling device picks up the sender's signal and sets off a buzzer, directing the attention of the receiving operator to the microphone.

When it comes to the public service divisions of the system, operation of the three separate air-to-ground, telegraph, and telephone channels, which may be all in action at the same time, is simple enough when you hear James Watson tell it. At each of the four key points—Kenora, Sioux Ltx>kout, Red Lake and Pickle

Dike......central stations, each equipped

with three transmitters, have been established. One transmitter handles air-toground messages. Another sends and receives telegraphic communications, and the third is for the exclusive use of telephonic transmission. Telephone messages, in case you have been wondering about this ixjint, are sent through a scrambling device which renders the spoken words entirely unintelligible to any ill-mannered nosy parker who might be tempted to tune in. a familiar irritation to anyone who has used a party line. At the receiving end another device unscrambles the talk, so that the jumble of queer noises that baffles the inquisitive reaches the right person as a nice cosy, confidential conversation.

Telegrams, radioed in the Morse code through the transmitter entirely devoted to their service, do not require scrambling, and there is no particular necessity for scrambling the direct air-to-ground messages either, except maybe to censor some of the more pungent personal comments that pilots and ground executives have been known to amuse themselves with.

A Revenue Producer

rT'IIE Ontario Government paid the -L Marconi Company $100,000 for supplying and installing the short-wave equipment at all four stations—$25,000 a station. The Forestry Department operates the stations, splitting commercial tolls with Marconi. The department cannot be said to be overmanned. At its summer peak, the total personnel is thirty-four male employees and one woman who doubles as stenographer and bookkeeper.

The system produces revenue for the Department of Lands and Forests, as well as for the telegraph, telephone and

Marconi companies. Radio-telephone calls from the Red Lake district into Sioux Lookout or Kenora cost $1.75 for three minutes fast talk. Over the land lines, of course, regular tolls obtain, payable to the telephone company.

Telegrams radioed from Red Lake to Kenora are charged on a schedule of seventy-five cents for ten words, five cents for each word thereafter. The department makes regular monthly settlements with the two telegraph companies on the basis of the number of words handled by each.

The three air transport lines operating directly from their bases to their planes, through the department stations’ air-toground transmitters, each has its own call signal, and each maintains a twenty-fourhour-a-day communication. Their messages do not require handling by the station operators, and no record is kept by the deixirtment of their calls. Each company pays a flat annual rate.

Gross revenue varies widely with the season of the year, and with the general condition of the mining industry. In a btxtm mining year the income has run as high as $3.500 a month, a sizable sum to take out of telegrams and phone calls from a backwoods settlement. An average summer month in 1938 recorded 27,353 words transmitted over the commercial radio-telegraph system, 23.836 sent out on behalf of the forestry service. Camping and fishing parties, many of them from distant United States points, have found the system a great convenience, never boggle at the expense.

Far and above its commercial value is rated the system’s priceless service in grave emergencies when human lives are at stake. The Douglas Cameron incident is only one of many. Physicians and surgeons have been called to distant camps in cases of sudden illness or for major operations.

A legend popular at Queen’s Park has it that the keen interest in the development of radio-telephony shown by Lands Minister Peter Heenan springs from an uncomfortable experience he and a party of friends went through a few summers back. Flying over a wilderness north of Sudbury, their plane was forced down on a small lake, when the motor conked out. They were a hundred miles from civilization in the midst of trackless forest lands. Happily the plane was equipped with short-wave radio. The pilot established communication with Pickle Lake, 200 miles away. Pickle Lake radioed the air base at Sault Ste. Marie, nearest to the lost party’s position. Within a couple of hours a rescue plane had landed beside the stalled machine. Since then Mr. Heenan has given the radio division of his department close personal attention, has done everything in his power to assist its progress.

Pocket Sets Possible

rT''HESE are the sort of happenings that fire the enthusiasm of James Watson and his men. Watson keeps a scrapbook of recorded North Country adventures in which short-wave radio and radiophone communications play an important part, admits that every such incident urges him to further effort. About his work he is as sentimental as a father with his first-born.

Radio Superintendent Watson has seen plenty of adventure in his own life. He came to the top the hard way. Born in Manchester, England, he was dabbling in radio when it was nothing more than a wireless system of code communication between ships at sea and few scattered land stations. When he had reached his eighteenth year, Watson was a wireless operator on board a troop transport. The ship was torpedoed off the Irish Coast by a German submarine, and the young Sparks put in three hours of desperate struggling in the cold waters of the Irish Sea. With the aid of a lifejacket he managed to keep afloat, but he was unconscious when rescuers dragged him from the waves.

After the War, still interested in radio, Watson left England for Canada. He was in Winnipeg in 1925, working at anything he could find to do, including a turn in the prairie wheatfields that still makes his back ache when he thinks about it. He first caught on with the Ontario forestry service in 1928, as a radio operator. In 1931 he quit that job to take charge of

production for a commercial radio manufacturing company, whose sets went off the Canadian market, by reason of a series of amalgamations, in 1933. A year later he was back with the Ontario Government, in charge of what was then a rather spindly infant of a radio department.

Progress made since then, especially in the field of developing ultrahigh frequency short-wave sets for receiving and transmitting, may definitely be credited to Watson and his chief assistant, the youthful Lashwin J, Madill. Watson is not yet forty years old. Madill is still in his twenties. Modern radio engineering, it is plain to be seen, is a young man’s proposition.

Watson divides his time between his office and central control station set high in the roof of the sixteenth-story tower of the Administration Building in Toronto’s Queen’s Park, and the modest two-floor brick workshops and laboratory a block away. In his control station he keeps a watchful eye on the short-wave operations of the entire system. In the workshops, Watson, Madill and technician Cooper work on repairs and adjustments to the portable sets brought in every winter from the forestry towers, and think up new ideas for improving their equipment.

This winter they are aiming for a still smaller and lighter portable set to operate on a medium-wave length. The idea is that this newest and tiniest short-wave radio station can be carried across the broad shoulders of a forest ranger on patrol, keeping him in constant communication with other rangers, supervisors and headquarters. They have completed their first working model, a nine-tube affair no larger than a portable typewriter, weighing only fifteen pounds without batteries.

“It would be of tremendous value in actual fire fighting,” says Watson, his blue eyes blazing with enthusiasm. “The men could keep in touch with each other and with the supervisors, regardless of smoke or dust, without worrying about broken wires, under the most difficult circumstances.

“There are other interesting possibilities for such a set. On trains for example, the engineer and conductor could talk to each other, even on those mile-long freights.”

The time may be not so far distant when the tired businessman, indulging in a little after-hours relaxation, will receive a peremptory summons from his wife to come home, through the short-wave set she makes him carry in his coat pocket.

Let’s not go into that.