Estevan Wireless about 1912
   The British colonies on the west coast of North America depended on reliable deep sea connections to the rest of the world.  The lack of navigational aids and detailed charts of the coast hindered shipping.  The Royal Navy had charted some of the coast, but many dangerous rocks and other navigational hazards had yet to be discovered and charted. 

   The main shipping route to the rest of the world was through the 100 nautical mile Strait of Juan de Fuca, a bit tricky to find from seaward and often filled with contrary winds.  There were a couple of lighthouses in the Strait, nothing major northwards. Vessels would sail, only to vanish, and expected vessels failed to arrive in port. Often debris found on a coastal beach would be the only hint of another tragedy. 

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Estevan Wireless in early the 1910's.   

   Eventually a communications network of wireless stations would blanket the BC coast. The first four wireless stations, Vancouver, Victoria, Pachena Point and Estevan Point were all operational by January 1908 while Cape Lazo came on line a few months later. By the time the decade was out, Triangle Island, Ikeda Head (Moresby Island), Dead Tree (Graham Island) and Digby Island (Prince Rupert) were added to the list of stations, thus wireless coverage along the British Columbia coast was complete.

 

   Within a decade Triangle was shut down and replaced by Bull Harbour.  Ikeda met a similar fate. Alert Bay was added to cover the busy inside passage.

 

    In 1911 it was reported that there were some 35 marine coast stations, some government others private, between Cordova Alaska to San Diego California.  Also 112 vessels, private and commercial, on the north Amercian west coast were fitted with wireless.

 

    In November 1919 all British registered vessels were required to be fitted with a serviceable wireless station and operator.

 

    On the B.C. coast the first vessel to be fitted with wireless was the Union Steam Ship "Camosun".  Marconi installed the equipment in July 1907.

 

Sources

 

   The history is given in the photos and narratives of the people who were there.   All the original staff have passed away now, but their descendants stumble across this site and pass on photos and family information.

 

    Newspaper clippings help fill in some of the blanks.

 

Resources used are:

    Victoria Colonist Newspaper archive,

    Newspapers.com archive,

    Victoria Library newspaper microfilms,

    British Columbia Government online Archives,

    Larry Reid's book "The Story of the West Coast Radio Service", Chameleon Publishing 1992,

    Leona Taylor and Dorothy Mindenhall,  "Index of Historical Victoria Newspapers, "Victoria's Victoria". It appears these two ladies have leafed through old newspapers and copied marine news relating to Vancouver Island's west coast.

    Canadian census documents.

    British Columbia commercial directories, such as Henderson's in the 1910's.

    Relatives of several radio operators who stumble on this site.

 

   Keeping the trail and its associated bridges, ladders and telephone line in shape was the duty of a local man. Nevertheless, storms caused the telephone link to fail, often for days, due to falling trees or wind breaking the wire.

 

   The local shipping authorities and their passengers were becoming very concerned.  The 1907 Canadian Dominion Government, in an effort to provide some measure of safety for mariners, implemented a plan to build a life saving trail along the Juan de Fuca Strait portion Vancouver Island. This two meter wide trail connected Carmanah, Pachena and Cape Beale light-stations with Bamfield and its lifeboat. Dotted along the trail were cabins stocked with food, blankets and a stove.  Each cabin was fitted with a crank telephone to the local lighthouses and life saving station. Multi-lingual instructions were framed on the wall. Thus the hope was any shipwreck survivors would take shelter in a cabin, use the phone and wait for help to arrive.

Rough Radio

Ship to Shore Radio on the

West Coast of Canada  1900-70