Estevan Point in 1917. Wireless operations building in the foreground.
Estevan Point is only accessible by
sea. The location is roughly halfway up the west coast
of Vancouver Island. Estevan Point's ability to
reach out tremendous distances on the medium and high
radio frequencies was almost magical. Communication
with vessels arriving at New Zealand, Australia or
Japan was not uncommon. This Estevan propagation
anomaly is a freak of nature, possibly due to the good
antenna ground conductivity on the peninsula. Estevan
was one of the original five west coast stations and
was operational in January of 1908.
In its time Estevan Wireless was the busiest and had the greatest coverage of any Canadian station on the west coast.
See the site by Goggle Earth here.
See some notes Jack Bowerman made regarding the station's startling performance- Page 1 and Page 2.
Some photos of Estevan in chronological order are on this page.
1906 Cecil Doutre, Dominion Superintendent of Wireless Stations for the Department of Marine and Fisheries, and Eddie Hughes, Project Engineer, sail on the Marine & Fisheries Vessel 'Quadra'. They make site selections for the new chain of wireless stations along the British Columbia west coast. Estevan Point was one of the selected sites.
1907 July 20 newspaper reports SS Maude sailed from Victoria with material and personnel to build the wireless station. SS Quadra also leaves on July 20 with Doutre and Gaudin on board for site inspection. July 27 reports men and material rafted ashore at Hole-in-the-Wall and all going well. Contractor foreman is T.N. Tubman.
1908 Station commissioned January 13th (according to A. Lawton). First Officer in Charge was Mr. Morse. Call sign USD. Operator C. B. Kennedy. Jack Bowerman notes the electricity was supplied by a Fairbanks-Morse 3 H.P. (1.5 kW) gasoline engine spinning a 1 kW alternating current generator. The transmitter was a Shoemaker type, open core transformer, tubular glass condensers, fixed spark gap, and tuning done by a helix inductance coil. (One report says the receiver used a crystal detector but this is unlikely. Magnetic detectors were in use at this time.) In late 1908 Bradbury moves up from Pachena to the OIC.
1909 Contract for duplex housing let. Operator A. H. Morse (B.C.Dir.) In fiscal year 1909-10 Estevan handled 18,000 messages. By 1910-11 fiscal year (f/y) it was up to 72,000 messages and by the first six months of the 1911-12 f/y it had already exceeded the 72,000 mark. Notice to Mariners in March advises lighthouse is in operation. Lighthouse construction completed in February. The lighthouse is 100 feet of poured concrete construction, with another 25 feet of lantern apparatus etc on top.
1910 L.H. Bradbury is Officer in Charge of the wireless station at a salary of $75/month.
1911 24 hour coverage instituted. Jack Bowerman, Bill Tozer and de Winter are the operators. Sam De Winter is the Officer in Charge of the Wireless Station. Plans are in place increase the station's range by installing two high power synchronous spark transmitters.
1913 Call sign changed to VAE from USD in accordance with the Berlin Conference.
1914 Military guard supplied for the duration of the war to rebuff any German raiding parties. A more powerful rotary spark transmitter and diesel installed to improve communications even further in the Pacific. The Japanese Navy were monitoring the west coast in case German Navy put in appearance.
1915 December 5/15 newspaper (PRJ) reports station is working vessels 2600 miles out in the Pacific on 500 kHz (600 Meters). Station also uses 300 kHz (1000 Meters). Station has two transmitters, one of 5 kW and the other of 1 kW.
1917 Operator Harris moves in from Point Grey.
1918 B.C. Directory listing
shows operators A.L. Gray, A. Neary and P. Parkins
with A.C. Cole as telegrapher. Lofty shifts off to the
Old time American operator Herb Scott comments in The Society of Wireless Pioneers Journal (S.O.W.P.) of his experience being off the coast of Japan and hearing VAE about this time.
1921 25 kW spark transmitter
installed to improve coverage in the Pacific. Original
was a 5 kW spark transmitter. January newspaper
clipping verifies VAE worked the SS Makura
continuously on her voyage from Victoria, BC to Sidney
Australia, some 6057 miles.
It is possible the new operations building was constructed at this time to provide additional space for the bigger transmitter and associated diesel generator plant.
1923 Jack Bowerman arrives from Point Grey as the new Officer In Charge. Operator Ken Durkee moves with him. B.C. Directory has H.F. Corriveau, H.R. Dawe, G.N. McTavish, S.E. Meiss, C.W. Mellish and R. Spouse on station. (No mention of Durkee or Bowerman.)
1924 B.C. Directory has Corriveau, Daniel, Durkee, Spouse, and Wolfe as operators and T. Wilson as the mechanic. Kept in contact with the SS Tahiti until she was 24 hours from Adelaide.
1925 Estevan operator makes long distance record, maintaining continual communication with RMS Makura from Victoria to Sydney Harbor, Australia - 6057 miles... [Colonist, 1925-01-09, p. 17] Four kilowatt CW tube transmitter on station in January awaiting installation. 16 kWatt spark transmitters are on their way out.
1929-30 Annual Reort A
receiver for the reception of radiophone signals from
private commercial stations was installed. The thirty-nine plate Hart battery
was overhauled and tests were made on it to
ascertain its condition. A garage was built to
house the tractor and Ford truck. Considerable
road work has been completed by laying corduroy
covered with gravel. (From the Dominion Accounts
E.J.Houghton, in a November newspaper interview says there is some consideration being given to erecting a direction finding station here. (No DF station was ever built.)
1930 Operator Chas Aitkens arrives about this time. Undated Christmas card from Estevan notes Meiss, Aitkens, Thompson, Allan, King, Spouse and McConnell on staff.
1933 Christmas card from the gang at Estevan. Shows the names of the operators and power house staff.
1936 Aitkens family departs Estevan.
CW frequencies in kHz: 125, 135, 141
MCW frequencies in kHz: 171, 425, 500
Spark frequencies in kHz: 475, 500
Meiss still operating. (1938 Daily Colonist--Leona Taylor provided.)
Glen Vallance remembers there was a small 1630 kHz phone transmitter on the station. It wasn't crystal controlled and would tend to drift off frequency and interfere with Alaska on 1636 kHz. Spark transmitter still in use as a backup transmitter.
1939 1 kW Marconi vacuum tube transmitter installed? (L. Gray essay.)
1958 Station moves south to the more accessible Tofino airport. The old Air Force transmitter and receiver sites built on local hill tops are refurbished and put back into service. Operator Woods was at Estevan for a few months early in the year and advises the old spark transmitters were still there, but not used.
1986 The new, so to speak, 1920's operations building is demolished by the lightkeeping staff. Interior and exterior photos. The station power house had been replaced but kept the old foundation.
1970 Station had MF CW, MF phone and VHF phone. Transmitter site was the hill south of the present Radar Hill, while the receiver site was the hill to the north. The buildings were ex Air Force.
1978 Station moves down the coast to Ucluelet and shares space at the Amphitrite Point Vessel Traffic Center.
1990s Sometime in the 1990's the two stations meld into one and become a Vessel Traffic Center. Traditional coast station capabilities such as Morse CW communication are terminated.
2019 At the end of April the Marine Traffic Control Center is de-staffed and all radio/radar data is sent to Prince Rupert MTCS. Prince Rupert MTCS handles all the off shore vessel traffic along the British Columbia coast. This marks the end of a manned maritime communications station on the west coast of Vancouver Island--1908 to 2019.