Estevan Point is only accessible by sea or helicopter. The location is roughly halfway up the west coast of Vancouver Island. In the beginning the early operators found Estevan Point's ability to reach out tremendous distances on the medium and high radio frequencies 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. The iconic lighthouse was completed some months later.
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.
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. The stations would have to be about 50-75 miles apart and preferably on a high point of land.
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. 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. The lighthouse construction completed in February. The lighthouse is 100 feet of poured concrete construction, with another 25 feet of lantern apparatus etc on top. (The message numbers seem very high, some 450 a day.)
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. Station power to be increased in 1912 from 2 kW to 5 kW. By upping the power and using a new rotary spark transmitter a definite increase in range is expected. In the morning of November 22, 1911 Estevan exchanged greetings with Honolulu.
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 are 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. Andy Gray, G.Gray and Parkin pounding the brass.
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 Harris shifts off to the Ikeda station.
1921 January news paper clipping reports VAE worked the SS Makura continuously on her voyage from Victoria, BC to Sidney Australia, some 6057 miles. In May sod was turned for the new power/operations building.
1922 March news item reports a 25 kW spark transmitter being installed to improve coverage in the Pacific. To house it all a new combined operations and powerhouse should be completed by the end of April. Original 5 kW spark transmitter will be used for local work. The 25 kW set is expected to have a day time range of about 1500 to 2000 miles while the 5 kW unit has about a quarter of that range. Night time range could easily double. Original operations building was eventually turned into quarters for the single operators.
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 In the afternoon of November 19 Jack Bowerman worked the Empress of Australia just leaving Yokohama, Japan. This was a record distance.
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. Spark transmitters are being superseded by the improvements.
1986 The new, so to speak, 1920's operations building is demolished by the light keeping staff. Interior and exterior photos. The station power house had been replaced reusing the old foundation.
1936 Aitkens family departs Estevan.
CW frequencies: 125, 135, 141 kHz
MCW frequencies: 171, 425, 500 kHz
Spark frequencies: 475, 500 kHz
Meiss still on station (Daily Colonist 1938)
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 Alaskan stations using 1636 kHz. Spark transmitters still on station and providing backup service.
1958 Station moves south to the more accessible Tofino (ex Air Force) airport. The Air Forces' 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 found the old spark transmitters still there, but not used. In the same year Pachena closed down and some of the staff moved to Tofino.