Estevan Point USD/VAE

   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.


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.  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 atthis time.) In late 1908 Bradbury moves up from Pachena to the OIC.

 

1909    Contract for duplex housing let. Operator A. H. MorseIn 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. Two high power synchronous spark transmitters are planned to increase the station's range.

 

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.

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.)

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.

 

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 Accounts1929/30)
    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 wireless gang at Estevan. Shows the names of the operators and power house staff.

 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.

1970    Station had 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 the1990's the two stations meld into one and become a Vessel Traffic Center. Traditional coast station capabilities such as Morse CW communication are terminated.
2015   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 2015.

1936    Aitkens family departs Estevan.

 

1938

   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 and found the old spark transmitters still there, but not used.

 

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West Coast of Canada  1900-70