Point Grey, Vancouver

  Point Grey was built on 1.5 acres on the western tip of Vancouver.  Royal City Mills was given the $3300 contract to build the station. It was operational in January 1908. Oddly enough the station was considered an isolated post for the first several months as a road to the nearest 'village' some five miles away was not constructed until 1911. The CPR Telegraph ran a line out to the station later in 1908 connecting the station to the continent.  This CPR link was an addtional cost traffic through Point Grey had to bear--coast station charges plus CPR telegraph charges.  No doubt a sore point and probably led to the station moving some its activities to the Merchant's Exchange Building in Vancouver.  It cost $100 in 1912 to have B.C. Telephone run a line out to the station.

   Situated near the cliffs of Point Grey  a tram way went down to the beach for getting supplies from the lighthouse tender. The Google location here shows it now is the present site of the University of British Columbia (UBC)'s Museum of Anthropology. This student map and 1925 aerial photo of UBC shows the precise location. In 1940 the station was moved (Dick Lobb note) about a kilometer north to Westbrook Crescent,the original site being needed for a coast artillery battery. This 1952 student map indicates only the acreage the station occupied, and this 1950 aerial photo shows the station itself. (Student maps and photos from UBC web site.)

   Some decade or two later the station moved onto Sea Island and was co-located with the Department of Transport's facilities at Vancouver International Airport. Transmitter site was on Garden City Road in Richmond. Receiver site was at the west end of the airport's (YYJ) main runway on Sea Island.

   After the 1950's Point Grey was the major western Canadian marine wireless station. In the 1970's it had medium, high and very high frequency voice, phone patch, radioteletype and Morse facilities. By the end of the 1980's the station's usefulness had been bypassed with advances in communications, such as maritime satellite telephones and automated distress equipment.  Vessels fitted with satellite equipment had a regular looking telephone and telex number and could be contacted easily by anyone.  This rendered Morse code and voice operations obsolete. All the coast stations were reorganized and integrated with the Vessel Traffic systems. Presently all operational communications in the coastal confluence zone is carried out via mountain top VHF voice radio, remotely controlled by either Prince Rupert or Victoria. Thus only VHF remains along the coast.

   A chronological order of Point Grey photos may be seen by here.  

1906   Cecil Doutre, Dominion Superintendent of Wireless Stations for the Departmentof Marine and Fisheries, and Eddie Hughes, Project Engineer, sail on the 'Quadra'. They make site selections for the new chain of wireless stations along the British Columbia west coast. One and a half acres on a Point Grey cliff top was one of the selected sites.  Clearing the site and erecting the station was contracted to Royal City Mills for $3300. 

1907   July 25/07 Daily Times reports the Province has set aside an acre and a half at Point Grey. July 27/07 Daily Colonist paper quote:"The contract for the Point Grey station at Vancouver has been given to the Royal City Mills, of New Westminster at $3,300." Construction materials would be delivered by vessel and hauled up the cliff to the site. Antenna mast was a 225 foot Douglas fir tree, limbed and topped, near the station. November 11/07 news article advises the buildings and mast are completed.  Awaiting the apparatus. 

   News item reports A.C.Fraser was appointed OIC in December of 1907, and promptly vanishes from the history of the station.  Morse is the Officer In Charge until February 1908 when J.H. Field took over. Call sign is PGD.

   November 24 Colonist paper reports the five original stations will be open for business on December 15, 1907. A 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse gasoline engine drove a 1kW alternating current generator.  The resulting 110 Volt 60 cycle current was stepped up to around 40 kVolts in the spark transmitter when the operator pressed his key.  The transmitter, supplied by the International Wireless Construction Company of New York, is a Shoemaker type, with the open core transformer, tubular glass condensers, fixed spark gap with a helix inductance coil. A crystal detector radio receiver rounded out the installation. A 225 foot Douglas fir tree supported an umbrella type antenna. Leonard James as operator. On the 28th the Province reports a speed of 30 words per minute and

tests with Victoria are very successfull.

1908   Trail punched through 5 miles of forest to the 'outside'.  Local shipping executives said the station was useless and might as well be at the north pole.  Canadian Pacific Telegraph runs a line into the Station from Vancouver solving that concern.  Until this telegraph line was completed, any traffic the station received had to be resent to the Victoria station who then put the message on the C.P.R. telegraph line to Vancouver. J.H. Field relieves Morse as the OIC in February but resigns due to ill health in March by W.James. Operator Morse moves on to Cape Lazo Wireless. Leonard James becomes OIC later in the year. Station becomes a two operator station with the addition of J.H. McDonald. Service now 8 AM to 11:30 PM. 

1910   For $100 the British Columbia Telephone Company runs a telephone line out to the station from Vancouver. Rental is $10 per month. James and Macdonald are the operators.  In September 1910 a newspaper reporter had a tour of the station by a Mr. Jameson.  (Federal Gov't Sessional Papers 1917 record B.C. Telephone $8.50 monthly.)  Some messages are now phoned to the recipient.  Station had commercial power by now, as a report in 1910 notes trees down across the lines and the station running on its own generator.

1911   Trail upgraded to a road. In December a tender was let to build a house for the operators. Up to this time the operator's quarters were sandwiched between the engine room and the operations room, all in the one building. Leonard James the is OIC, with Jack MacDonald and Tommy Raine as assistants. Tommy was married with a baby. He and his family lived in a tent until a house was built the following year. (Public Accounts of Canada1912: Building at Point Grey, $1,500; changes in plan $30.) In March the station worked Honolulu, some 2400 miles away--perhaps a record at the time.

1912 In December tenders called for additional housing to make the station more attractive to married men. 

1913 Call sign changed from PGD to VAB in accordance with the recent Berlin Conference.

1914 Jim Harker comes down from Triangle Island.  Creer & Boyd also on station during this time providing 24 hour coverage. In September a military guard provided by Sixth Regiment Duke of Connaught's Own Rifles and the Irish Fusillers rotating daily.

1915 Operator Lofty Harris transfers in from Triangle Island. Harker moves out to Alert Bay. 700 mile coverage radius.

1920 Corriveau on strength at his first west coast station. He was previously on a couple of Nova Scotia stations.

1921   A January wind storm hits the lower mainland and all connections to Vancouver are lost. Gonzales can communicate with Point Grey but landline is down between Victoria and Vancouver. Victoria newspapers advise editions will be thinner than usual until wire connections restored.  Merchant's Exchange wireless station is in the planning stage.

   In June the Point Grey and Victoria wireless stations were in communication with the High River air station in Alberta.  This was the first time any Canadian station had put a signal over the mountains.

   In September a skunk got in the station building. The station dog chased the skunk, and the skunk did what skunks do. Operators carried on, despite the smell and jocular comments from the other stations.  Also in that month the station was off the air for a couple of hours while riggers did some maintenance on the aerials.

1922   1923 Vancouver City directory lists Bowerman as the OIC.  Incoming freighters now advise station when inbound passing Sandheads (mouth of Fraser River) who then phone the Merchant's Exchange with the news.

1923   Bowerman is station manager. Operator Syd Jones arrives for a few days and then is off to Alert Bay Wireless. Bowerman departs for Estevan Pt. Corriveau off to Estevan.  On November 29th the station was knocked off the air by a direct lightening strike to the aerials.  It took a day to restore operation. 

1926   Victoria Daily Colonist March 28, 1926 E.J. Haughton interview portion:   "A new 1,600 watt ship station was opened in Vancouver City in October last. This station is situated in the Merchant's Exchange Building and only attends to ship's messages, the station at Point Grey now handling traffic to such points as Powell River, Ocean Falls, Queen Charlotte Islands, etc."

    The Exchange station was commissioned to provide convenient message handling to the shipping agencies in downtown Vancouver.  The Point Grey station's call sign (VAB) is assigned to this new station and Point Grey is re-issued Ikeda's old VAI call sign.  See the reasoning for this on the Merchant's Exchange page

1928   A letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun complaining of the station's dot and dash racket.  Writer went so far as to suggest the station be shut down during prime listening hours.  Walter Howard and W.Parkin are part of the crew.

1929-30 Annual Report   A new type 707 receiver with screen grid valve together with a new short wave receiver and " B " eliminator was installed.

  (There were three batteries required to operate early vacuum tube radios--'A' battery supplied the filament voltage to make the tubes glow (2-3 volts), the 'B' battery supplied a high voltage to make the tubes function (45-90 volts) and a 'C' battery to supply the tube's grid bias (-1 to -2 volts).  The B batteries were much move expensive than either of the other two and required frequent replacement.  The solution was a magic box which converted household voltage to 'eliminate' the B battery.  The cost savings could be substantial if the radio was used daily.

    Courtenay Free Press reports Lulu Island transmitter site to be completed in the fall.

1931  Walter Rush, Superintendent of the Government Radio Service, does a tour of the west coast stations and lauds Point Grey's new facilities. New transmitter site is remotely controlled on Lulu Island (Richmond), issued the call sign VAL, and is under the control of both the new operations building on Westbrooke Crescent (VAB) (a kilometer or so north east of the old location) and the Merchant's Exchange (VAI) in downtown Vancouver.  VAB receivers remained at the new location.  VAI receivers were at the Exchange. 

   B.C. Divisional Superintendent, Haughton, also describes the new Williams Road station's facilities. "The Lulu Island site comprises some 15 acres where a transmitter building and four antenna masts are erected. Three antennas are 145 feet high, while the fourth is 110 feet. All equipment is Canadian Marconi. The short wave transmitter is rated at 2,000 watts, replacing the current 250 watt unit. Long wave transmitters are rated at 1,600 Watts. There are five frequencies on the long wave transmitters and two on the shortwave. Operation of these transmitters can be either from the Point Grey operations building, or the position in the Merchant's Exchange building in downtown Vancouver. Practically all ships over 5,000 tons now carry shortwave transmitting capabilities." 


1932 transmitter site article from the Province newspaper here.

1936 (CW A1 frequencies: 100 kHz, 143 kHz,125 kHz & 130 kHz.  CW A2 425 kHz, 500 kHz. (ITU 1936 List of Coast Stations gives the location of the Lulu Island transmitter site as N49 08' 30"  W123 10' 00")  

"The Point Grey station was responsible for monitoring the frequenciess of all stations in the area (including broadcast stations) and we would get a message from Point Grey saying we were interfering with the Alaska communication system on 1636 kHz."--Glenn Vallance at Estevan.  Estevan's 1630 kHz transmitter tended to drift. 

1940  A Creed automatic transmitter and perforator was installed. This device removed some of the drudgery of pounding out long weather forecasts and notices to shipping manually. Quite often this would occupy an operator's time for 20 minutes or more. The Creed had a typewriter keyboard producing a punched tape. The tape would be run through a reader to key the transmitter allowing the operator to handle other business.

   Station moved to Westbrook Crescent site, a couple of kilometers north and was reported operational on April 8, 1940.  Four receiving towers.  Transmitter site is located to the south on Lulu Island (Richmond).  Andy Grey is station manager.  The Mechant Exchange station (VAI) shut down around this time, thus the Point Grey station's call sign VAL was discarded and VAI re-assigned.

    Some time during Wold War 2 a station was set up to monitor Japanese radio signals.  The received coded messages were passed on to the military for possible decipherment.  Larry Reid's book says the station occupied the basement and second floor of the Point Grey operations building.  The interior of the station is shown on the VAI photo's page.

1950  Westbrook location is circled in this aerial view.

1951 Sid Jones arrives and is the last officer in charge of the station at Point Grey location.

1952  As of October all coast stations now continuously monitor the safety and calling frequency of 2182 kHz.

1958  Station moved at some time in the 1950's to Sea Island (Vancouver Airport) and co-located with the aeradio station. This 1958 photo from the University of British Columbia shows the UBC location.

1960  Contract let to demolish the Point Grey site. 

1965  Deep sea telephone capability added to the station.  Previously Vancouver had to route calls through a USA marine station.

1966  Vancouver's frequencies taken from a QSL card.

   2182, 1630, 2318, 2366 2738, 4098, 5521.5, 8236.4, 8939, 12347.5 kc/s plus 121.5 mHz, 126.7 mHz and 156.8 mHz.

   The 4/8/12 mHz (even frequencies)were the ship-shoreworking frequency. The 5 mHz (odd frequency) would be air-ground, perhaps an International Civil Aeronautical Organization (ICAO) channel for contacting aircraft over the Pacific.

   The 121.5 is the international aircraft distress and calling channel,while the 126.7 mHz would be the working channel. 156.8 mHz is the international marine VHF calling & distress frequency (Channel 16). Why no working channel is noted is unknown but it would have been a duplex ship-shore channel, perhaps Channel 26.

   For some reason the card doesn't show the 500 kHz CW safety frequency or that band's 420 kHz working frequency. 

1970's    By now VAI was the largest and busiest on this Canadian coast, handling MF, HF & VHF phone and CW.  Staff of twelve on shift, operators, communicators on the landline and radio telex, plus a supervisor.

   VAI had an interesting on going intermittent battle with man made interference.  VAI's problem stemmed from two radio signals being mixed together and resulting in a sum and difference frequency. In Vancouver there is a commercial radio station transmitting on 1130 kHz. A mixer can be as simple as a rusty connection on the receiver's outside antenna wire getting wet. One of VAI's busy working frequencies was at that time 1630 kHz. The difference between the two frequencies works out to 500 kHz, the international Morse calling and distress frequency, to which VAI would monitor continuously. The Morse operator would hear a garbled together 1630 kHz and 1130 kHz on top of the 500 kHz signals he was monitoring on some days.

This photo from the University of B.C. Archives shows the old site coming down to make room for the Walter Gage Residents. Photo is dated 1970, which may or may not be the date of demolition.  


1980's   During this decade the paid traffic from vessels was on the decline due to technological advances.  Safety communications within the Gulf of Georgia area was now the station's principal function and staffing and equipment reduced accordingly. 

This 1982 home brew QSL card shows all the frequencies in use.

1990's  The introduction of international vessel satellite communications gave ships the convenience of a phone number and clarity of a regular telephone anywhere at sea. Traffic at VAI plummeted and at 1 PM on Monday, June 30, 1997 the station became history. All that was left was a VHF & Radar Marine Traffic Control station on top of a building on Hastings Street.  Any radio communication from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, around and up through the Salish Sea/Gulf of Georgia and north to the top of Vancouver Island not concerning the movement of shipping was shifted to Victoria Coast Guard Radio.


   VAI would transmit a Morse marker signal on its published HF CW frequencies. A vessel out in the Pacific, for instance, would listen on VAI's published frequency for the marker signal. Reciprocity was usually the rule, so if the vessel heard the marker signal, then VAI would most likely hear the if the vessel called ashore. The problem was that VAI wouldn't know the vessel's transmit frequency within the, say 8 mHz band, and thus the VAI operator would slowly tune across the narrow band listening for calls. Once VAI heard a station calling, the station operator would stop tuning, switch the marker off, and connect his hand key to the transmitter to start the communication.

    (on 500 and HF) CQ CQ CQ DE VAI VAI VAI TFC LIST. QSW 420/HF AR

   Thanks to J. Cain, B. Hastings, A. Hrynyk and M. Doutaz for generating these examples.  A ship's call sign would be inserted into the traffic list if VAI was holding a message.

   The Maritime Radio Marine History web site has quite a number of interesting coast station recordings here.

Point Grey