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Pioneers of northern radio
Soldiers in Yellowknife mark 110th anniversary of military communications in Canada

Daniel Campbell
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When Yellowknife was founded more than 75 years ago, its only reliable means of communications was run out of a tent with two soldiers and a radio.

NNSL photo/graphic

Warrant Officer Rob Noble, with Joint Task Force (North) in Yellowknife, tests his high-frequency radio signal. On Friday, army signallers from Yellowknife contacted stations all around the world in celebration of the 110th anniversary of military communications in Canada. - Daniel Campbell/NNSL photo

Early in September of 1937, the Army was ordered to the new town to establish "RC Sigs Station Yellowknife." It was the government's answer to communications problems in the North. The station would become the largest and busiest in the Northwest Territories, according to Maj. Terry Buehl, the man currently in charge of military signals in Yellowknife with Joint Task Force (North).

The Yellowknife station was part of a vast network of stations manned by soldiers from the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. The first was built in 1922 in Dawson City, Yukon, replacing an unreliable telegraph line and a limited post service.

On Friday, the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals celebrated the 110th anniversary of military communications in Canada. In Yellowknife, Buehl and his signallers took part by participating in a world-wide radio exercise.

The modern-day signallers got back to their roots by flashing up a small high-frequency radio station. Within minutes, they were contacting stations as far away as the Falkland Islands, Cyprus and Texas.

"November Whiskey Tango One," Yellowknife's call sign, was the most northerly of the bunch. More than 100 stations from around the world took part, with most of the participants being Canadian, American, British and Australian military, although there were some civilian radio operators as well.

Warrant Officer Rob Noble, one of about a dozen military signallers in Yellowknife, said the Northern location of their station made for some interesting chatter.

"We had a little conversation with Arizona today about the weather," Noble said.

"I told the lady we had a foot of snow on the ground, which is exaggerating a bit, but we had a chuckle."

Buehl said his signallers were tested on their ability to contact as many stations across the globe as possible, as well as the building of improvised antennas.

The Canadian military was the first in the Commonwealth to create a dedicated signals unit. Military signallers in Yellowknife today can trace their roots back to the formation of the Canadian Signalling Corps in 1903.

The army provided radio communications for Yellowknife for 21 years, until 1958, when CBC took over the station.

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