"Canadian Forces Station Alert"

Alert, Nunavut

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Photos this page courtesy of WO2 George Dingwall
History of Alert

The history of Alert is as long as it is varied. It would start with the ancient "Eskimos" or "Inuit" whichever you consider as politically correct and continue with the various European and American explorers. The intent here is not to go into that part of Alert's history but rather that of Alert Wireless Station (AWL), and later Canadian Forces Station(CFS) ALERT. That earlier part of Alert's history is well documented in various publications, one being, ALERT Beyond the Inuit Lands: The Story of Canadian Forces Station Alert by author David R. Gray and published by Borealis Book Publishers.

Joint Arctic Weather Station (JAWS)

Modern Day Alert began with the opening in the summer of 1950 of the Joint Arctic Weather Station. This JAWS station was established as a joint venture between Canada and the United States. One of a number of like stations positioned across the Arctic, it was manned by members of the Canadian Department of Transport (DOT) and the United States Weather Bureau (USWB).
This photo was taken circa 1959.

The establishment of JAWS at Alert was not without incident. An RCAF Lancaster crashed in the summer of 1950 just south of where the military camp was established. While attempting to make an airdrop, a parachute became entangled in the tail of the aircraft. All nine crew members were killed. They are buried northwest of the CFS Alert and just west of the end of the airstrip overlooking the Arctic Ocean.
Some of the wreckage can be seen scattered across the tundra in the photo at the right. This photo was taken circa mid 1960's. Another photo of the crash scene from 1977.

The Military is Interested

From the outset of the JAWS site, the military was interested in Alert as a means to an end to exercise Canada's sovereignty over the High Arctic on the North American continent. By 1957 six buildings had been constructed. They were a Mess, 3 accomodations buildings, a power house and an Operations building. Details on these buildings will be provided in the photo gallery.
This photo shows the Camp as it was in the spring of 1957. From the right was the Mess, then buildings 2-3-4 which were accomodation buildings, building 5 was the power house and transport/vehicle maintenance. The 6th building of which very little is showing was the Operations building (in those days it was absolutely "verbotten" to photograph anything of an Operational nature). This building, the reason for the military interest in Alert, contained the Operating positions in the North end, the Ham Radio Station and a Communications van attached to the south end. That is the small structure visible at the end of the Ops building. It contained the Crypto room which was the official link to the south and Ottawa. All the buildings on the military side in Alert at this time were called GP Huts (General Purpose) and were on raised gravel pads aprroximately 6 feet in height.
The military side of Alert began in 1956 when the RCAF established a one building experimental venture into High Arctic Long Range Communications Research, (read Signals Intelligence) up the hill from the DOT Station. From there Alert was an ever expanding unit. By the summer of 1957, 5 GP Huts were added and 24 RCAF/RCN personnel were posted in to man the Ops Building and provide support. They were as follows:

OC - WO2 John Crawford - RCAF
2IC - PO Harry Madden - RCN
- 1 ComTech (G) - William "Scotty" Parr
- 1 Cpl Medic - RCAF
- 2 LAC Cooks - RCAF
- 1 LAC Cooks Helper/GD RCAF
- 3 ComOps Cpls - RCAF - Buster Beaton
Suds Sutherby
Earle "Smitty" Smith
- 3 Leading Seamen Ops - RCN
The remaining personnel were made up of an equal number of RCAF LAC's and RCN Able Seamen and Leading Seamen. Three more names of personnel are:
- Slim Taylor
- Al Howe
- Larry Thomas

Operations officially commenced at Alert September 1, 1958.

Much of the above was related to me by Mr. Earle "Smitty" Smith of Grande Prarie, AB. He goes on to say:

"We had six Cats for generating power. As I was bunked in with Ivan, our mechanic, I also ended up the de facto plant operator if anything was wrong with Ivan - like under the weather, or sick, or injured and out of commission (which happened). I sure learned how to disassemble and reassemble the top end of a Cat engine before my tour was over.

"We had 10,000 gal tank for fuel oil, both for the Cats and for the building furnaces. Fuel was brought in in 45 gal drums. This would normally be pumped into the storage tank via an electric pump, Yep, you guessed it, the pump failed, no replacement was available for months so we had to take turns handpumping fuel up into that tank until a replacement arrived.

"We had three distinct shifts - A, B, & C. You were either working a shift, (in Ops), were sleeping, or doing housekeeping duties, eg., hauling water from Dumbbell Lake, or pumping fuel, or housecleaning, moving rations, you name it we did it. A Posted sign used to say that any disciplinary infractions would result in compulsory time off away from base and you had to supply your own transportation off base."

Earle "Smitty" Smith Photos

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