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Early Amateur Radio In The Canadian Arctic

A Communicator Reprise: September 2013

Amateur Radio (aka Ham Radio) has been a way for almost 100 years for citizens to communicate wirelessly to distant locations. The hobby is still thriving and providing opportunities for experimentation in radio electronics and the operation of shortwave radio stations. In the 1930s people working in Canada’s Arctic often brought their amateur radio skills and equipment north with them so that they could relieve the isolation by contacting other radio operators around the world.

Recently a ham radio colleague, Bill Little (VA7ZBL), came across a collection of QSL cards from and old operator (Art J. Cook, VE4KZ, who lived in Calgary Alberta) that contained some from the far north of Canada. In their own way they give a glimpse into the history of the region and some of the people who worked there before the Second World War.
For those not familiar with Ham Radio – a QSL card is personalized postcard–sized acknowledgement exchanged by amateur radio operators to confirm the radio contact (or QSO in radio jargon) with each other. These cards from the Arctic would have been highly prized by the recipient as ham operators were very rare in those days – and even today there are not many of them active.

Radio Station VE5TV (1937), located at Nottingham Island, Northwest Territories
(in the former District of Franklin.) (
Photo from the MacFarlane collection

This station, operated by Dick Vaughan and Coll Baldwin was located on Nottingham Island. This location (Inuktitut: Tujjaat) is an uninhabited island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. It is located in Hudson Strait, just north of the entrance into Hudson Bay. A weather station was constructed on the island in 1884. In 1927, an airfield was constructed as part of a program to monitor ice in Hudson Bay. The island became uninhabited in October 1970 as Inuit residents migrated to larger towns, primarily Cape Dorset. Presumably the operators of the radio station were staffing the weather station.

Each radio call sign was unique to a licence holder. The call sign was synonymous with the licenced holder. Successful contacts were later confirmed with a QSL card, sent by mail, as confirmation or proof of the contact. These cards are highly prized by radio operators, and these cards from Canada’s Arctic were and still are very rare.

VE5OA (1936) located at Fort Norman, Northwest Territories.
(Photo from the MacFarlane collection)

VE5MR (1936) located at Fort Norman, Northwest Territories.
(Photo from the MacFarlane collection)

VE5MR was Hugh Ross and VE5OA was F.J. Rapp who worked for Canadian Airways. Fort Norman is now known as Tulita, a hamlet in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, located at the junction of the Great Bear River and the Mackenzie River.

VE5QB (1937) (Photo from the MacFarlane collection)

VE5QB was operated by E.A. Kirk (I don’t know what his affiliation or occupation was at this site). Old Crow is located on the Porcupine River in the far north of the Territory.

VE5LD (1937) located at Gjoa Haven, on King William Island.
(Photo from the MacFarlane collection)

VE5LD (1937) was operated by Donald Graham Sturrock (1914-1943), who was an Apprentice Clerk with the Hudson’s Bay Company at Gjoa Haven 1935–1938. He also operated the Hudson’s Bay Company radio station, call sign CZ2L, on 69 meters. He notes on his QSL card that his station is a very low power, 10 watts, and brags that he has contacted stations all over the world.

Sturrock (VE5LD) was one of the discoverers of relics and human remains of the doomed Franklin expedition. He was referred to in the article about the painting of the RMS Nascopie by Thomas H. Beament. Sturrock afterwards became the Wireless Operator in the HBC vessel Fort Ross (1939–1941), and his ham radio work obviously set the groundwork for this employment. He resigned from the HBC to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1941. He was declared missing and presumed killed after operations over Central Burma on 29/05/1943.

Gjoa Haven, (Inuktitut: Uqsuqtuuq). The name Gjoa Haven is from the Norwegian and was named by polar explorer Roald Amundsen after his ship Gjoa. Permanent settlement at Gjoa Haven started in 1927 with a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost.


Author’s Note: My thanks to Bill Little for the cards. I am also grateful to George Duddy for additional information included in the article.

~ John M. MacFarlane VA7PX

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