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Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Tale Of Two Hams



Radio Ramblings

This story appeared in the May Communicator [page 22] https://tinyurl.com/SARC19-5 and has had a positive response so it is re-published here.

My wife Laura (VE7LPM) and I live in an old house on Smith Avenue in Burnaby.  In fact, I have lived there most of my life.  I came to the house in the summer of 1981 as a renter, and over the next few years was able to convince the owner to sell me the property.  It was expensive for a young police officer, but has turned out to be a good investment.  That aside, the place is centrally located near Boundary and Kingsway, and Laura and I have found it so convenient to practically everywhere that we have never thought too much about moving.  We respected the old place and have tried to keep it up.  

Over the years the house supported all my amateur radio activities, my two towers, and a not insignificant antenna farm.  I participated in contests, deployed dozens of odd antennas, made my first satellite QSO from the back deck, completed DXCC, worked my first EME contacts, and even (literally) blew up my 2 kilowatt 2-metre linear there in 1989.  Ka-boom!

The house was built in 1925, and despite its age, it’s in pretty good shape.  See Figure 1.  I had some time in the past couple of months, so thought that I would do some investigative work to find out something of the history of our home as it approaches the end of its first century.  

What I found is the subject of this month’s column.


Figure 1 – Our House Today

House Genealogy

All we knew about our house was that it was built in 1922  and that it had had a few owners before I moved in in 1981.  A retired police colleague had done research on his own house in Victoria, and suggested that a good starting point for finding out more is the “City Directory”.  

City Directories were published annually and date from a simpler time where residents were not worried about financial scams or identity theft, and when privacy was not a significant social issue.  Directory representatives would visit all homes in the Lower Mainland (and the province) annually and gather details of residents, owners, and occupations of those living in the community.  The information was published in a thick large-format book indexed by streets and surnames.  Directories for all of BC going back to 1860 are now available online courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL)  .

I used the VPL site to research our house based first upon its address.  Strangely, I could find records of our home going back to the early 1960s, but for earlier years our address did not show up in the City Directories.  This was odd!

I had to try a different approach.  Each City Directory also indicates street and cross-street, so by looking at the combination of “Smith Avenue” and looking for cross street names, I learned that sometime in the late 1950s the block numbers in Burnaby were all “reset” to match the block numbers used in the City of Vancouver.  I confirmed this renumbering by referring to historical street maps .  I could not find our house prior to about 1960 because the house number had been changed!

Armed with the new block number (the 3800-block rather than the current 5400-block), I was then able to track our home and its owners/residents back to 1925.  Prior to 1925, there were no records.  This too seemed odd.  I discovered through inquiries at Burnaby City Hall that our home had been built not in 1922, as Laura and I had always thought, but rather, in 1925.  This was our first interesting discovery.  City Directory searches confirmed that a new house and new residents showed up at 3854 Smith Avenue in 1926.

By googling our old street address, I was amazed to discover that City of Vancouver Archives  had a photograph of our house in 1931 .  See Figure 2.  I deduced through some online research in the Vancouver Archives and some corresponding VPL information that our home had been photographed as part of an advertising program for a 1930s-era furnace company.  Somehow the photos had been preserved.  Very interesting!


Figure 2 – Our House on July 21, 1931

Back to the City Directories, I was able to track the owners and residents of our house from 1926.  Armed with resident names, I was able to cross-reference from the street index to the directory’s name-based entries and find out about occupations and businesses that the residents had been involved in.  

This was interesting and I was able to build a chronology of owners and residents.  Laura and I are the sixth family to live here.  I googled the past residents, their occupations and businesses and discovered that prior to 1946 the house had been owned by a fellow who was involved in the auto business; and next by a large family who also owned another house on the block.  One of their daughters attended UBC.

I learned that in 1946 the house had been sold to a fellow named Edward James Fowler.  Naturally, I thought I’d do a bit of research on Mr. Fowler as I had on the other owners of our home.  See Figure 3.


Figure 3 – City Directory for 1946, “F. Fowler” 


Serendipity


Googling “E.J. Fowler” and our old address, I discovered that Edward James Fowler was known as “Ted”, and that he was, in fact, VE7VO.  Ted Fowler was a very well-known personality in the local amateur radio community.  He had been in Vancouver since at least the late 1930s .  

A prolific contester and DXer with several awards, he had been written of in QST and “Shortwave Magazine”, another popular radio magazine of the 1930s and 1940s.  This was very interesting!  

See Figure 4 for a photo I found in the BC DX Club Archives of VE7VO and colleagues at the 1958 DX Convention in Vancouver .


Figure 4 - DX Convention, Vancouver 1958

Spurred to do further research, I next discovered that all of the old Radio Amateur Callbooks from the 1920s onwards  have been scanned and made available by the Internet Archive  – an excellent site for information on radio and television history and on old radio technology.  

I downloaded several callbooks from the late 1940s and 1950s and looked up VE7VO.  See Figure 5 for VE7VO’s entry in the Fall 1947 callbook.  Note his address is that of our house at (then) 3854 Smith Avenue, shown as “New Westminster” rather than in Burnaby.


Figure 5 – VE7VO in the Fall 1947 Radio Amateur’s Callbook

I thought next that I would track VE7VO backwards from his purchase of our house in 1946.  I learned two more interesting things.  First, the VE7 call district did not exist prior to 1939.  This was news to me!  By searching for “Fowler” in the 1939 Callbook  I learned that VE7VO was in fact VE5VO at that time, but that he was already in Vancouver, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6 – VE7VO was VE5VO prior to WW II

The second thing I learned is that Mr. Fowler was a commercial pilot, as I am.  Unlike me, however, he had military flying experience.  I decided to follow this lead.

VE5VO had served with distinction in the Royal Air Force in Britain during the war.  As a pilot he flew several missions over Europe, and then after cessation of the war had been part of the RAF’s mission to disarm the German Luftwaffe.  “Shortwave Magazine” included a story in April 1946 about how Flight Lieutenant Fowler, VE5VO was instrumental in restarting amateur radio in Europe post-war .  He was issued the callsign D2VO.  See Figures 7 and 8.


Figure 7 – Shortwave Magazine, April 1946

Figure 8 – D2VO in Summer 1946 Radio Amateur’s Callbook


Post-war, Mr. Fowler was listed in the City Directory as a pilot and technician for TCA: Trans Canada Airlines, the forerunner of Air Canada.  However, I determined that he had changed careers by the 1950s and was involved in technical management of commercial radio transmitters .  He moved to Surrey in the early 1960s and passed away in 1983.  He was survived by a son, but there is no record of his son having an amateur radio license .


Other Interesting Observations

VE7VO lived in our house for about fifteen years, until about 1960.  He was active in amateur radio at that time.  I started thinking about whether I could find evidence of where his shack was, or perhaps where his antennas had been located.

When I moved into the house in the summer of 1981, I noted that one of the basement window frames had a number of strange large holes drilled in a linear fashion in its bottom frame.  I plugged the holes to keep mice and insects out, and eventually the window itself got replaced.  Now I am thinking that these holes were likely the ingress points for feedlines.  I had had evidence of “hamming” right before my eyes but had missed it!

A few years ago, Laura and I were doing yard work, as couples do.  She was digging up a rough patch in the backyard to smooth it out, and unearthed a large turnbuckle.  It was about a foot long and encased in rust.  She showed me the turnbuckle and I remember thinking “hmmm, when it was new that would’ve been great for securing a tower guy line”.  I didn’t recall losing a turnbuckle for my own towers, which were up at the time, but never really thought more of it.  The turnbuckle got tossed into our metal recycling.  Perhaps this was a leftover from one of VE7VO’s antennas.

The only other further evidence I have of antennas or antenna supports is weak, but I will present it here as it highlights another valuable resource for people doing historical amateur radio research.  Many cities have begun to make archival aerial photos available to the public.  These photos are integrated with modern GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and typically made available online.  Burnaby is no exception.  

I visited the City’s “Burnaby Historical Aerial Photo Viewer”, which contains zoomable orthophotos of Burnaby going back to 1930 .  Heading back in time to 1930, I was able to look at our house and the neighbourhood and watch it develop over the subsequent decades.  In particular, I noted that my then-state-of-the-art “TH6” Yagi antenna was clearly visible in photos from the 1980s to the early 2000s.  See Figure 9a and 9b.  As an aside, note how the quality of these photos has improved due to advances in technology.  

Maybe I could use historical orthophotos to find evidence of an antenna or tower!


Figure 9a – VE7ZD’s (VE7CPT’s) TH6 Yagi in 1985
Figure 9b – VE7ZD’s (VE7CPT’s) TH6 Yagi in 2004

  

























I turned next to orthophotos from the VE7VO period, 1946 to approximately 1960.  While I could not find obvious evidence of an antenna, I did note, however, the presence of an odd structure in the backyard of the house that cast a long shadow relative to other elements in the picture.  The photo is quite grainy, but you can make things out.  See Figure 10.


Figure 10 – House and Possible Antenna Support Structure in 1950

A tower or antenna support pole?  I will likely never know, but the structure’s location and characteristics do not look like a fountain, table, or other common garden element.  There is no evidence of the structure in our backyard today.

Interestingly, the structure was within about two metres of where I placed my own tower base in late 1981 after I moved into the house.  If the structure in the 1950 orthophoto was a tower or antenna support, it shows that hams even across time think alike!

Conclusion

This was an interesting journey into amateur radio history, and the history of one radio amateur, and his residence in the period from 1946 through about 1960.  I found out a lot about the history of our home, and located a fantastic 1931 photo of our house, showing it to be in essentially the same condition as it was nearly ninety years ago.  

It was amazing to think that another ham, and such a prominent one, had lived in the same house as Laura and I, and that VE7VO and I have both enjoyed the challenges and thrills of amateur radio from this location.  I wonder if we chose the same room for our shack?

An ongoing project for me is to try and find an old QSL card from VE7VO, or even VE5VO .  QSLs usually give the op’s address and often list station details and other information which would be of great interest to me.  It would be really neat if VE7VO’s QSL included a photo of his QTH, or of his shack!

One final point.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was extremely active on the bands, and was a member of a couple of local radio clubs, including the “Fraser Valley DX Club”, FVDXC.  We met in Surrey and Langley on a monthly basis.  I do not recall ever meeting Ted Fowler, VE7VO, but it is possible that, as a prominent DXer (then with decades of experience) and a then-Surrey resident, that he might have been a member of the FVDXC as well.  If he was, then I wish I had met him, and that the fact that serendipity had led me to live in his old home had come to light.  We would have had a lot in common, and meeting him would have been a really interesting experience!

That’s it for this month!  Feedback can be directed to the Editor, or directly to me at mcquiggi@sfu.ca.  Have a great month and 73,

~ Kevin VE7ZD / K7MCQ


Follow Kevin's "Radio Ramblings" monthly column in The Communicator

This article first appeared in the May 2019 SARC Communicator newsletter https://ve7sar.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-may-2019-communicator.html 





2 comments:

  1. Wow a great story of history and I am glad that you found out a lot about your house. I have looked into old call books myself for hams here in Regina and mapped the address of the houses they lived in. Maybe someday to find an old tower base or something else as the houses are still there. Thanks for sharing. Lyle M. VE5EE

    ReplyDelete
  2. I enjoyed reading about your quest to locat the previous tenants of your house and the coincidence that it was another Radio amateur
    Regards
    Barrie GM0KZX

    ReplyDelete

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