September 27, 2013

CFS Falconbridge and GATR Site

CFS Falconbridge

RCAF Station Falconbridge was built in 1952  as a radar station of the Pinetree Line and changed names to CFS Falconbridge after unification in 1967.  In 1985 the station was deactivated and in 1987 was sold to a private interest.  Most of the station's domestic site still stands today, and some of the operations site still stands as well.  I have not been to the operations site yet but hope to in 2014.

CFS Falconbridge
Red - Operations Site | Green - Domestic Site | Blue - GATR

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CFS Falconbridge GATR

(mostly reposted from my trip report)

CFB Falconbridge's GATR site was located a few kilometres away from the station to the East, past the airport.  The perimeter is still visible, and the building is, or was, owned by a helicopter maintenance company.  The property is derelict, run down, strewn with empty barrels and pails of hydraulic fluid, has smashed glass, several trashed trailers... but luckily, also holes in the fence.  Thinking about it now, I'm not sure the original building is actually intact or if a new building has been erected in it's place.  The current building is clad in siding, and has an extension built off the side.  Where the TDDL antennas would have been located there is now a helipad on one site, and a pile of garbage on the other side of the building.  There seem to be underground water storage, or perhaps tunnels for wiring or other equipment.  Either way, those holes are full of water that I wouldn’t want to swim in.  

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View of the building now where the GATR builing was, picture taken facing North
View of the front gate

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

CFS Chibougamau and GATR Site

I've heard Chibougamau mentioned on the 6 o'clock news when I was a child, while we ate dinner.  At the time had no idea where it was.  Well, now I not only know where it is, I also know there was a Pinetree Line station there!  Sounds like a good reason for a road trip.  The government has already cleaned up the property, unfortunately, so there doesn't look like there will be much to take pictures of.  At the very least it'll be one more Pinetree Line station off my bucket list.  CFS Chibougamau was built later than the initial Pinetree Line stations to fill in gaps in radar coverage in Northern Quebec.
The red circle on the map below show where the operations site was on top of Mount Bourbeau and to the East the GATR site near Lac Cummings on top of Mont Cummings.  Judging from recent satellite photos, it seems the previous site of the GATR site has been repurposed, and an independent secondary surveillance radar (ISSR) has been built where, or near where, the GATR stood.  I'm unsure if the concrete block GATR building was demolished or re-purposed.

I have not yet taken a trip to Chibougamau yet, but hope to in 2014.

CFS Chibougamau and GATR Site
Courtesy of The Atlas of Canada

CFS Chibougamau Operations Site

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CFS Chibougamau GATR Site:

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September 25, 2013

CFS Ramore and GATR Site

Ramore Air Station was built by the USAF, then passed to the Canadians as RCAF Station Ramore, and was decommissioned as CFS Ramore in 1974. It was a sprawling base with 3 gravel runways, several rifle ranges, helipads, at least two private lakes for recreation, and two hilltops to locate radio gear, radar equipment, as well as Diesel generators. The Candian Forces continue to use the property for training off and on, and in 2005 they used it for Exercise Polar Bear, a training exercise in the snow
( ) The buildings that made up the base, the generator building at the top of the mountain, and even the foundations of the radomes are in good shape compared to other Pinetree Line stations.

Slideshow of my latest CFS Ramore pictures from August 2013

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

I mentioned previously that along with the Pinetree Line radar sites there were supporting facilities; air fields were created, mini-radar stations built to fill in the gaps in coverage, and powerful radio transmitters were built to communicate with overflying NORAD fighter interceptors.  Well, every Pinetree Line station (AFAIK), in the early 60s, had their radio transmitters/receivers upgraded.  They went from two separate buildings by the base (say within ~1-2 Km, and on the station's grounds) to one remotely located a bit farther away (say ~3-30Km).  The upgraded transceivers were more powerful than the previous gear, and they didn't want interference from the Radar, or visa-versa.

While looking for the location of the CFS Ramore GATR site I found two hints on the internet:

Hint #1
Narrative Report
RCAF Station Ramore, Ont.
2 Oct 61 to 31 May 62

"19 Mar 62
The GATR site located north-west of the station 17 miles distant by
road, was accepted from the contractor this date."

Source: National Archives of Canada
Meaning, the contractor finished the work and officially handed the keys on that day to DND.  They'd been working on the facility for about two years .

Hint #2
"I was stationed at Ramore from Jan '65 to Jul '71. Worked at the GATR site, which was located just off the Watabeag road."
-Rick Lean,
 Hanover, Ontario

By contacting Mike Milinkovic, I found out exactly where the CFS Ramore GATR was located.  From the satellite pictures it was very difficult to discern the location. Usually there is a bare patch measuring 400'x1000' where the antenna farm would have been.  In this case, the foliage had all grown back, leaving only a difference in the shade of green between the old growth and new growth.  I assume the location hasn't been maintained since CFS Ramore shut down in 1974, which explains how much he area's trees have grown.  The site is West of CFS Ramore, connected at one time by telephone cable along a cleared line that you can still see cut along the concession boundaries, is where the site stood.

(Location here:

(Thanks to Thomas Page of the Online Air Defense Radar Museum for finding the hints above and trying to find the location with his resources too!) 

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Slideshow of my pictures of the CFS Ramore GATR Site

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

September 19, 2013

Some upcoming edits... and Wikipedia...

If you're following the timeline of this blog, expect some things to become out of order as I edit and clean up some old posts... some old posts which were long, will also get cut into smaller articles.  Some have vanished, well really I just pulled them back into draft, will also get split up and reposted.  This will all look like more of a poorly referenced Wikipedia entry!

Speaking of Wikipedia, I'm trying to add more to Wikipedia, provided I can cite sources for that information.

CFS Lac St. Denis and GATR Site

Credit: Yves Charbonneau - Flickr
The 2nd closest Pinetree Line station to my home is RCAF Station Lac St. Denis / CFS Lac St. Denis, but I haven't been in any rush to see it.  Because the station was so close to Montreal, once it was decommissioned, it was sold to a succession of (inept) businesses who have ruined it for me.

Reportedly someone tried to make the operations building into a castle for a theme restaurant.  I'm unsure what else has been tried, but the paint ballers and graffiti artists have had their way with the building as well.  Most of the locations I'm visiting are remote, and too far out of the way for someone to casually tag them.  I love seeing urban decay, but this has more "urban" than the rest of them.

As it turns out, while researching old maps and collaborating with the The Air Defense Radar Veterans' Association who run the Online Air Defense Radar Museum, they mentioned they were unsure where the CFS Lac St. Denis GATR Site was.  Most of their people are in the USA, so, following on the heels of figuring out where the CFS Foymount GATR site was, and after seeing the Bing satellite image that sure looks like the right building, I volunteered to go and check out the spot they suspected, which was likely operational from 1962-1985.

As it turns out, Lac St. Denis isn't that far from several places I remember, or remember hearing about, from my youth growing up in Montreal; Saint-Sauveur, Morin Heights, Sainte Agathe, Mont Tremblant, Saint Donat, Sainte Adele, etc...  I wondered if as a child I'd ever seen the radomes when they were still standing... I doubt it.  There would have been no reason for me to take a highway that would have taken me near Lac St Denis.

As it's only ~3hrs from home, I'll pop up on a weekend sometime soon and check out the GATR site.  It looks as though it is being used by a telco or other company who would need a microwave repeater; there seems to be at least two on the site.  The original building looks like it's still standing, and I'm looking forward to taking lots of pictures.

I'm sure the road is in good enough shape to accomodate telco trucks who would maintain the microwave repeater at the top, but I don't know if the road is gated at the bottom.  Worst case scenario, the road to the top is ~2.5Km long, certainly walking it is possible.

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I can confirm that indeed it is located at (45.99949, -74.34638) at the end of a very well maintained road, with no obstacles, and a two-wheel drive sedan made it to the top without incident.
At the top you will find the original GATR building now being used by local private companies to house, presumably, modern repeater equipment.  The building would have likely housed a AN/FRT-49 (a 20KW High Output radio amplifier) attached to a AN/GKA-5 TDDL transmitter, meant to establish a data link with the interceptor for relaying target intercept data.)  The AN/FRT-49 was a big piece of equipment, it took up 3200 sq ft, and weighed in at 45,200lbs and had to be liquid cooled.  The AN/FRT-49 was a high power klystron linear amplifier, so care had to be taken to ensure the staff at the GATR sites were not exposed to X-Rays generated by the equipment; part of the weight of the system was heavy lead shielding inside the cabinets.(ref)  When moved it had to be lifted by forklifts and transported by flat-bed truck; this wasn’t a small radio transmitter.  At 20MW the transmitter was usually remotely located from the radar, in this case away from CFS Lac St. Denis operational site, so it wouldn't blot out the radar equipment with a massive amount of interference.  This was the same strategy done with most GATR sites.

"In addition to TDDL (data link), every GATR site had voice radios, namely AN/GRT-3 Single-Channel Transmitters, AN/GRR-7 Single-Channel Receivers, and AN/GRC-27 Multi-Channel Transceivers.  In the 1975 / 1976 time frame, all GATR Sites still in operation were upgraded under Project RIVET SWITCH (ed: USAF) to radio types AN/GRT-22 Single-Channel Transmitters, AN/GRR-24 Single-Channel Receivers, and AN/GRC-171 Multi-Channel Transceivers." -Tom Page, Historian, Online Air Defence Radar Museum

Also at the site you will find two original wood "antenna poles" still in use, the original foot pegs are still attached, and one of them still has the cross pieces that the original antenna would have been attached to.  The roof of the building isn't original, but the original flat roof has been replaced with a sloped roof.

The gate is no longer anywhere to be found, there are chunks of what look to be telephone poes - but are really antenna poles - lying around, and the original fence with barbed wire is visible at the entrance (where the gate would have been).  I did not investigate in the bush if the perimeter fence still encircles the property entirely.  The property is heavily overgrown with under-brush; small stuff, no major trees have grown up.  This could be due to potential liberal use of herbicide - not uncommon at the time of construction.  There is also no obvious "no trespassing" signage posted.

Big thanks to Tom Page of the Online Air Defense Radar Museum who helped me find this gem :)

Note the two cross-members at the top of the antenna pole

Note the foot pegs on both poles, and their unusually tall height.
(pole on the left side of the picture)

CFS Lac St Denis 1980s(?)
(Date and Credit Unknown)

CFS Foymount GATR Site

Looking for unrelated information, I often stumble across tidbits I didn’t have any knowledge of.  This is one of those times!

High atop the Openongo Mountains west of Eganville is the highest populated point in the province of Ontario.

The village of Foymount was built as an Air Force radar installation in the early 1950s as part of the RCAF Air Defence Command's Pinetree network. Once built, this installation was christened No. 203 RCAF Radio Station but this was soon dropped in favour of RCAF Station Foymount. The station's main lodger unit was the 32 Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron which was initially equipped with an FPS-3 Search, FPS-6 Height-Finder and TPS 501 Back-Up Height-Finder radar. These radars had approximately a 200 mile search radius and could pick up targets at 50,000 feet.

From its birth to the early 1960s, RCAF Station Foymount operated as a Ground-Control Intercept base. This meant that its role was to direct interceptor aircraft stationed at RCAF Station Uplands to unidentified targets within its jurisdiction. In 1963, air defence operations were automated or "SAGEd" and interceptors were now controlled by Ottawa NORAD Sector Headquarters, first located at Station Edgar and later on, at North Bay. The role of radar units was now only that of intruder-detection. The change in methodology not only brought new equipment but also a new name for the unit, 32 Radar Squadron.

In 1967, the Armed Forces' integration process caused yet another re-designation. Radar Squadrons and RCAF Stations were disbanded as official entities and the personnel were simply assigned to new Canadian Forces Stations. However, Foymount did not break all ties with the past as it retained 32 Squadron's crest and motto of "Silent Sentry". Total station strength in 1970 was about 208 military and civilian personnel.

From unification on, the Canadian Armed Forces have pretty well known only cutbacks. New equipment may have been acquired but real property, for the most part, hasn't. In fact, a large number of these bases and stations were closed in the late 1960s and 1970s. Seeing that radars at Falconbridge and Lac St. Denis were powerful enough to cover Foymount's area of responsibility, it was decided to close Foymount in 1974. Operations were shut down in April of that year and the station disbanded the following October. It was sold for $251,000 to a Waterloo holding firm soon afterwards.

Today, most of the station remains although not all of it is being used. Street names reflect names particular to this area: Madawaska, Openono and Algonquin. Station Headquarters are now being used by Sebastopol Township and other buildings house the Black Water Factory Store and Vissan Designs. Neither the radar towers nor the operations centre now stand. Nothing also remains of the remote Ground-Air Transmission site that was two miles south of the Highway 512/515 junction.

-Paul Ozorak, Abandoned Military Installations of Canada, 1994
I've already been to what was once RCAF Station Foymount / CFS Foymount, but had no idea there was a nearby GATR site.  That GATR site would be distinct from the RX and TX buildings of the 1950s which I've already seen.

Clearly I need to take a quick trip!

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Post-trip Update:

I stopped by in the Spring of 2013 to see if I could find out who owns the property and introduce myself.  Unfortunately, nobody was home, but I can confirm that is absolutely the former location of the Foymount GATR site.  The foundation for the original building is still there, as well as chopped telephone poles.

September 18, 2013

Sexsmith, Alberta and High Prarie, Alberta - Mid-Canada Line POL Sites

Location of Mid Canada Line Sites near Alberta
Courtesy of Larry Wilson -
On the heels of my post about Falher, Alberta; I got to thinking...  There are only so many times a month that barrels of Diesel would need to be shipped from the rail yard to the MCL Site.  The location of Falher, as it served only two MCL DDS sites, wouldn’t have been a bustling military town in any way.  In fact, the trucks used might not have been military at all.  Since only two DDS sites were being ferried fuel, and a truck can carry more barrels than a helicopter, it probably wasn't much of an operation in Falher.  Any warehouse would do, so it begs the question, was there a purpose-built building, or did they just lease some space from someone by the rail?  Is that building still there?

Then I looked East and West at the next POL points; Sexsmith and High Prarie are, in regard to the MCL, in a similar position to Falher.  Both are on the rail.  Both near two MCL DDS sites.  High Prarie and Sexsmith today both have many concession roads that lead off into rural Alberta, and I suspect it was the same in the late 1950s when the MCL was built.  While in Quebec and Ontario it was standard procedure to ferry fuel to the stations by heavy/medium lift helicopter, maybe out West there was no need.  In Ontario and Quebec the sites were considerably more remote, and there were very few roads of any kind anywhere near the sites.  I still have no firm indication which MCL Sites were road vs helicopter accessible.

I think this complicates finding anything in Sexsmith, Falher or High Prarie.  At the Pinetree Line sites, or MCL SCS Sites, there were a lot of buildings and a lot of infrastructure, they were hard to miss.  These POL sites may have just been a non-descript warehouses, and not very different than any other building in town.

High Prarie, Alberta

Sexsmith, Alberta

September 17, 2013

Falher, Alberta - Mid-Canada Line POL Site

Back in the mid-1950s to mid-1960s the town of Falher, Alberta was used as a supply point for moving Petroleums, Oils and Lubricants (POL) to two stations of the Mid-Canada Line (MCL).  The rail runs through Falher, and rail was the most efficient way to get supplies to the Northernmost reaches of Canada which didn’t have ocean access.

Location of Mid Canada Line Sites near Alberta
Courtesy of Larry Wilson -
MCL Site 830 and MCL Site 833 were part of the MCL radar "fence", and were likely run off Diesel generators.  Supplies such as fuels and lubricants for remote locations of the Mid-Canada Line
had to be flown in by helicopter, but where possible supplies would be trucked.  I have no information to confirm this, but considering roads were in existence around Falher, I have no reason to believe MCL Site 830 and MCL Site 833 were overly difficult to reach by road, so why would expensive helicopter time be used?  MCL Site 830 was southeast of Falher, toward High Prairie, Alberta, and MCL Site 833 was southwest of Falher toward Sexsmith, Alberta.  The exact location where MCL Site 830 or MCL Site 833 were, I'm not entirely sure of.  We can assume the fence would have been placed at relatively high points, and they would have been staggered ~30 miles apart.  Drawing a straight line between Falher and Sexsmith, and Falher and High Prairie we can see the MCL sites would have been south of that arbitrary line.

Credit: The Atlas Of Canada
From the open-source satellite imagery available, the railroad spurs and sidings can be clearly seen.  However, no discernible military or contractor related unloading depot can be identified, by me anyway.  Considering railroad design, unloading would ahve been done on a spur or siding.  Using Google Street View I can see several grain silos, but off hand I do not see any buildings or artefacts that might suggest a previously military use.

I'd like to know where the Falher POL Site was, if it was ever remediated for PCB or other hydrocarbon contamination, and know if there were any buildings built when it was being used as a POL site, or if existing buildings were just repurposed for that time period.

Also, if you know the locations of MCL Site 830 or MCL Site 833, I'd like to know where they were also!

If anything is still at either the location of MCL Site 830 or 833, it's highly unlikely that the building is intact, or the antenna(s).  The antennas, if present, would be lying down, where they were laid to rest when the site was decommissioned around 1964.  However, if anything was there - I'd really like to get a picture of the remains of the facilities and surrounding area.