CANADIAN LORAN STATIONS

HISTORY

Research has indicated that Canadian Loran stations were operated by four groups during their service life. These groups were: United States Coast Guard (USCG), Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Department of Transport (DOT) and finally the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). As examples, stations located at Baccaro and Demming Island NS were initially operated by the RCN while the stations  in Newfoundland were initially staffed with USGC personnel until they were handed over to Canadian authority.

A brief history of the DOT and the CCG will help to explain how these groups were involved with Loran-A operation.

In 1868, one year after Confederation, the federal government established the Department of Marine and Fisheries. This department assumed responsibility for marine affairs, including the operation of government vessels and for various elements of marine infrastructure (aids to navigation, lifesaving stations, canals and waterways, marine regulatory bodies and supporting shore infrastructure). In 1936, responsibility for marine transportation shifted to the Department of Transport. Loran-A was not yet developed when the DOT was created.

By the 1940s, many organizations and communities pressed the government to form a national coast guard. Ocean commerce expanded tremendously, culminating, with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958. The Canadian Coast Guard was officially created by the Honourable Leon Balcer, the then Minister of Transport on January 26, 1962. Balcer, rose in the House of Commons and announced that the Department of Transport fleet of ships would, in the future, be known as the Canadian Coast Guard.  It is presumed that the responsibility to operate Loran-A became the responsibility of the CCG at this date. At some point in time, the Department of Transport became known as Transport Canada..

In 1995, in order to achieve cost savings, the Canadian Coast Guard transferred to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in order to gather the two largest civilian fleets within the federal government under one department. For Loran-A,  this was academic as the Loran-A system, shut down in 1980. DFO science vessels and the Fisheries Conservation and Protection Fleet were incorporated with the Coast Guard Fleet. To better serve Canadians, the federal government started investigating the possibility to give the CCG more independence by transforming it into a separate agency within DFO.

STATIONS

Cape Christian, Baffin Island

Started: 1953. Completed: 1954
 

 
orana_cape_chistian_loran.jpg
This is all that remains of the Canadian Loran A station at Cape Christian, Baffin Island 70,32N 68,18W. It was the slave station for rates 2S6 and 2S7 and operated from 1954 to 1976. ( Photo courtesy Public Works Canada)
Baccaro Station, Nova Scotia

As rate 1L1 (slave) from September 1942 to October 1942
As rate 1L2 (slave) from October 1942 to 1945.
It was slaved to Nantucket.

Remained in operation until the mass closing of the East Coast Loran chain on 31 December 1981.

Samplings of activities at the East Baccaro LORAN station are extracted from an undated pamphlet found among papers from the estate of the late Mary Gamble (nee Black), former WRCNS. These reminiscences are the work of all the women who served as members of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) at the East Baccaro Naval Station, Nova Scotia, 1944-1946.

"In September 1944, some 20 WRENS had travelled from the training facility at St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, through Halifax, down the south shore to overnight at HMCS Shelburne (NS). The remainder of the journey was in the back of a truck headed south on the highway to Barrington and Barrington Passage, then down the barren peninsula jutting out into the cold Atlantic, past Baccaro, and one more mile to East Baccaro. There, on the windswept peninsula tip, with spray blowing in from the sea, the WRENS found a new place of work - a Quonset hut, and a frame building that was to be their home until March 1946.

The arrival of the WRENS meant that 28 RCNVR male ratings could be redeployed to other postings.  When this very young, group of women arrived to relieve them, the sailors were jubilant -  hardly believing their good fortune. The WRENS were soon to understand why this posting was not up to anyone's expectations.

Soon dubbed "the sailors who never hit port", the WRENS were organized into four watches. Initially, a watch consisted of three people but a later addition made it four to a watch.  They worked in shifts  from midnight to 4, 4 to 8, 8 to 12, 12 to 4, the two dog watches 4 to 6, 6 to 8, and then again 8 until midnight. Off shift, the WRENS performed necessary chores such as cleaning up the galley, meal preparation, scrubbing out the focs'le and the heads. Every nine days they get three days off. Where to go? Barrington, the base at Shelburne, or perhaps Yarmouth, but they never saw the grand time had by sailors coming back into harbour.

The reason for the deployment of WRENS to Baccaro was simple. Their main task was  to ensure that the slave  station at Baccarro was in synchronization with the slave station at Demming Island NS and the master at Nantucket Mass. When the signals synchronized precisely, LORAN receivers on ships and planes could follow the lattice charts and navigate to any predetermined destination. During wartime, Loran A was top secret so personnel were instructed not to talk about it outside their work environment.

The Baccaro Loran chain first gave provided operational service for the North Atlantic in 1943. LORAN receiver-indicators were hurriedly installed on key escort craft doing convoy duty, on Canadian corvettes, and on troopships that travelled without escort. The job of the WREN operators at Baccaro was to keep signals synchronized twenty four hours a day. Never for an instant could the signals to get out-of-sync otherwise a  ship or aircraft could not obtain a fix from this Loran chain.

Some of the WRENS deployed to Baccaro, had worked out of a signal station connected with Naval Headquarters near Ottawa. They recorded readings from two sets of transmitting stations on the Atlantic coast. These readings were used to form logbooks that were to accompany the receiving sets aboard ships. Ships could then maintain accurate navigation yet maintaining radio silence.  From this original group, some went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) for further training, while others were sent to HMCS St. Hyacinthe to be introduced to transmitting with the purpose of joining the first group going to East Baccaro and Demming Island. It was highly responsible job for young women in their late teens and it required total accuracy since the lives of many people were in their hands. LORAN was a vital link in winning the Battle of the Atlantic.

Life at East Baccaro

What were the difficulties at Baccaro ? To name a few: Night work, shifts, isolation; a highly responsible job with minimum supervision and training. Initially, three very different individuals were thrown together. They bunked together, ate together, worked together, were on shift together, went on the bus together, and somehow they managed to get along. There were no stewards to carry out maintenance work. In spite of highly different backgrounds, they did get along and even managed to have fun.

The person who held it all together at East Baccaro was the Officer-in­Charge, Lieutenant Mary Armstrong. She was  a highly responsible individual who had a warm and human side along with a strong personality. Mary could quickly decide how to proceed then make it happen. She was an anchor that all the WRENS could relate to. When one of the WRENS planned to go to Halifax to get married, Mary just said "no way" so the wedding was held in the focs'le. Mary planned it all. Some of the local people came bearing gifts and one gave a salute with his muzzle loading gun - not to be forgotten. Another WREN planning a wedding, found Mary with needle and thread helping with some of the civilian clothing. One of the women had a terrible cold, so Mary brought a very large rum and butter tot to her bunk. She said the tot knocked her out cold, but it cured her.

The Snowstorm

A terrible snowstorm  occured on 8 February, 1945. Twelve WRENS were returning from Barrington in a van. They became  snowed-in on the road and had to take refuge on the cold floor of a fisherman's home. It was Mary who was very worried about the LORAN station but when she couldn't get action from Shelburne, she got Danny from Baccaro and some of the local folk to pick up the group in a truck. She didn't forget to thank and bestow gifts to the folks who assisted the WRENS on that bitter night. As a result of the delay in getting back to East Baccaro , one shift had had to man those oscilloscopes for some eighteen hours - an very difficult task.

One night became known as the "Night of the Incident at East Baccaro". There were German U-boats prowling offshore. Mary was unflappable and kept up the group's spirits despite the real risks. On VE Day, when she found two WRENS playing catch with the dinner plates around the galley, she simply said: Get out of those bell bottoms, and into your dress uniforms and meet me at the van. Then, off they went to the base at Shelburne and watched a U-boat rise from the ocean. As the hatches opened, German submariners came out on deck. They were all teenagers and very thinly built.

After viewing this, one WREN waved her hand and smiled. The submariners looked startled, but they waved back. Of those personnel who witnessed this, it made them think about the foolishness and the waste of war. Wonder what those frightened sailors thought when they saw the WRENS wave?

Besides the monitoring the Loran-A equipment,  a few WRENS had other duties. One was a motor technician who was in charge of the engines for the auxiliary power supply (motor alternator sets) . There was a talented cook who produced incredible meals, organized the galley and had personnel assist with food preparation and clean up. A Sick Berth Attendant was present in case of serious illness. Two or three Radio Artificers were responsible for the technical maintenance of the Loran equipment.

Local Folks

There were so many acts of kindness from the local community and the fisherfolk who may have initially looked askance at these girls in bell bottoms. Every Friday night, a sixteen mm. movie arrived from Shelburne and folks from quite a distance crowded into the station's focs'le to watch the movie. Sometimes, at the front gate, WRENS would find sacks of small lobsters that hadn't made it to market that morning. They learned to empty the sacks, get the lobsters into boiling water, and enjoyed many a lobster feast. Fisherfolk took some of them fishing, while others in Barrington introduced the WRENS to hunting. At the store in Baccaro,  the local shopkeeper kept an eye out for the WRENS and often acted like a big brother. It was he who organized a truck of locals to come and get the WRENS back to the station, when they had been snowbound on the road.

Despite the constant and grueling work shifts, the lack of rest, mighty little chance for recreation beyond games of cribbage, walks up the road through the grazing sheep to get mail, playing badminton and volleyball, one well organized scavenger hunt with all the clues written in verse, and trying to find some sun in that fog and dampness to sun themselves, the WRENS had held it all together and they had fun. They had lived through an experience that no one would ever forget.

In March 1946, the station was taken over by civilian employees and the WRENS were released from duty. . By that time, Loran-A was providing day and night navigational service to the North Atlantic shipping lanes.

Mary Adamson Owen organized a reunion of the WRENS who served at East Baccaro. It was held  on May 3, 2003 in Thornhill Ontario. Of the original group of 24, only 13 were able to attend.  With lots of faded photographs to look at, they were able to relive the better times as well as the tougher times.

Names in alphabetical order:
Barb Bowland Belanger, Joan Boyer Devlin, Nancy Hall Field, Marion Cornett Frank, Marg Hovey Frizzell, Doris Cookman Gustafson, Dory Smelts Hocking, Norma Crossman Johnson,  Loretta Armstrong Lalonde, Betty & Wally Lockwood, Cec Lyle, Audrey Jamieson McCaskill, Marion Manning McKnight, Muriel Quinn Newton, Mary Adamson Owen, Eva Parolin, Barb Long Scott, Betty and Jim Shipperbottom, Betty Dicker & Hal Short, Bill Stewart and Jean Tilley.

Remembered:
Mary Armstrong, Elizabeth Cole, Tailey Deason, Francis Kelley, Carmen Lafrance, Peg Lynam, Bob McCaskill and Jack Pope.

ANOTHER ACCOUNT

Mary Adamson Owen provides this account of her service at Baccaro. "This is the story of a group of young women, members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, whose average age was 20; who manned the Loran Naval Station in East Baccaro, Nova Scotia from September 1944 to March 1946.  After training in Galt, they were stationed in St Hyacinthe to take a wireless telegrapher’s course; when a notice appeared on the St Hy bulletin board asking for Wren volunteers to go to Nova Scotia on a secret assignment. No other information was offered other than we were to relieve naval personnel so they could go to sea. Secrecy invoked the thought of mystery. How exciting that sounded. How could we not volunteer?

The journey started with a train ride to Halifax, an overnight there; on to Shelburne via the “Blueberry Special.” From Shelburne to Baccaro was in Henrietta, a vehicle similar to an enclosed panel truck that was not made for comfort.  This station was tucked on a remote peninsula not far from Barrington Passage, about halfway between Shelburne and Yarmouth. It reminded me of the foggy moor in Wuthering Heights where sheep grazed and houses were few and far between. Our “ship” consisted of a frame building that was our living quarters, a Quonset hut where we worked, and a couple of out buildings.

All of our questions about our “secret assignment” were about to be answered. Baccaro was a Long Range Navigation Station. Loran.  BUT you never mentioned the word, not to your friends, other naval personnel, not to anyone. If anyone asked what we did, we told them we were Wireless Operators.

To understand the technicalities of Loran, do consult the Internet but here is a layman’s description. Baker in Baccaro and Dog on Deming Island in the Cape Breton area, were slave stations, working with the master station, Sugar in Nantucket. Signals were sent out from these stations and it was our duty to keep these signals precisely synchronized using oscilloscopes. The ships and planes equipped with Loran receiving sets could follow the intersect of these signals and navigate by chart rather than live communication, so radio silence was maintained.

There were 4 watches with 4 girls on each watch. We took turns manning the scopes as the work was tedious and hard on the eyes. Every hour one of us would leave the hut to chart a “reading” in a small box about 20 yards from the ocean. You can imagine, it was somewhat scary on the early morning watches to proceed into the darkness; armed with a flashlight, surrounded by fog and the echoing of the fog horns.  Other duties included keeping the fire burning, providing coffee and snacks to the other members of your watch.  You are so correct…night watches were not fun. Do you like mice? They came in the morning hours to dance to the music on the radio.

All the Loran equipment was housed in the Quonset hut. The transmitter was located at the far end of the hut, the oscilloscopes were in the middle section and at the other end was a large area with the stove and a receiver. I don't know what the receiver was but the Wrens used it for a radio. Underneath the floor were the explosives. As well as the explosives we had a Bren gun, a revolver, 9 or 10 rifles, plus a number of Sten guns.. Our Station was well equipped to fend off the enemy. Now you know why those submarines lurking off-shore of the East Baccaro Naval Station never dared to land. They had heard that we were well-armed. Actually, one night a message came from Halifax, warning us that plotting screens had observed 2 enemy subs about half a mile off-shore from Baccaro. That caused quite a stir and an alert in the barracks but the subs wisely moved on to other areas to avoid confrontation with the Baccaro Wrens. I am making light of this situation but our orders were, “Blow up the equipment and get going!”

All the maintenance work around the East Baccaro Station was done by the Wrens. We cleaned, washed dishes, helped the cook, shovelled snow. I only heard one complaint, “I didn’t join the Wrens to do housework.” Needless to say that gal was soon replaced, a wise move as it didn’t do much for morale. How was our morale? Visualize our situation. There was the isolation, the high level of responsibility on young shoulders, the lack of privacy and rest were all factors that might have led to problems. The gal who held it all together was our officer, Mary Armstrong. She was always there to listen to our problems, dry our tears and be “the family” that we all missed. Mary was loved by all.  One of us was going to Halifax to be married. Mary said, “NO WAY” and organized the wedding in our focs’le. Mary was decorated with the Order of the British Empire in 1946: “For devotion to duty under difficult conditions Lieutenant Mary Armstrong was responsible for the administration of a station where the maintenance of morale was of great importance; her constant cheerfulness won the admiration of those serving with her.”

The Baccaro Wrens have fond memories of the folk who were so gracious and kind. We visited in their homes and they joined us Wednesday nights for movies.  The Baccaroites wee curious of the happenings at the base. The rumours floating around the peninsula were that we were “making fog” as there never had been as much fog until “those girls” arrived. They took us fishing and supplied us with a dory. During the lobster season burlap bags brimming with that delicacy were left at our back door.

I feel privileged to have been part of that fine group of young Canadian women. I would not have missed this adventure that is one of the most memorable times of my life. I cherish the associations developed at this tiny station at East Baccaro sixty-six years ago.

BACCARO POEM

A station on the ‘lantic coast, a bleak and grim duration post.
No difference here ‘tween rain and fog, land and sea, or field and bog.
A fisher’s haven that is true
But not a place for me or you.
Through darkened days. The lonely night
It’s plain to see two wars we fight.
One where all the war bonds go, the other here at Baccaro.
With all for one and one for all
We’ll never let our station fall,
We have the kind that makes a go
 WE’LL WIN THE WAR OF BACCARO.”

Those who served at the station at various times from September,1944 through March,1946 were;

 Mary Armstrong, Barb Belanger, Joan Boyer Devlin, Elizabeth Cole, Tally Deason, Nancy Hall Field, Marion Cornett Frank, Marg Hovey Frizell, Doris Cookman Gustafson, Katie Hare, Dory Smelts Hocking, “Jeff” Jeffries, Francis Kelly, Norma Crossman Johnson, Carmen LaFrance. Loretta Armstong Lalonde, Wally Lockwood, Cec Lyle, Peg Lyman,  Audrey Jamieson McCaskill, Bob McCaskill, Marion Manning McKnight, Muriel Quinn Newton, Mary Adamson Owen, Eva Parolin, Jack Pope, Barb Long Scott, Jim Shipperbottom, Betty Dicker Short, Hal Short, Bill Stewart, Jean Tilley, Marion Watson.

Citation:

ARMSTRONG, Mary Orell, Lieutenant - Member - Order of the British Empire (MBE) - WRCNS / OIC W/T Station Baccaro, N.S. - Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 15 June 1946 and London Gazette of 13 June 1946. Home: Fort William, Ontario. S/Lt, WRCNS on 16 September 1944.

"For exemplary devotion to duty under difficult conditions. As Officer-in-Charge of the isolated W/T Station at Bacarro, Nova Scotia, Lieutenant Armstrong was responsible for the operation and maintenance of highly technical equipment and the administration of a station where the maintenance of morale was of great importance. Her constant cheerfulness throughout her appointment at Baccaro won the admiration of those serving with her."

Whitehead (Deming Island), Nova Scotia

As rate 1L2 (master) Oct 1942 to 1945
Remained in operation until the mass closing of the East coast Loran chain on 31 December 1981.

The LORAN A coverage map (1973) shows 1H1 (Port-aux-Basques/Deming) as a very short base line and 1H2 (Baccaro/Deming).  Deming was a double pulse master station by that time. It closed on 31 December 1981.

Citation:

WWII RCN Awards: MILLS, Mary Effie Francis, Lieutenant .   Member - Order of the British Empire (MBE)   WRCNS / Officer-in-Charge Loran Station at Whitehead (Deming Island), Nova Scotia.

Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 15 June 1946  "For exemplary devotion to duty under difficult conditions.  As Officer-in-Charge of the  isolated Loran station at Whitehead, Nova Scotia, Lieutenant Mills was responsible for  the operation and maintenance of highly technical equipment and the administration of a station where the maintenance of morale was of great importance.  Her constant  cheerfulness throughout her appointment at Whitehead won the admiration of those  serving with her."  Home:  Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Born in 1910.

She gave a interview in 2000 at age 90. Lt. Mills was sent to Ottawa to learn about Loran, a new kind of location radar developed at Boston's Massachusetts Institute of Technology.   For almost a year, Mills and two other women worked behind a curtain in an office, their  work deemed too sensitive for prying eyes.  They received electronic signals, forwarded  the data to MIT and helped in basic research on waves and radar beams. Then she was transferred to Whitehead, N.S where she led 25 WRENS working in eight-hour shifts around the clock, monitoring the station's operation.

One night, the radio frequency was scrambled, a likely sign that an enemy submarine was nearby. "We were very frightened, very anxious, Mills says. "We'd all been  instructed that a serious problem meant we had to destroy the equipment. The girls in the hut had a revolver.  For four hours, we didn't know what was going to happen."

Port -Aux-Basques, Newfoundland

This station was established in 1945 to extend the coverage area of the North Atlantic.
 

 
orana_baccaro_whitehead_map.jpg
This map shows the locations of Baccaro and Deming/Whitehead. During WWII the Canadian government decided that they would man only two Canadian stations, Deming and Bacarro.  The rest were manned by the US Coast Guard until the early fifties. (Map courtesy Google Maps)
Gray Point, B.C.
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The Gray Point Loran-A station was located on Haida Gwaii  Island, part of the Queen Charolette chain. The pushpin denotes the location of the station. (Map courtesy Google Earth) . 
Tyoe : Double master
Rate: 1L4 and  1L5 – “G”
Established 1971.
Stood down
1L4 on  30 October 1977
1L5 – December 1979 .

Station pair:
1L4 – Spring Island
1L5 – Biorka Island (South Alaska)

 
Spring Island B.C.

Established: October 1945 by the USCG. Operation transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in November 1947. In a message dated November 14, 1947, the RCN confirms that it has taken over operation of Spring Island using trained operators from the Department of Transport .

Stood down: October 30, 1977 after a fire in the generator room. Since the Loran A system was to be phased out, it was not economical to rebuild the station.
Rates:   1L1 – “V” ( up to 1970) and then 1L4  (1971)

Frank Statham, who served with the Canadian Coast Guard, provides some background information on the Loran 'A' station at Spring Island B.C.

"We had Loran A along the Pacific Coast.  Our station was at Spring Island on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Access was via the settlement of Kyuquot. I can remember struggling with the receiver trying to determine if it was a skywave or ground wave that I was receiving out in mid Pacific.

When the station closed, the Coast Guard had to revert the entire site back to its original condition so the station housing is not in evidence..

lorana_spring_island.jpg
The former Loran 'A' station on Spring Island was located near the northern part of Vancouver Island (Image courtesy Google Earth) 

 
 
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Loran 'A' gear at Spring Island. 
lorana_spring_island12.jpg
Spring Island structures 
lorana_spring_island07.jpg
Spring Island  - The residence of the Officer-In-Charge, 
lorana_spring_island09.jpg
Loran operator Joe Osborne holding a 16 inch glass float. Japanese fishermen used glass floats on their fishing nets for decades until they were replaced by cork and plastic.  During that time,  many floats broke loose and drifted across the Pacific and were eventually washed up on the North American west coast. Often. they had a molded Japanese character which provided a clue as to who made it.
/lorana_spring_island11.jpg
Spring Island landing craft. 
/lorana_spring_island05.jpg
Spring Island - General view looking west. 
All photos in this table came from the collection of Joe Osborne

 
 
 
 
lorana_spring_island01.jpg
/lorana_spring_island02.jpg
/lorana_spring_island03.jpg
lorana_spring_island04.jpg
These photos show the tower and buildings at the former Loran A station at Spring Island. (From the collection of Harold Hammerer).
REFERENCES:

1) Elsa Lessard <elsal(at)rogers.com>
2) Public  Works Canada http://www.pwgsc.gc.ca/db/text/archives/2002/summer2002/article009-e.html
3) Bill Dietz <bdietz57(at)hotmail.com>
4) Loran A History Site   http://www.loran-history.info/loran-A.htm
5)  Frank Statham <fstatham(at)telus.net>
6) http://www.ccg-gcc.gc.ca/eng/CCG/History
7) "News of the DOT" , Christmas 1953 edition, page 7
8) David Freeman <djfreeman(at)shaw.ca>
 


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