Naval Radio Station (NRS) Aklavik, CFV, was established in the Northwest Territories in 1949. In the Inuvialuktun dialect it means "barren-ground grizzly place". From 1953 to 12 March 1961, it was formally known as HMC NRS but the base personnel just called it NRS.
Although Aklavik grew to be a moderately settled town by the early 1950s, it's restricted waterways and instability of the silt and permafrost terrain were considered by experts as inadequate for any new construction. Because of this, the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources started to plan the move to a new site on higher ground as early as November 1954 with construction commencing in 1956. The new site was called Aklavik East Three1 but was always referred to as East 3 and later renamed Inuvik. The old station closed in March 1961 and personnel were transferred to the new facility at NRS Inuvik which became operational at 0001Z on March 20, 1961.
Aklavik was located at 68º 14'N, 135 00º W, on the western side of the Mackenzie River delta. It was 75 miles distant from Inuvik. (Map courtesy of Multimap.com)
Unrelated to station CFV, but integral to the local history, Alkavik became part of the Northwest Territories and Yukon (NWT&Y) Radio system in October 1925. The NWT&Y system, a true pioneer system, was critical in providing communications in Canada's north. and was operated by the Royal Canadian Signal Corps (RC Sigs). In Alkavik, besides providing services to the general population, NWT&Y also provided communication for any aircraft that overflew the site with or without radio. An aircraft without radio that was simply passing over one of these stations and not destined to land would simply fly very low over the station so that it could be identified and the date and time of its passing would be recorded. The call sign for the NWT & Y station in Alkavik was VEF.
On 6 November, 1959 control of the system was transferred to the Department of Transport ( DOT) in an elaborate ceremony held in Yellowknife, NWT. As each individual station was handed over, there would be a local ceremony. When it came time for each station in the network to close, an army officer would indicate to his headquarters that he was turning the station over to the DOT and closing it. This message would be sent by a member of RC SIGS as the last message sent. A D.O.T. operator would then send a signal to their headquarters indicating that they had taken over at a certain time and date and this would be their first message. It was the end of a glorious era.
In December 1946 radio station "CHAK" went on the air at Aklavik. The AK in the call sign was the first and last letters of the location. Built and initially operated by WO2 R.A. (Red) McLeod of the RC Sigs, the station was a voluntary operation serving the Mackenzie River delta. It initially had 30 watts of power, later upgraded to 100 watts, and operated on 1490 kHz. It received its license in 1947. For many years, there were no commercials and its sole source of income was a 25 cents contribution to broadcast personal messages. People would walk into the studio while the station was on the air and ask to use the microphone. Some of these personal messages informed listeners about muskrat trapping or local ice conditions. Here was one example. "Jimmy Umluk feed my dogs. I won't be home for another two days".
During the early stages of NRS Alkavik, personnel consisted of six to 12 men with a Petty Officer in charge. Personnel were provided with accommodation for dependents, however when the site originally opened, personnel and their families weathered rustic conditions, and severe hardships. Dwellings lacked central heating, water and sewage and there were no modern, fully equipped houses.
While Alkavik was in service, there was no interaction between the Army (RC Sigs) and the Navy other than on a social basis. They operated as two independent entities in spite of many common skills.
Aklavik was a tender to GLOUCESTER, as was Inuvik, Gander, Frobisher Bay, Masset, Bermuda and in its day, Chimo. None of them had an official badge, at least as tenders. Depicted at the top of this document is the unofficial badge of NRS Aklavik in an official badge format. Gloucester provided all the administrative functions, pay etc, in its capacity as home to the Senior Officer, Supplementary Radio System (SOSRS). In actual fact, SOSRS was also the Commanding Officer of HMC NRS Gloucester which became HMCS Gloucester sometime around 1956.
NRS Aklavik was part of the SUPRAD (Supplementary Radio) network. In its simplest form, a SUPRAD station operated in the following manner. When a prospective target made an emission which was heard by the Control Center, Control "flashed" the details of the emission (frequency and call sign) to the SUPRAD stations of the network. The stations tuned in the signal, took bearings then reported the bearing to Control. At Control, the bearings were collated and a fix area established. By the time computers had been introduced to help automate the process, the end was near for this method of obtaining a bearing on a target.
As part of the cover story for any queries about the base's purpose, the standing orders in Aklavik, and repeated in Inuvik, was that the station was part of the Search and Rescue network and provided Direction Finding and other related facilities as required.
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The last Aklavik Christmas card (1960): The base was simply a few buildings just outside the town. With the exception of the exaggerated antenna masts, the card gives a good idea of the physical layout of the station. The single antenna wire interconnecting the three towers is misleading. It is believed that these were towers for three sloping vee antennas
The little building at the centre right is the HF/DF shack but the DF antenna array is not shown. Behind the White Ensign is the combined Admin/Operations building. To the left of the Ensign is the Supply and Stores building. To its left is the barracks block and cafeteria. The add-ons to its left provided additional barracks accommodation. At the bottom left is the "reefer" building, in effect a large refrigerator to store food for a year. The other buildings to its right are the OIC's residence and PMQ's. (Permanent Married Quarters)
The town of Aklavik was very close - basically to the left of the picture.(Image courtesy Ray White)
Aklavik 1960. Ray White describes the scene. "The building at left centre is one of two barrack extension buildings, connected to the long building which was barracks and mess hall and Men's Mess. Above this building is one of three towers which are shown in a stylized manner in the 1960 Christmas card.
The next building was the Naval and Victualling stores building - One of the towers is shown above this building. Partially obscured behind the stores building is the Operations building. You can barely see the mast with White Ensign in the area between the Ops building and the third tower. The large building at right centre is a married quarters apartment building. Just visible to the left of this building is the HFDF shack
The clutter of small shacks in the left foreground were actually dwellings of Indian and Inuit residents. This area was actually outside the perimeter of the NRS. The woodpile was their winter supply of fuel. Three vertical antennas are actually the property of these native people and were used to pick up shortwave broadcasts. They have no relation to the navy station.
Aklavik was heated with oil-fired furnaces, the oil being supplied by the local Imperial Oil agency with fuel from the Norman Wells refinery, about 100 miles south of Aklavik. (Image via Ray White)
August 2, 1952. Taken from 20,000 feet. (National Air Photo Library photo A12848-212) Aklavik Jacket Patch: Although done in the format of an official RCN badge, Aklavik never had an official badge since the station was never in commission as HMCS AKLAVIK, only as HMC NRS AKLAVIK.
(Image courtesy Eric Earl KG4OZO)
Aklavik was equipped with a single Bombardier B-12 snowmobile similar to the one at Chimo, Quebec as depicted above. It was fitted with a Canadian Army #19 set as the emergency radio. The B-12 that was based there was plagued by mechanical problems. On one trip between Inuvik and Alkavik it broke a ski and the 19 set was indispensable for contacting the base for assistance. These machines could travel at speeds up to 60 km/hr. (Photo via John Murison).
This is the interior of a restored B-12 which cost $2,500 new. The 19 set would have been fitted to one of the bench seats in some type of desk configuration. (From web page: www.downhomer.com) The #19 set had an 18 watt input and operated between 2 and 8 Mcs on HF. This was called the 'A' set. If used with an 8 foot whip on a vehicle, it had a typical range of 10 miles. An auxiliary radio called the 'B' set operated in the 230-240 mcs band and provided communications up to a 1,000 yards between vehicles. 19 sets were easily identified on the air by their chirpy CW signals. At Aklavik, the B-12 was assigned call sign CFV1. (Photo by Jerry Proc)
Ray White who served at Aklavik during 1957-58 and again in 1960-61 recalls aspects of the radio operations from that era.
"In Operations we strictly received manual morse, automatic morse (at hand-copying speed or high speed) and non-morse transmissions like teletype, facsimile, telephony, from designated targets. The practice in Aklavik, Inuvik, Churchill and Coverdale was to copy manual morse by pencil and paper then transcribe it to fanfold paper on a telegraphic typewriter. Automatic morse sent at manual-level speeds was copied directly on a telegraphic typewriter.
To the best of my recollection, the main receiver used in Operations at Aklavik was the Hammarlund SP-600.
We had a few SP-600-JX receivers but since we had no fixed services, and thus no crystals, the six-position switch on the upper right of the SP-600-JX was redundant. It was a common trick to move the switch to one of the Xtal positions and wait to see how long it would take an operator to figure it out. The techs were not pleased to be called upon to fix a "defective" receiver that had been so manipulated. We also had several SP-600-J models a few JL's and later some SP-600-VLF's. The SP600 was the real workhorse. Prior to the LF version of the SP-600, Aklavik used the RAK and some variant of the National Radio HRO series for LF reception.
For single channel radioteletype reception, dual radioteletype reception or the reception of high-speed Morse or Morse with radioteletype, we used a number of devices such as the Northern Radio FSC107 FS (Frequency Shift) converter, the CV5001 DFS (Dual Frequency Shift) converter, and ink tape recorders.
Single channel radioteletype was received using the Northern Radio FSC107 frequency shift converter. It was suitable provided that the signal was strong and stable, two luxuries which a radio operator did not always have. Many systems in that era used an 850 Hz shift because radio receivers did not have good stability in the local oscillators and BFO's. As receivers became more stable it became possible to use narrower frequency shifts thus saving spectrum space. One of the advantages of using a 850 Hz shift was the ease in which targets who used 1000 Hz shifts could be picked out. Eventually the use of 500 Hz shifts we adopted by the international radioteletype community, then 125 Hz while amateur radio operators adopted a 170 Hz shift.
DFSK (Dual Frequency Shift Keying) was a frequency-shift keying method whereby two signals were multiplexed and transmitted simultaneously by frequency shifting among four frequencies. Any given DFSK transmission could carry Morse in one channel and teletype in the other, or both channels of Morse or both of teletype. For dual frequency shift keying, the signals could not have a baud length shorter than 10 milliseconds in order that they could be sampled reliably.
In order to receive a DFSK signal, a DFS (Dual Frequency Shift) converter was employed. When the signal being copied was radioteletype, the output of the DFS converter would be sent to a reperforator such as a Teletype Model 14 which would punch a tape and type the text at the same time. The Morse channel would be copied on an ink-tape recorder. High speed Morse was generally considered to be in the 80 to 100 wpm range but could have been as high as 200 wpm. Sometimes when Morse transmissions were slow enough, they would be copied on magnetic tape recorders which would be slowed down then copied in the normal manner.
The DFS converter Model CV5001, used to copy both single and dual frequency shifted signals, did not use a CRT to monitor signal quality. When receiving a single channel, frequency shifted transmission, the operator would tune the receiver in order to get the "Mark" Discriminator neon bulb to light. When the signal shifted to a Space state, the second bulb (ie the Space Discriminator) would light. When receiving dual frequency shifted signals, a second set of similar indicator bulbs came into play. The operator would tune the receiver so all four bulbs would flash as the signals in each channel changed from a Mark to a Space state.
Initially the Mechanitron ink tape recorder was used at Aklavik. It had a lot of deficiencies, not the least of which was the propensity to spray ink all over the place. In the mid-to-late 1950's, it was replaced by the McElroy ink tape recorder RAPC. This recorder could copy signals up to 1000 wpm. A terminal strip on the rear permitted the operator to connect three types of input:
a) Tone - Off/on keyed signals such as Morse code.
b) Frequency Shift - Mark/space tones from a frequency shifted signal
c) Contact Keying - For any type of make and break keying. It could show an operator how well he sent his Morse.
In addition, there were several British Marconi dual-pen ink tape recorders available in order to compare apparently simultaneous transmissions".
Ink tape recorders were used to copy high speed Morse, sent either as a single of dual frequency shifted signal. They used an ink nib, moving at a very fast rate which would inscribe the paper tape. Ink flowed constantly and the pen was held against the paper which was pulled past the pen. The track produced by the pen when no signal was present was a Space. When keying commenced, the pen moved a few millimeters to the Mark position.
One could actually record a frequency shifted signal. To record high speed Morse, the operator would flip a switch which would reverse the polarity of the Mark and Space signals. This pen was moved back and forth at an amazing rate and sometimes there was ink spatter, but a good operator would be able to adjust the ink flow to control it. The paper puller could pulled at variable in two speed ranges - high and low. The speed would be set so as to produce a readable ink trace on the tape. Paper tape would just fly out of these machines when the targets were sending traffic.
This is an example of the ink strip recorder output and the reel on which the tape was wound. Printed is the Morse representation for the letters NUMBE. (Photo via E-bay)
In the UK, an ink tape recorder was called an Undulator. The British Marconi Undulators at Aklavik (both single trace and double trace) were quite good, but we didn't use them except for special applications, because they were horizontal devices intended for table top installation and we preferred to rack-mount the recorders for ease of use and adjustment. Whenever we needed a time reference in order to determine the speed of transmission of a target, the Undulator was perfect for the job. Time marking was done by inputting a time signal or other standard timing device on one track and the target on the other, then run it for a minute or so.
Once the traffic had been transferred to paper tape it was wound on a reel, usually about 10" diameter. Next, an operator would sit at a typewriter with the reel of paper tape to his right and a tape-puller to the left. Using a foot-pedal, he would cause the puller to move the tape across a holder above the typewriter and transcribe the Morse images to text. This was a job most operators did their best to avoid since the inscribed tape was not inscribed with the dits and dahs of the Morse code but rather, a pattern closely resembling groups of square waves. You could tell a transcriber - his eyes were continuously flicking up and down, even when he wasn't actually transcribing a tape.
We used the Muirhead Model MuFax facsimile recorders to copy facsimile transmissions and to make measurements of telegraphic systems. There were the same machines used by DOT and on RCN ships for copying weather FAX broadcasts. For much the same reasons, we used them for copying facsimile transmissions of telegrams, pictures, etc. Because the sync pulse of the FAX transmission had to be very precise to place the "black finch" exactly on the side of the image, it was necessary to regulate the rotation of the FAX machine's motor. In our case, when receiving FAX transmissions, if the sending station was not correctly regulated, the sync would drift across the received page. Because the motors in the Mufax were controlled by audio signals, we had a system of tuning forks which generated tones slightly more or less than the accepted standards. This enabled us to improve the quality of our images by changing the rotation speed of the motors.
We had problems with discoloration of the chemically-treated paper, especially in the very dry Arctic. We tried everything to prevent 'dehydration' of the paper but it didn't help. In the late 1950's products were not always sealed in the same way as they are today. In the case of Aklavik, we got our supplies by barge only once a year, so by December, the paper stock was useless and HQ had to airmail fresh paper from the south. Overall, the Mufax was a great machine. Its construction was superb and it stood up well. One would almost say it was sailorproof.
There were no purpose-built radio bays in Aklavik. The equipment was placed in convenient positions on tables and generally it was a messy set-up.
Although the watches were 8 hours in length, the navy terminology was retained. Midnight-0800 was the Middle Watch, 0800-1600 was the Day Watch and 1600-Midnight was the Dog watch. (This was a variation on the traditional terminology used at sea.)
Alkavik had transmit capability using a Canadian Marconi TH-58 transmitter and the station worked CFL (HMCS Churchill, Manitoba) for extensive periods, upwards of 12 to 18 hours at a time using an 850 Hz FSK radioteletype link with traffic sent at 60 wpm. Both Aklavik and Churchill used the model TH-58 transmitter. There was a continual stream of traffic, especially from Churchill to Aklavik, but Aklavik also sent all its Rockex traffic on this circuit which was a duplex operation.
Aklavik also had access to the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals NWT&Y network station VEF if there ever was an emergency. Because this was an LF CW station, there were times in the Arctic when LF was useable but not HF. The only drawback was that only administrative, unclassified traffic could be passed on this circuit. Although arrangements were made for mutual backup, neither the Army or the RCN ever made use of each other's facilities.
The communications between CFV and CFL could go on for many hours. Operational traffic, which was the bulk of the load, was encrypted via the Rockex machine. Administrative traffic was handled using the KL7 but it was just a small fraction of the overall traffic load. A small percentage of the overall traffic consisted of plain language messages, but these were mostly administrative in nature.
In spite of having the capability, there was no dual frequency shift keying for Teletype transmissions although we could have used an additional channel to clear the load on many days. It was single channel all the way."
Please select this link for more information on Rockex or KL-7
There were two rhombic antennas and several Beverage long-wire antennas at the site.
Ray continues "Both Aklavik and Churchill had vastly greater operational functions than Chimo or Frobisher who were confined to HF/DF operations. Churchill was a much larger establishment but basically they were just like Coverdale on the operations side but without the heavy involvement in HF/DF network operations. By its very geographical location, Aklavik was able to perform operational functions the other stations could not".
Although there are few details available on amateur radio operations at Aklavik, it is known that VE8AY was registered to Aklavik Amateur Radio Club - Naval Radio Station Aklavik, N.W.T. c/o HMCS GLOUCESTER. It was formally established in June 1958.
Harry Brooks, (LT, USN, Ret) N1PG, was stationed at Aklavik between June 1957 and June 1958 as an exchange PO and believes that he was the only USN exchange type ever to be assigned there. Harry recalls. "I was a CT1 at the time, so I was assigned as a watch supervisor, with a very good, very competent LSCS2 as my assistant. My specialty was non-morse search and development, so I needed a lot of help to get used to the RCN way of doing things. Roy Marsaw, "Spider" Webb and Byrne Westran were particularly helpful to me, and I kept in touch with Byrne until he passed away. I operated at Aklavik using call sign K8JHW/VE8. We had a daily evening schedule with a ham in Edmonton. When it was my turn to handle the traffic, I used the VE8AY call sign. We usually had about 5 or 6 personal "ham-grams" daily".
RADIO AND TELETYPE EQUIPMENT USED
(Click on image to enlarge)
RAK Receiver: Frequency Range: 15 kHz to 600 kHz. A regenerative design dating back to the late 30's. It was the predecessor to the low-frequency Hammarlund receivers used at Aklavik (Photo by Jerry Proc) Hammarlund SP-600 series: The following variants were used at Aklavik. All J, JL, and JX receivers had a production date of September, 1951.
J - 540 khz to 54 MHz. No crystal frequency control.
JL -100-400 khz, 1.35-29.7 mhz. No crystal frequency control
JX - 540 kHz to 54 mc with six selectable crystal channels.
VLF - 10 to 540 kHz. (Introduced 1956. Cost $2,000)
(Image courtesy Kurrarjong Radio Museum)
Sparton CNF-4 HFDF: A CRT based set having 2.7 mc to 25 mc coverage depending if it was the A, B or C variant. (There were no WRENs at Aklavik). (Photo by Leblanc, DND. National Archives of Canada, photo # PA-142540) FSC107: This unit converted radioteletype signals from a receiver (audio) into pulses which controlled a current loop. Audio input signals to this unit were represented as 2975 or 2125 Hz tones. The frequency difference between these tones is 850 Hz, hence defining the 'frequency shift' of the system. There was a small CRT mounted in the 107 which was used to monitor the quality of the signal from the internal circuitry. (Photo by Jerry Proc) DFS Converter CV-5001/FRC: A dual frequency shift (DFS) transmission is one in which two channels of intelligence are transmitted over a single radio link by means of shifting the transmitter carrier back and forth among four different frequencies. It was the function of the DFS converter to take these four frequencies and produce at its two outputs, the two original streams of intelligence. Either teletype or Morse could be received on either channel. It could be used on any system with frequency shifts of 500 Hz, 850 Hz or 1000 Hz. This device was made by MEL2. (Mullard Equipment Ltd), but modified by CSRDE , the Canadian Signals Research and Development Establishment. (Photo courtesy RCN) Electronic Switch SA-5003/FRC: This electronic switch was recommended for use between the receiver and the converter because it permitted the use of diversity reception to obtain the most reliable copy. It had two receiver inputs and one output which connected to the DFS converter. In Aklavik, it was commonly referred to as "the switch" or "the electronic switch" .(Photo courtesy RCN) Muirhead Mufax D649: The FAX machine at Aklavik was modified by providing an access door on the front panel below the Mufax logo so the speed of the machine could be adjusted via an audio oscillator. The machine in the photo is on display at the Marcom Museum, Halifax and was pulled from service just as it completed a weather map. (Photo by Jerry Proc) Teletype Model 14 Reperforator: Upon receipt of a Baudot character, it would punch that character on a paper tape. Six characters lagging, it would type the same character on the tape so the text could easily be read. The Model 14 used "chadless" tape. (Photo by Jerry Proc) Need photo & specs Canadian Marconi TH-58 Transmitter (1.6 to 28 MHz, 1 kw) Need photo Mechanitron: ink tape recorder McElroy Model RAPC ink tape recorder showing the control functions. This was the real workhorse at Aklavik and was used to copy CW which was beyond the capability of the receiving operator. This recorder could copy signals up to 1,000 wpm. (Image courtesy RCN) For the military, the RAPC was packaged as the RD60. as shown in this hi res photo, The blank paper tape is not installed at this time. (Photo provided by Nick England) T 1956 - 1960: Ampex 601 dual track tape recorder. (Image courtesy of RCN)
THE BEVERAGE WIRE ANTENNA
A classic Beverage receiving antenna requires a lot of space. It is a long wire, one or more wavelengths long, mounted parallel to the ground at an approximate height of 6 feet and oriented in the direction of the desired reception. A nominal 9:1 balun is required at the juncture of the wire and 50 or 75 ohm coaxial feedline. The far end is terminated with a nominal 600 ohm resistance. The Beverage antenna is highly directional, responsive to low-angle signals, has little noise pick-up, and produces excellent signal to noise ratios. Properly designed Beverage receiving antennas are very effective across the entire HF frequency range. The Beverage antenna was also used at Chimo. (Graphic courtesy W8WWV)
THE RHOMBIC ANTENNA
A birds eye view of the terminated rhombic antenna. If L= 1 wavelength then the approximate gain of the antenna is 5 db. If L is increased to 5 wavelengths, the gain rises to around 12 db. The rhombic requires a lot of real estate especially if it is part of an array. (Graphic courtesy ARRL).
Nothing remains of the old site at Aklavik. The old property was turned over to the Department of Transport on 9 August 1961. Aklavik's population is 750 as of around 2000.
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Aklavik (2006): The large body of water snaking around the town is the Peel Channel of the Mackenzie River. NRS Aklavik was situated by the airstrip which parallels the Peel as indicated by the red dot. The airstrip was not there when the station was operating. Some of the old navy buildings can still be seen, most notably the PMQs, the Ops/Admin building, and the Supply Building. (Photo courtesy Google Earth)
For additional details about the functions of a SUPRAD station and the CNF-4 HF/DF, please refer to HMCS Coverdale found elsewhere in this web site.
1. Many documents referred to the new site as Aklavik East-3. In the Aklavik Journal newspaper (December 1956 and March 1957) the usage was always "East 3", or "E3".
2. In 1964 Mullard Equipment Limited was renamed MEL, a division of Philips Electronics.
Contributors and References:
1) Ray White e-mail: <r.p.white(at)sympatico.ca>
2) Spud Roscoe e-mail: <spudroscoe(at)eastlink.ca>
3) Canadian Warship Names. David Freeman. Vanwell Publishing, St. Catharines, Ont.
4) Bruce Forsyth's Canadian Military History Page http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quarters/2529/
5) SUPRAD Consolidation Plan. May 1966. http://watserv1.uwaterloo.ca/~brobinso/srsmay66.html
6) Aklavik, NWT Web page. http://flagspot.net/flags/ca-nt-ak.html
7) DND Web site http://www.img.forces.gc.ca/commelec/brhistory/mar_e.htm
8) Communications and Electronics Museum http://www.nwtandy.rcsigs.ca/1923_29.htm
9) KB1GW Beverage Antennas http://www.alleged.com/radio/Beverage2
10) W8WWV http://www.seed-solutions.com/gregordy/Amateur%20Radio/Experimentation/Beverage.htm
11) The Hammarlund Historian http://www.hammarlund.info/sp600.html
12) Inuvik Regional Heath and Service Board Promotioal Brocheure
13) Aklavik Badge courtesy Ray White
14) North Of Sixty-Eight - Crowsnest Story; Nov 1953
15) Radioman Special Trade Training Manual for Trade Group 1 BRCN 3040
16) Harry Brooks N1PG. e-mail: harryn1pg(at)earthlink.net
17) Eric Earl, KG4OZO, Atlanta <eearle(at)adelphia.net>
18) Gord Walker <walker6(at)sympatico.ca>
19) Nick England http://www.navy-radio.com/