Ladner, British Columbia


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for the March Past of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, "Begone Dull Care".

"Semaphore to Satellite"

The Military Communications of Canada has undertaken a major project to publish a book of our history, starting with the origins of the CSC, (Canadian Signal Corps), in 1903, and the role played by Major Bruce Carruthers who is recognized as the "Father" of the RCCS, (Royal Canadian Corps of Signals), to the present day Military Communications and Electronics Branch, which evolved from all three Services.
We need your input to this project, so please send us your stories and anecdotes about all of the activities that have made us the best Communicators in the World. Stories should be based on the knowledge or experience of members, or the dependents of members, who have served, or are serving, with Canadian electronic warfare and/or signals intelligence organizations. With this in mind, I would ask that anyone who has such a story to tell, or knows of the source of such a story, contact Jim Hueglin. Stories submitted will be forwarded to Col Sutton for consideration and editing. While not all stories will be included in the book, it is my belief that a suitable repository can be created for all those that are submitted.
Please visit our site at: Semaphore to Satellite
As you will see the project is well under way with the final time line being Oct 2013,when a copy will be presented to HRH Princess Anne, during the planned 110th year reunion of RCCS at Vimy Barracks in Kingston ON.

Also you can send your stories to


For many years, a pet peeve of mine has been the almost total lack of information and recognition of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS) personnel who were active in Signals Intelligence (SigInt) during and following WW2. This page is an attempt to rectify this situation at Vancouver Wireless Station (VWS) and hopefully, subseqently other "Special Wireless Stations" active in SigInt at Leitrim (near Ottawa Ontario),Victoria B.C., and Grande Prairie Alberta.

During the '50's within VWS there was also a "combat arms" component known as 1 Wireless Troop operating. They are dealt with on their own pages.

Vancouver Wireless Station (VWS) began Operations in 1949 after a move from rather cramped quarters at Wilkinson Road near Victoria, B.C. Their new home was located at the old Boundary Bay Airport in Delta, B.C., 3 kilometers east of Ladner on Highway 10. The airport had been built during WW II to accomodate Lancaster bombers flying from it in defense of coastal B.C. against a perceived Japanese attack.

VWS became a thriving community. At its height it employed approximately 200 military personnel, as well as numerous civilian personnel both Operational and Support Staff.

Facilities at VWS included:

  • other ranks, senior NCO's and officers quarters
  • approximately 150 permanent married quarters
  • dining hall
  • junior ranks and senior NCO's messes
  • administration building and officers mess
  • medical inspection room
  • gymnasium
  • chapel
  • elementary school grades 1 - 6, including a kindergarten
  • woodworking and automotive shops
  • grocery store, later Maple Leaf Services, then CANEX
  • sport field with 2 ball diamonds and tennis courts
  • engineering section, including a central heating plant
  • transport section: and
  • firehall

The Operations site was a large 3 story concrete building placed in the middle of the airport runways, surrounded by large antenna fields. This facility was equipped with its own diesel generated power plant in case of BC Hydro power outages. It was a secluded area which was hard to approch unseen.

This Cold War communications site was in response to the threat of trouble with the former Soviet Union. It was responsible for monitoring communications eminating from the Soviet Arctic, the Soviet mainland and Soviet entities at sea, to name just a few areas. The personnel both military and civilian were highly trained and motivated. The Communications people of Vancouver Wireless Station were recognized throughout the Signals Intelligence community as an elite group of Operators.

VWS continued Operations in Ladner until August 1971, when the Station, now known as Canadian Forces Station Ladner, (after Forces integration in 1967), was stood down and closed in favor of a much quieter electrical environment at Masset, 600 miles to the north on the top end of the Queen Charlotte Islands.

AN ILLUSTRIOUS ERA HAD COME TO AN END!

The following is a short history of VWS by D.E. Brydle who was at VWS from the outset almost until its closure in 1971. This history was compiled by her in 1955 and published in 3 issues of "The Catalyst", a VWS Community Association newspaper.

MUD, SWEAT and QUACK GRASS

The history of Vancouver Wireless Station as a community of people living and working together, is one compounded of big plans, hard work, power failures, untold quantities of mud and water, and considerable faith in the Station's future.

But first, look back to the early years of the Second World War. This site, originally farming land, was taken over and a Civilian Flying School was built in 1941. It closed early in 1942, was reopened later that year by the RCAF as an Operational Training Unit, and continued as such until the spring of 1946.

Many stories are told of the trouble the flyers had on this boggy ground. Planes had difficulty landing on the runways in the winter months, as they crossed sections of runway, muddy water would squirt up covering the windshields and temporarily blinding the pilots. The runways were constantly being worked on and reinforced to improve them as landing places, especially for the heavier planes. One story tells that on one occasion a plane crash landed near one of the Messes about noon one day. It nosed deep into the mud and was never seen again, though extensive digging was done in an effort to find it for investigation purposes. At its peak the station held some 4000 men, and, at a rough estimate, some 6000 men went through the base each year until it ceased to operate.

After the RCAF left, War Assets took over for a short period.

Then, in Feb 1948, Ottawa again came into the picture. It was there that Maj PD Smith and WO1 EH Heavens began plans under the Directorate of Signals, for the future Vancouver Wireless Station. They started with only a sheet of drawing paper, some pencils, and a vague idea of what they wanted, and of what was expected. Much to their credit is the fact that these plans were changed but little, except to enlarge upon them.

In September of that same year, SM Heavens came out from Ottawa, was put in charge, and began work on installations. He had been preceded by Cpl W Tierney and Pte CW Wallace (RCASC), who were living in rooms in Building 16.

In the meantime Maj Smith was in Vancouver where he could give orders and assistance, and generally oversee the work. An advance party of about 12 men worked under SM Heavens. Work had already begun on the first 50 PMQs and the Operations Building.

Starting as they did in the fall, they had mud and water to contend with. Untold quantities of it! The whole area was under water. Drainage ditches were few and the pumping system far from adequate. Photographs taken at that time show tractors hauling lumber for the houses on flat trailers, plowing up deep ruts as they went.

These were the conditions under which they prepared the present Orderly Room for the operators who were to come, putting in antennae behind the building in what was known as the "jelly bowl". Stuck many, many times, they were fortunate in the fact that a Reserve Tank group, in one of the hangars, was there to drag them out of the mire. It was quite common for the men accidentally to step into holes as a thin skim of ice would form over the water at night, and the exact location of these extra damp spots could never be determined later.

Besides mud and water, they were also faced with one power failure after another. In the time that elapsed from RCAF Station to Wireless Station, there had been no maintenance at all, and everywhere wires hung slack. This group of men, not trained as linemen in the first place, had to be continually repairing poles and wires. It was some time before the lines were eventually fixed, and long after the first PMQs were filled, it was quite common to have the firemen, the Orderly Sergeant, and any available volunteers, running to every home in camp to ask people to disconnect their furnaces (coal and wood) and to watch the drafts in order to prevent any chance of fire due to power failure.

However in spite of these troubles the first here managed to think of other things as well, and by Christmas 1948 the Protestant Chapel of the Good Samaritan was opened. A Christmas party also was held for the children who numbered a scant 10. Later, in Feb 1949, the first real social event took place - an afternoon tea in one of the rooms in the building that is now the Sergeants' Mess.

During this time the Operations Building was under construction by AE Shockley, with Mr. Clifford Lake in charge. This building was to be ready for the group that would come over from Victoria in the spring of 1949, but there were delays and the building did not open until the spring of 1950. Work continued on the 120 PMQs under the direction of Mr. Hillier. Building 17 was leased for living quarters for the construction crews. "Batching" for both SM Heavens' single crew men, and for Mr. Shockley's workmen, became the order of the day, resulting from dissatisfaction with the contractor's cooks in the Mess at that time. One can only imagine some of the fun the men must have had doing their own cooking! Married personnel at this time lived in "apartments" if such they could be called, in Building 16.

During that spring temporary offices were set up on the site now occupied by the Grocery Store, and Sgt N Brett brought his records and files from Vancouver.

About this time the Men's Mess was formally opened by Maj Smith. There was furniture for the Mess but no funds whatever. For the grand Opening much borrowed finery appeared, loaned willingly by the few families who were here. The "boys" went all out to make the place look nice, and literally thousands of daffodils covered the tables, mantel and bar. Still more blooms were placed about the room in tubs, all combining to give the place a festive air. Maj Smith made a speech, and cut the ribbon that held the small but happy (webmaster's note: the word "gay" was used in the original copy) crowd back in the hall. He then had the first drink at the bar, where the glass used remains even now, suitably engraved. This was quickly followed by a drink from a well know mug which is also there for all to see, and which has figured in the coming and going of each CO since.

In June 1949, the exodus from Victoria began, for the houses were finally ready for occupancy. Groups of operators were moved as they finished their graveyard shifts, and were settled in time for their first evening shift over here. With this system there was never a break in operations.

When they arrived here they found the Grocery Store ready and willing to serve them, for, during the 3 days previous to the arrival of the first group, Cpl WA Gratto and Sgt G Wolfe had been at work putting stock on the shelves and otherwise getting ready for business. The store was formally opened by Mrs. E Heavens and the sales began.

It should be mentioned here that neither the Messes nor the Grocery Store had any money to start with, nor were they able to obtain any. The men chipped in money for the first liquid refreshments in the Men's Mess, and soon had it all back. For the Grocery Store, an arrangement was made with a wholesale company in Vancouver for a small stock of groceries, and from there the store grew to its present size.

By now the first 50 PMQ's were nearly all occupied, and the few remaining empty ones were filled by the end of 1949. Now, socially, community-wise and sports-wise the camp became very active. Movies were run regularly in the present Theatre Building and though hoary with age, were well attended. Very few cars were around, and bus facilities (ie.-trucks!) could not carry dependents, so getting to and from Ladner was difficult and often impossible, except for the kindness of the few car owners. Functions in the Mess were more numerous, and are still reported as among the best times had by people here, helped no doubt by a lot of enthusiastic people determined to see thing "go".

In sports, badminton was the first really organized game, starting in 1949 with S/Sgt LE Rushford as its first president. The ball teams did well in both 1949 and 1951, taking the cup from the Delta each of those years. Bowling was not organized till the fall of 1952 with WO2 G McConnell as its first president. Tennis courts were available about 3 years ago, but the game is not played on an organized basis.

In March 1949, the Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Augustine was opened near the firehall in the building now used as the Ham Club headquarters.

A kindergarten was organized by Mrs. W Sawatsky in October 1949, encouraged and helped by Maj Smith. There were 9 children the first year, but very little equipment. From the small fee collected each month for each child, Mrs. Sawatsky gradually built up a fairly complete lot of materials to work with. In its third year Mrs. D Stregger took over and she too has added much to the kindergarten for the amusement and teaching of these young children whose number has grown to approximately 15.

Mrs. Sawatsky was also responsible for starting a Sunday School for the Prostestant children, and had a membership of 15 in 1949, since increased to 85.

The Parent-Teacher Association was also started in 1949, with Mr. D Vaughan-Smith as its first president. The PTA here has always worked closely with Ladner, thus proving the necessity for all communities, army or civilian, to pull together in order to get results. The membership of the PTA has increased from 17 to 34.

With all this activity, there were some very sad omissions. There was still mud and water in winter; water reaching in some cases from house

to house in one big pool. "Lawns" were made up of hard, dry ruts. There were no sidewalks, streetlights or an effective fire alarm system.

If you discovered a fire in your house, or elsewhere, you were to scream "FIRE" at the top of your lungs as you ran madly for the nearest iron triangle, hoping, as in the jungle, that the Chief in the Firehall would get the message you beat out. Fortunately there were no serious fires!

One of Maj Smith's worries was that the tall dry grass in the fields (at that time not let to farmers) would catch fire and spread to the buildings. This was a real worry, for wet ground produces some amazing stands of grass, or hay, and the thought of this ablaze with a good wind from the bay behind it, wasn't pleasant to think about.

In 1950 contracts were let for streetlights and sidewalks. Roads were gravelled, but not paved until 1951. Lawns still had to wait, and eventually fill was brought in and dumped to level the yards. Each householder then proceeded to plant his own lawn from seed that was supplied, and to care for same. Fences also went up that year.

The Operations Building was ready in the spring of 1950 and an Open House was held in order that dependents could see where the operators would be working in the future. After the Open House, equipment was moved from the present Adm Bldg and operations have continued there since. The Adm Bldg was remodelled and fixed up to accommodate the Commanding Officer and his staff. Quartermaster Stores are still in the same building occupied by the Grocery Store.

Amidst all the work and orgaization, personal lives went on just as they do everywhere. In May 1949 the first baby was born. It was a hefty boy, son of Sgt and Mrs. FJ Morrison, now in Europe, and was quickly followed by another boy born to Maj and Mrs. Paul Smith.

Romance too had its day, and weddings were not unusual during those first 2 years. Sigmn Milt Moller started things rolling when he married Miss Phyllis Taylor, daughter of Mr and Mrs V Taylor of Ladner. They were married in the Chapel of the Good Samaritan on 11th January 1950.

More of the single men followed suit, some marrying local girls and some marrying young ladies who were working here as operators at that time. The first marriage in the Chapel of St. Augustine was that of Sigmn and Mrs Paul Nightingale, now living on the east coast. Though most wedding ceremonies were held in the Ladner church of the couple's choice, the Men's Mess was a favourite place to hold receptions.

Another interesting project of those days was the Drama Club. It started with Mrs Doug Moore as its manager and coach. This was an ambitious, hard working group, and they put on two plays before folding (this as a result of some postings, plus lack of interest). The first of those plays was called "Danger: Girls Working", and some of those players are still here to tell you about it: Mrs M Narraway, Mrs G McConnell, Mrs R Mckee, Mrs E Hanson, and Mrs R Acton. Their second and last effort was called "Hay Fever". Both plays were well supported by the rest of the camp members.

The Ham Club (radio) was another of the early clubs formed here, with Mr D Vaughan-Smith as president. Its original headquarters was in the old tower on the runways, since torn down, and they are now in the small building formerly used as the RC Chapel.

The Woodcrafts Club began in 1950 with Mr A Clarke as its first president. This club had a hard time getting started, with only spasmodic interest shown for some time, but it is now on its feet and working well with a good membership.

In the fall of 1949 it seemed advisable to open the Sgts Mess, and an organizational meeting was held in August 1949. From that date until the mess opened officially in January 1950, members paid monthly dues, and these dues were all the mess had to start with financially.

In September 1950, the school opened with the first 3 grades in one room of the Theatre Bldg. Mrs John Husband of Ladner was hired to teach, and she has been here ever since. In the fall of 1953 another room was fixed up and grades 4 and 5 added. Mrs Husband took the 3 older classes and Miss Hilda Janzen of Abbotsford taught grades 1 and 2 for one year, replaced last fall by Miss Donna Lusignan, now Mrs Claude Tyson. From its cramped and far from adequate beginnings, the school moved this winter into the building opposite the Orderly Room. This building is now described as one of the best in the Delta.

Just before Christmas of 1950, Maj Smith left to attend Staff College in the east, and Maj WE Grant replaced him, remining till the spring of 1953. Maj WS Hamilton took over at this time.

In 1950 an additional 35 PMQs were built, this time two storey models, and nearly all duplex, with a few single units allotted to personnel holding a rank over Corporal. In 1952 another 35 units were added at the far end of the establishment, making a total of 120 living units.

In the summer of 1952 the New Roman Catholic Chapel considered to be the finest in the Command, was completed on its present site opposite the Grocery Store. At an impressive ceremony with Lt Col L Ritza, Command Chaplain (RC) of Western Command, officiating, the Chapel was blessed and dedicated to St. Augustine. Rev Fr Martin and Capt PJ Dufour assisted Lt Col Ritza. In June 1953 the Catholic Women's Auxiliary was formed with Mrs H Caldwell as the first president.

People, discovering kindred spirit in many things, continued to form clubs. A Mechanical Crafts Club was formed to aid the many car owners now here. Cpl RW Phillips is president. Last fall a Photography Club was formed with Mr RJ Brunt as its president.

Also within the last year, a gun club, known as the Ladner Military Rifle Association, was formed, and Maj Hamilton was president until he left in June of this year.

The camp youth has not been forgotten, and playground equipment was installed as funds became available. This money comes from regimental Funds, which includes, as many do not realize, profits from the Grocery Bar. A Boy's and a Girl's club were formed in 1950, under Sgt J Blair, now in Europe, and Mrs L Spooner. The Boy's Club no longer operates, since most boys of the right age group attend Cub Scouts in Ladner. The Girl's Club continued until this summer under the leadership of Miss Barbara Liscumb.

Both boys and girls have joined the Scout movement, and their parents are showing an increasing interest in the work. Two of these who are very active are Mrs M Mennell, head of the Brownie Group, and her assistant, Mrs R Miller. It is hoped that a Cub group will soon be formed within the camp under QMS CD Kirk, thereby taking some of the pressure for membership off the parent group in Ladner.

In all this activity, we cannot forget the May Queens, the New Year babies, the Mustang that crash landed, nor the Grocery Bar robberies.

In the spring of 1950 an all-out effort was made for May 24. Sandra daughter of Sgt and Mrs GD Wolfe, now on Vancouver Island, was chosen to be the first May Queen. A parade and coronation were held in the camp, then the group joined festivities in Ladner. the following year, Kathleen, daughter of Capt and Mrs MM Narraway, was May Queen. Her coronation took place in Ladner with their Queen.

Vancouver Wireless Station twice took the prizes in the Delta for first New Years babies. The first time they went to Cpl and Mrs D Dornan in 1952. This year, 1955 the honors went to Sigmn and Mrs John Cumming.

At this point it seems a good idea to review the number of babies born since the Station opened. In all there have been approximately 100 births since May 1949, when the first baby was born. Three times, mothers had to be rushed by ambulance to beat the stork. Twice the stork won. In 1949 less than 60 children were entertained at Christmas; in 1954 nealy 200 received gifts.

The Mustang incident occurred 3 years ago, during the summer. F/O Dick Elvin, RCAF, of Ladner had engine trouble. About 15,000 feet over Victoria the engine gave out. He managed to get the plane this far and crash landed on the field near the runway. He walked away from the plane, a thoroughly shaken man. A few days later the Mustang was dismantled and taken back to its base.

The Grocery Store has had 2 robberies, both in its first year. The first occurred in August 1950 when about $150.00 in cigarettes and other goods was taken. Just recovering from this by January 1953, a second robbery occurred, involving cash this time. The bar steward, Sgt G Wolfe, was attacked just after closing time, and $400.00 was taken.

And so, from grimy beginnings, the Station has evolved into a working community. No longer do we fight for grass, but against it, nor grope our way home in the dark after movies, and we just press a button if fire breaks out. Getting to Ladner and new Westminster has ceased to be a problem, with a bus schedule arranged to suit our needs. In future years residents will enjoy the appearance and shade of some 2,000 trees and flowering shrubs that have been planted in the past year.

Webmaster's Note: Those flowering shrubs and flowers continue to bloom amidst all the other foliage.



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