The 1907 Canadian Dominion Government, in an effort to provide some
measure of safety for mariners,implemented a plan to build a life saving trail along the
Juan de Fuca Strait portion Vancouver Island. This trail connected Carmanah, Pachena and
Cape Beale light-statons with Bamfield by a simple telephone line strung between trees.
This link was often down due to wire breaks, often for days. Included in this
undertaking were manned lifeboat stations.
A communications network of wireless stations would be built to blanket the BC coast. The first five wireless stations, Vancouver, Victoria, Pachena Point and Estevan Point were all operational by January 1908 while Cape Lazo came on line a few months later. By the time the decade was out, Triangle Island, Ikeda Head (Moresby Island), Dead Tree (Graham Island) and Digby Island (Prince Rupert)were added to the list of stations thus wireless coverage along the British Columbia coast was complete. Within a decade Triangle was shut down and replaced by Bull Harbour. Ikeda met a similar fate. Alert Bay was added to cover the busy inside passage.
Operators Tee, Bowerman and Berry at Triangle Island-1913
By today's standards, living conditions at the outlying wireless stations were somewhat grim. Food and materials were delivered every 4 to 6 months. Household refrigeration was unheard of, so fresh vegetables would be grown and fresh meat hunted. At Ikeda Wireless the operators carried supplies over a four mile trail. However families made do and each station became a community. Operators had to master the new technology of wireless transmitters and receivers. Even the diesel power plants were a fairly new product. Users had to grapple with new ideas--tuning equipment, operating diesel engines, doing field repairs and the like.
In the early days the living conditions were rough and the wireless equipment primitive--rough radio! Never the less, this was the cutting edge technology of its day. The ability to communicate at a distance of hundreds of miles without intervening wiring was only a dream in the dozen years previous to this coastal building activity.
Previous to 1909 the coastal wireless station kept a listening watch from 8 am to 6 pm daily. Stations had only the one operator. After 1909 service times were to 8 am to 1:30 am and each station had two operators. There were no vacation or sick leave in those days. If the operator was sick he just had to come into work and tough it out or ask the other operator to stand in for him.
In 1911 a British Post Office telegrapher signed on with the Dominion
Wireless Service in British Columbia. He had a camera and about 400 of his photos,
rescued by his nephew from the dust bin after his death in 1981, are featured here. By
the time he had retired Jack Bowerman had risen to the position of District
Superintendent of Radio for all of British Columbia and in 1946 had received the Order of
the British Empire for his lifetime's work.
Another trove of photos from the 1930's was loaned to me by the daughter of Charles Aitkens. Chas spent most of his time as an operator at Estevan Point before joining the air force at the outbreak of WW2 and his album supplies about 125 photos and other information.
(Lofty Harris at Estevan Wireless 1918.)
In March of 2009 I was contacted by Fred Petersen who was holding a number of photos taken by Lofty Harris, an operator in the 1912 and on era. These photos are an excellent source for photos of Ikeda and Dead Tree.
Clarence Thomas, brother-in-law of Charles Aitkens, via his daughter, supplied some 40 photos of his tour of duty in the 1930's.
As to this site, it serves to give this history a wide audience and an opportunity to help me identify the people in the photos. Not all the photos are related to the station equipment. Many are of the people, buildings and events. I've included them as they do give a sense of times. The original photos seldom had any notes penciled on them and thus some sleuthing is being done.