Estevan Point is only accessible by sea or helicopter. The location is roughly halfway up the west coast of Vancouver Island. In the beginning the early operators found Estevan Point's ability to reach out tremendous distances on the medium and high radio frequencies almost magical. Communication with vessels arriving at New Zealand, Australia or Japan was not uncommon. This Estevan propagation anomaly is a freak of nature, possibly due to the good antenna ground conductivity on the peninsula. Estevan was one of the original five west coast stations and was operational in January of 1908. The iconic lighthouse was completed some months later.
In its time Estevan Wireless was the busiest and had the greatest coverage of any Canadian station on the west coast.
See the site by Goggle Earth here.
Some photos of Estevan in chronological order are on this page.
1906 Cecil Doutre, Dominion Superintendent of Wireless Stations for the Department of Marine and Fisheries, and Eddie Hughes, Project Engineer, sail on the Marine & Fisheries Vessel 'Quadra'. They make site selections for the new chain of wireless stations along the British Columbia west coast. Estevan Point was one of the selected sites. The stations would have to be about 50-75 miles apart and preferably on a high point of land.
1907 July 20 newspaper reports SS Maude sailed from Victoria with material and personnel to build the wireless station. SS Quadra also leaves on July 20 with Doutre and Gaudin on board for site inspection. July 27 reports men and material rafted ashore at Hole-in-the-Wall and all going well. A three miles of rails were laid to haul construction materials for the light and radio station. Contractor foreman is T.N. Tubman.
1908 Station commissioned January 13th (according to A. Lawton). First Officer in Charge was Mr. Morse. Call sign USD. Operator C. B.Kennedy. Jack Bowerman notes the electricity was supplied by a Fairbanks-Morse 3 H.P. (1.5 kW) gasoline engine spinning a 1 kW alternating current generator. The transmitter was a Shoemaker type, open core transformer, tubular glass condensers, fixed spark gap, and tuning done by a helix inductance coil. (One report says the receiver used a crystal detector but this is unlikely. Magnetic detectors were in use at this time.) In late 1908 Bradbury moves up from Pachena to the OIC.
1909 Contract for duplex housing let. Operator A. H. Morse. In fiscal year 1909-10 Estevan handled 18,000 messages. By 1910-11 fiscal year (f/y) it was up to 72,000 messages and by the first six months of the 1911-12 f/y it had already exceeded the 72,000 mark. Notice to Mariners in March advises lighthouse is in operation. The lighthouse construction completed in February. The lighthouse is 100 feet of poured concrete construction, with another 25 feet of lantern apparatus etc on top. (The message numbers seem very high, some 450 a day.)
1910 L.H. Bradbury is Officer in Charge of the wireless station at a salary of$75/month.
1911 24 hour coverage instituted. Jack Bowerman, Bill Tozer and de Winter are the operators. Sam De Winter is the Officer in Charge. Station power to be increased in 1912 from 2 kW to 5 kW. By upping the power and using a new rotary spark transmitter a definite increase in range is expected. On the morning of September 17 Estevan worked the SS 'Canada Maru' some 2000 miles distant and a couple of months later (November 22, 1911) exchanged greetings with Honolulu. Technically this was an amazing feat when we consider the receiver in use was not powered in anyway. The energy which created the tone in the operator's headphones came from the far away transmitter.
1913 Call sign changed to VAE from USD in accordance with the Berlin Conference.
1914 Military guard supplied for the duration of the war to rebuff any German raiding parties. A more powerful rotary spark transmitter and diesel are installed to improve communications even further in the Pacific. The Japanese Navy were monitoring the west coast in case German Navy put in appearance.
1915 December 5/15 newspaper (PRJ) reports station is working vessels 2600 miles out in the Pacific on 500 kHz (600 Meters). Station also uses 300 kHz (1000 Meters). Station has two transmitters, one of 5 kW and the other of 1 kW. Andy Gray, G.Gray and Parkin pounding the brass.
1917 Operator Harris moves in from Point Grey.
1918 B.C. Directory listing shows operators A.L. Gray, A. Neary and P. Parkins with A.C. Cole as telegrapher. Lofty Harris shifts off to the Ikeda station.
1921 January news paper clipping reports VAE worked the SS Makura continuously on her voyage from Victoria, BC to Sidney Australia, some 6057 miles. In May sod was turned for the new power/operations building.
1922 March news item reports a 25 kW spark transmitter being installed to improve coverage in the Pacific. To house it all a new combined operations and powerhouse should be completed by the end of April. On May 8th the big transmitter was put into use. Reported to be the most powerful on the north American west coast. Original 5 kW spark transmitter will be used for local work. The 25 kW set is expected to have a day time range of about 1500 to 2000 miles while the 5 kW unit has about a quarter of that range. Night time range could easily double. Original 1908 operations building was turned into quarters for the single operators.
Directory has H.F. Corriveau, H.R. Dawe, G.N. McTavish, S.E. Meiss, C.W. Mellish and R. Spouse on station.
1923 Jack Bowerman arrives from Point Grey as the new Officer In Charge. Operator Ken Durkee moves with him. B.C.
1924 In the afternoon of November 19 Jack Bowerman broke the stations distance record by working the Empress of Australia outbound from Yokohama, Japan. Station has three transmitters of providing different power levels. Estevan transmits time signals twice a day plus a daily press news provided by the Victoria Times. Navigators used the time signal to check their on board chronometers which in turn were used with almanacs and angles to stars, to provided the vessel's location. The earth rotates 15 degrees every hour on its axis, thus a chronometer being out several minutes can cause an error in the vessel's location.
1925 Estevan operator makes long distance record, maintaining continual communication with RMS Makura from Victoria to Sydney Harbor, Australia - 6057 miles... [Colonist,1925-01-09, p. 17] Four kilowatt CW tube transmitter on station in January awaiting installation. Spark transmitters are being superseded by the improvements.
1986 The new, so to speak, and now vacant 1922 operations building is demolished by the lightkeeper staff. Interior and exterior photos. Note the station power house has been replaced reusing the old foundation.
1936 Aitkens family departs Estevan.
CW frequencies: 125, 135, 141 kHz
MCW frequencies: 171, 425, 500 kHz
Spark frequencies: 475, 500 kHz
Meiss still on station (Daily Colonist 1938)
Glen Vallance remembers there was a small 1630 kHz phone transmitter on the station. It wasn't crystal controlled and would tend to drift off frequency and interfere with Alaskan stations using 1636 kHz. Spark transmitters still on station and providing backup service.
1942 One night in June Estevan was shelled by the Japanese navy. Local newspaper articles say the object was to silence the radio station, not to extinguish the lighthouse. To the Japanese Navy the lighthouse was an useful navigational aid, while the wireless station with its vast pacific ocean communications area was a definite hazard. (To this day the shelling is mired in controversy. Was there just one vessel or two, the rate of fire suggesting two.) Operator Redford was on duty at the wireless station and got a message off, then joined the rest of the thirty three residents hiding out in the forest.
1958 Station moves south to the more accessible Tofino (ex Air Force) airport. The Air Forces' transmitter and receiver sites built on local hill tops are refurbished and put back into service. Operator Woods was at Estevan for a few months early in the year and found the old spark transmitters still there, but not used. In the same year Pachena closed down and some of the staff moved to Tofino.
1970 Station had CW, MF phone and VHF phone. Transmitter site was the hill south of the present Radar Hill, while the receiver site was the hill to the north. The buildings were ex Air Force.
1978 Station moves down the coast to Ucluelet and shares space at the newly built Amphitrite Point Vessel Traffic Center.