1997 – General History

The radar station (site C-53) was located at the junction of provincial highways 7 and 44, on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, hence its name. The nearest community was the village of Alsask, which bordered the southern boundary of the 418 acre military facility. Saskatoon was 184 miles to the east, while 225 miles away to the west was Calgary. The area had typical glacial moraine with gentle rolling hills, and was notorious for dust storms, high winds, electric storms and fierce blizzards.

RCAF Station Alsask was conceived in 1959 as part of the CADIN/Pinetree Project. Initial clearing and grading of the land began in the summer of 1961. Construction commenced soon after and was completed in December 1962. On 1 November 1962, RCAF Station Alsask was officially established. The long range radar unit, 44 Radar Squadron, was operational and took over the newly constructed station in early 1963. Equipment at the station included the FPS-7C Search and the FPS-507 and FPS-206 Height Finder radars. The site was declared SAGE-Operational in May 1963 at which time the entire station was declared operational within the 24th NORAD Region.

The station was later known as a Canadian Forces Station in May 1967. In the fall of 1983, the ROCC concept was introduced to replace SAGE. In August 1984, both ROCCs Canada East and Canada West (Alsask came under Canada West) were declared operational.

Alsask carried on with their assigned duties until they were disbanded on 1 August 1987.

1988 – The Future of the Facilities

The Future of the Facilities

The negative impact of the closures can be to a great extent offset if the radar station facilities are properly used after the closures. Each site has been offered by the federal government through Public Works Canada (PWC) to the other federal departments, to the provincial governments, and if there is no reversion clause, to municipalities and regional governments and finally to the private sector via public tender. Local communities have been formed at each location to help in search for a suitable alternative use of the facilities. Although matters tend to change rather often, the latest developments as of the beginning of March were as follows:

CFS Alsask

The local community has been quite active in seeking alternatives and has had several government agency briefings. Originally, the Alberta Regional Education Program wanted to convert the facilities into an agricultural centre for farmers. However, because of budgetary constraints and other reasons, this project has been postponed. For now, the most viable alternative seems to be a project proposed by the town of Alsask and the Royal Canadian Legion. They want to use the facilities as a retirement center for old people. They would live in the former PMQ’s and make use of the existing dining, messing and recreational facilities. Such a project would be realistic, answer a regional need and would create a certain number of jobs. The project is backed financially and technically by the provincial government.

This article was obtained from the National Archives of Canada. Unfortunately, there is no way of identifying the source since we were only provided with the appropriate detail pertaining to this station. The article appears to have been written in the summer of 1988.

1987 – A Final Hoot From the “Best in the West” – The Attention Arrow

PARADE, SHOULDER ARMS!

PARADE, ABOUT TURN!

LET THE OPERATIONS CEASE NOW!

The time is 00:01, 1 April 1987 and the place is Canadian Forces Station Dana, Sagehill, Saskatchewan. One hundred and ten military personnel are gathered to participate in an event of historical significance; the Phase II closure of the Pinetree Line. While all understand the necessity of the closure and realize that the development of the North Warning System will present a new and exciting challenge for the Armed Forces, it is none-the-less a very emotional time. To say farewell to a System we have become very familiar with and close friends we have made over the years is not easy.

The announcement by the Minister of National Defence in 1985 that the Pinetree Line would be closed in three stages was extremely important to personnel serving at these stations. It meant that we would be responsible for closing down in one year what it took twenty-five years to build. Little did we realize what this meant in real terms. Suddenly, things like evenings and weekends were no longer taken for granted. For those of us who hadn’t taken courses as Tourism Directors on-job training came fast and furious.

Out of necessity a Station Deactivation OPI (SSTO) was appointed who would work hand in glove with the Dana Joint Assessment and Planning Committee (formed of representatives from the surrounding civilian communities). Their mandate was to find an alternative use for the Station after closure. This involved regular meetings with the committee and local MPs and MLAs to determine possible new users. In addition, our Commanding Officer was kept busy fielding questions from the local press as to the disposition of our assets and the relocation of our sixty some civilian employees who have been an integral part of the station for the past twenty-five years.

The task of Ground Environment Officer was especially challenging during this year of closure. It was important to instill in the Air Defence Technicians a strong sense of purpose and yet at the same time prepare for the inevitable closure. Training had to be kept at the same high standard and participation in NORAD exercises had to continue with enthusiasm. At the same time our ability to diversify became very evident as we underwent rapid manning changes, requiring us to accept many additional responsibilities. Twelve hour shifts became the routine as opposed to the exception.

Comprehensive closure plans had to be drawn up for each section and each Branch had to coordinate very closely with the others to ensure a smooth, efficient closure. If you’re trying to imagine what this means in terms of work, imagine trying to itemize all your household goods; every pair of socks, every can of soup in your cupboard, and figure out how much it cost you, how much it has depreciated, what was given as a gift, what was loaned and what can be thrown out. Now multiply this by twenty-five years of accumulation instead of talking about your house, let’s talk about a small village! Get the picture! And that’s only a portion of what’s involved. Now, think ahead to the APS. About 25-30 percent of you can anticipate moving this summer. You know how it gets … everyone’s hounding the boss for that posting message, they want to get a MQ or a HHT as soon as possible. Now imagine 100 percent of personnel being posted. Pretty scary, eh!

Probably the most difficult task of a Station closing is to keep morale high in spite of all the extra work, confusion and anxiety that everyone is experiencing. For some reason, personnel problems seemed to be much more frequent than in the past. Several of our Air Defence Technicians were forces to make career decisions; should I retire now, should I remuster … must I take my release … and so on.

The biggest change for yours truly was on 1 January 1987 when I became the Station Chief Administration Officer. You want to talk about OJT! This has actually worked out very well as everyone in DMCC got to stretch their wings a bit, the WO becoming the GEOpsO and so on … It becomes very clear in times like this that pulling together as a team is the only way to succeed.

While there are several ways to regard the effects of Station closure, I firmly believe the individuals who regard this as a special challenge; an opportunity to become involved in areas where they would otherwise never be challenged, will be far ahead of their peers in terms of gaining valuable insight and experience. I have enjoyed immensely the challenge of being both GEOpsO and taking over the Administrative Branch here at CFS Dana and the experience will no doubt become valuable to me as I shortly embark on a new stage of my life as a civilian in St. Jean, Quebec.

This article was written by Captain KM Lareau and published in “The Attention Arrow – Spring 1987”

1981 – Radar Reflections
(or How I Learned to Love and Respect the Way of Life
at a Canadian Forces Long Range Radar Station)

Whilst 1978 was a milestone year for the C&E Branch (10 years) and the RCCS (75 years), it was also an important anniversary year for Air Defense Command and latterly Air Defense Group. Over the years and in its many facets Canada’s air defense effort has seen a multitude of changes in personnel, equipment and tactics. In this ever-changing milieu, however, there has been one relatively stable element with its own very unique characteristics. That is the C&E based activity of the radar surveillance role. It is in tribute to all the men and women of the RCAF and the Canadian Forces who, with their dependents, have so faithfully served the air defense effort at the Long Range Radar Stations (LRRS) that this article is published. May the radomes that stand as landmarks on our transcontinental landscape be perceived as the thirtieth anniversary pearls of Air Defense in Canada.

The diversity of Canadas geography, climate, industry and people itself constitutes a national characteristic that is inevitably reflected in the nature of our radar stations. Consequently it would be pretentious to assume one could select and examine a typical radar station. For despite their general technological similarities, the twenty-four remaining Canadian Pinetree radar units are still very different from one another. An author, therefore, is reduced to selecting one site on the basis of his familiarity with its history and characteristics and describing it as a unit that is, hopefully, fairly representative of a genre with strong built-in variations. The reader is cautiously invited to compare his own experiences and perceptions with those of the author or to spur his logic and imagination to expand his appreciation of this specialized role and its attendant way of life for those dedicated people involved with it.

The first radar station in Canada, at least in alphabetical order, is CFS Alsask, yet it was one of the last to be constructed and commissioned. It was built as one of five stations required to close the remaining gap in transcontinental radar surveillance coverage across the Canadian prairie. Further, it was designated as an integral element of NORADs Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system. Consequently, in discussing this station, we ignore the first half of the thirty year history of the post-war era of air defense in Canada. That was essentially the manual control period which was very different both operationally and technically and is probably better left to another author to describe in a complementary article.

The village of Alsask, Saskatchewan itself is of relatively recent origin having been established near the end of the great colonization period on the Canadian prairie (generally defined as the period from 1890 to 1910). Established in 1911 as the temporary end of steel on the Canadian Northern Railways Saskatoon-Calgary main line (now CNR), its exact location with regard to the Alberta-Saskatchewan border (thus too the name Alsask) as an important commercial centre serving the original homesteaders settling their half-section holdings. The combined effects of its location adjacent to the marginally arable lands of the infamous Pallister Triangle, the drought and depression of the 1930s, the manpower drain of the war, the post-war mechanization of farming, the improvements in prairie transportation and communications infrastructure, rural electrification, etc. resulted in the village falling into an economic decline in 1929 from which it could never fully recover. Max Baraithwaite in his celebrated book Why They Shoot the Teacher (now also a feature film) provides a perceptive insight of the regions social and economic history during this era. Suffice to say a sturdy, independent, varied group of pioneers from other parts of Canada, the USA and overseas survived the hardships and misfortunes of the early years. Though rapidly diminishing in numbers, some of the original settlers remain to recall the sometimes colourful and romantic, often trying and challenging and occasionally sad and depressing times they endured in building their society in the area. The apparent decadence of this prairie community today with its ubiquitous grain elevators, derelict railway station, decrepit hotel, sagging false-fronted shops and hitching rings in the curbs is only a superficial image and belies the underlying and more significant strength still extant in its people.

Into this area and community came the military ground survey parties in the late 1950s. Searching for a suitable glacial moraine or similarly prominent feature on which to construct a radar station with an unobstructed view of the horizon, they finally selected a site immediately north of the Village of Alsask and on the Saskatchewan side of the provincial boundary road which follows the official land surveyors 4th meridian. However, very precise military surveys put the search radar tower a few seconds west of the 110th meridian west longitude which is the nominal inter-provincial boundary. But for the surveying techniques which must address the problem of plotting square lots on a round globe and the resulting well known correction line jogs in prairie north south roads, CFS Alsask might have been in Alberta with its attendant present day tax advantages.

Work on the station began in June 1960 with the breaking of ground to level an area for the building construction which commenced that fall. A year later the three towers had been constructed and electronic equipment installation was underway. Meanwhile work on the domestic site proceeded so that by 1 November 1962 the station was formally commissioned as an RCAF unit. Final acceptance checks continued on the American and Canadian types of radar and communications equipment which had been installed by the USAF, RCAF and contractor technicians. The station officially went on the air early in 1963 and was declared fully operational in May 1963. Living conditions improved during the same year as 90 double-wide trailers were installed and ready for occupancy as PMQs by the autumn of 1963.

The initial complement of personnel at CFS Alsask was somewhat larger than it is today as technological advances, changing roles and scarcity of resources have taken their toll. The initial equipment inventory included an AN/FPS-7C heavy radar with two height finders, i.e., an FPS-26 and an FPS-507. The UPX-14 was installed as the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment. The FST-2 digital data transmitter processed the information for transmission over telephone lines to the sites control centre at Great Falls, Montana. Communications facilities between the control centre and airborne interceptors were established through the Ground-Air-Transmit-Receive (GATR) site using the GRT-s and the GRR-7 for two-way voice communications while the GKA-5 and FRT-49 handled the ground-air Time Division Data Link (TDDL) transmissions.

The vacuum-tube-operated FST-2 was subsequently replaced with the much smaller, more reliable and efficient solid state FYQ-47/GPA-124 Common Digitizer/Aircraft IFF Mark XII System (CD/AIMS) equipment which was declared operational 13 July 1972. The consequent elimination of a large volume of electronic maintenance and air conditioning equipment enabled some personnel reductions to be achieved.

The old FPS-7C heavy radar was reputedly a variation of the 1940s vintage radar designed for installation in capital ships of the USN. It was therefore due for a refit in the late 60s according to a General Electric proposal of October 1966. The modifications simplified the radar by removing the stacked beam capability to simplify the antenna and eliminate some receivers. They also updated the power supply, the transmitter oscillator/driver and the waveguide pressurization systems. The equipment was re-designated the FPS-107 and brought back on line in the SAGE system on 25 April 1972. Again, the less complex equipment enabled maintenance manpower economies.

The third change over the years was the closure of the more sophisticated of the two height finder radars. This economy had been found practicable due to changing traffic patterns of larger commercial jet transports with their automated altitude reporting systems and other tactical and strategic considerations. On 1 April 1975 the FPS-26 stopped nodding and its inflated dome drooped and fell from the horizon destroying the classic symmetry of the golf balls on their tees. Again several technician positions were eliminated and unit strength dropped.

Other reductions over the years included the attendant decreases in support trade positions such as the replacement of the full-time fire brigade with a two man cadre supported by a volunteer force and the elimination of the dental clinic.

The net result by the summer of 1978 was a complement of 10 officers, 127 ORs (including three in 743 Comm. Det), approximately 62 civil servants and 8 contracted elementary school teachers, and Canadian Corps of Commissionaires services. It is interesting to note that by that summer the 127 military personnel were divided in their service backgrounds in the approximate proportions of 33% RCAF, 13% Canadian Army, 2% RCN and 51% unified Canadian Forces with no claim to prior single-service affiliation.

Important as they are to the NORAD function, these facts concerning buildings, hardware and establishment levels are relatively sterile data when considered in isolation. But CFS Alsask has always been and continues to be a living organism because of the individuals who form the team that really fulfills the mission. The highly varied social, cultural, linguistic and military experience of the units people have contributed significantly to the stations success and demonstrated in microcosm the validity of our national claim to strength through diversity. For a real understanding of life at an LRRS it is therefore essential to examine in greater depth the sociological aspects of the units history.

In the case of CFS Alsask, the strength of its morale and community spirit has developed from a special combination of circumstances. Although in the early 1960s the barren terrain, harsh climate and degree of isolation from major shopping, cultural, recreational and sporting attractions might have been considered acutely undesirable, these factors imposed what proved to be a positive external force or influence upon station personnel of all ranks. There existed, and through tradition and effort there remains, a sense of unity in the CFS Alsask military community – a unity founded on the basic requirement not just to co-exist but to cooperate and provide mutual support in making a tour at this outpost an interesting challenge, an enjoyable lifestyle and a satisfying accomplishment rather than a dismal ordeal. The leadership was provided, the positive attitudes prevailed and the resources marshalled to turn this mid-twentieth century hardship situation of isolation and deprivation (relative to the comparably affluent character of other military family assignments) into a rewarding experience. In a perverse way the isolation became an asset rather than a liability as it meant a captive audience was automatically available to the leaders who perceived and exploited the opportunity to build an effective station in a strong and harmonious community.

But that is only part of the story. Never could the level of isolation be interpreted as being so great as to justify the enormous infrastructure facilities needed to create a completely independent and self-contained military establishment. There was the adjacent Village of Alsask and in the environs the communities of: Marengo, Sask. (with a high school 20 km away), Oyen, Alta. (35km) and Kindersley, Sask. (65 km). So it was that the station turned to the local community for such things as civilian labour, the development of a joint water supply and sewage disposal facility, some shopping, banking, postal, transportation and recreational services and not least of all the comradeship and support of those who had already faced and conquered the challenge of rural life in this austere region.

Facing a situation of continuing evolution in the essentially agriculturally based economy of the region, many displaced members of the indigenous civilian population perceived the establishment of the station as an opportunity to obtain local employment to supplement or replace declining or lost incomes from agricultural pursuits. It must be noted that in this period farms were becoming bigger, more mechanized and thus less labor intensive whilst the domestic and world grain market and crop production levels were both inherently unstable and frequently out of phase. Further, beef was at that time cheap for consumers but not particularly profitable for small farmers.

So it was, that after three decades of decline, one could see at least an extended reprieve if not an outright new lease on life for a proud community many of whose founding members were still residents. At least some businesses would consequently remain alive.

Socially, it also offered the people of Alsask opportunities to broaden their experience through association with the members of the military community and their families.

Within both the new military and established communities there hence developed a spirit of cooperation through which both groups foresaw the possibilities and subsequently exploited the opportunities to pool their complementary talents, resources and experiences in a synergistic process to achieve mutually agreed advantages to which neither group could ever have aspired to independently.

To describe the colourful proceedings in explicit detail would be quite improper. This is due to the intensely personal nature in which many of the activities, the privileged context in which way they are still usually related and the dubious accuracy of many fine points. The supposedly same anecdotes and yarns are often spun by different tellers whose respective vantage points, personal perceptions and jaded memories frequently introduce significant contradictions. Nevertheless, any of the versions of major stories is still intensely interesting and usually highly amusing. It is left to the reader to use his imagination or to search out for one of the principals for a personal account – and a dandy evenings entertainment over a glass or more of Slough Water or Meridian Specials.

Similarly, discretion dictates the avoidance of names in the following accounts lest somebody be overlooked or emphasis misplaced. After all, they were essentially team efforts rather than individual exploits and should probably be described and remembered that way.

Cooperation manifested itself early in the history of CFS Alsask when the community hosted a visit by CINCNORAD and a party of VIPs to commemorate the recent introduction of the LRRS to NORADs then new SAGE system. An Operation Meridian was conducted coincidentally and some unsuspecting geese became casualties during their annual migration to warmer climates. The often cruel Alsask climate with its high winds, cold temperatures and meager precipitation spawned the idea of an experimental planting of four bristlecone pine trees – a dwarf alpine species. As a tribute to the hospitality of the hosts and with the cooperation of the Governor of Colorado and the United States Forest Service, the trees were planted. With some special TLC keenly provided by civilian members of the CE staff, they were still surviving though one was in critical condition due to winter burn in 1978. This event was the forerunner of what have become annual safaris under the nickname Operation Meridian and during which visiting friends of CFS Alsask are provided an opportunity to stock their larders for the winter. More importantly, they stimulate the comradeship and cooperation that enhances an attitude of mutual understanding and support between the professional military personnel and their units to contribute to the fulfillment of common military aims and objectives. The hunts are hosted by the station with the kind cooperation of area landowners who, by making their fields available to the nimrods as well as frequently assisting with spotting, guiding and pit-digging activities, contribute to the consistent success of this endeavor.

The most imposing physical manifestation of the prevailing attitude of cooperation is the Gopher Dip Pool. Formally opened on 16 November 1968, this facility continues to provide year-round indoor swimming for recreational enjoyment, fitness training and instructor development. It is used regularly not only by barrack and PMQ occupants but by townsfolk and rural residents, and occasionally by regional groups wishing to conduct instructor seminars and by district schools which otherwise would never have had access to such a facility. By all reports its construction was a classic example of effective cooperation from digging the foundations to taking the first plunge.

Other examples of cooperative efforts include the Officers Mess fireplace and bar rearrangements; the establishment, development and operation of a ceramics club in a disused general purpose hut; the installation of the first and for many years the only CATV system in Saskatchewan; the building of trap and skeet ranges, a golf course and a ski hill to cite but a few of the major projects. These were accomplished by various combinations of interested and dedicated people working as regular and associate mess members, Lions Club members, Village Councilors and faithful private citizens.

In addition to Operation Meridian there are two other gems in the annual triple crown of regular Alsask community activities. The Winter Carnival, held late in February, brings together five or six teams representing the messes and the community for four days of fun, friendly rivalry and Participation. A youth carnival is organized for the younger set as a warm up to the major event. Combining the traditional events of log sawing, nail driving, beard growing, tea making etc., with theme-oriented snow sculpting, costumed mascots, satirical skits and a mammoth opening parade, the carnival is the effective traditional antidote for late winters epidemic of cabin fever – at least for those who haven’t escaped to Arizona or Hawaii.

The other major annual undertaking is the combined Alsask Stampede and Armed Forces Day held on the first Sunday in June. A professional rodeo on a recognized circuit in its own right, the long-standing Alsask Stampede has in recent years been expanded to include aerial demonstrations and static displays by the Canadian Forces emphasizing the role of CFS Alsask in NORAD, and in supporting local cadet units as well as demonstrations of communications equipment and techniques and miscellaneous displays from the recruiting services and NDHQs DXD. Each aspect of this combined endeavor serves to attract the larger crowds that benefit both partners whilst economizing on the efforts that would otherwise be required to conduct separate events.

To pursue the analogy, these three major gems are interspersed with such other minor gems as the children’s Christmas Party, a community New Years Ball, the Cadet Sports Weekend held for the eight army/navy/air cadet units supported by the station, the Alsask/Oyen Air Cadet Squadrons annual inspection and banquet, the Student Summer Employment Assistance Programs day camp and community involvement projects. Armistice Day ceremonies and numerous sporting league events and socials.

In a similar vein, all area residents are welcome to attend RC Mass in the station chapel, servicemen and families are welcomed into community churches and the station chapel was for a time also used by the Villages United Church congregation after their church was severely burned.

On the other side of the coin, the village of Alsask has welcomed station personnel and their families to join their curling club, skating arena, Lions Club and similar recreational, sporting and social activities. Many servicemen have also found part-time employment, particularly at seeding and harvest time, working on local farms thereby, broadening their general knowledge and experience as well as their income base.

The overall result of these joint projects, respective contributions and cooperative efforts has been the establishment of a Country Club style of management, use and support of recreational facilities for the mutual benefit of the military members of CFS Alsask, their families and participating members of the civilian community. This has led by and large to the achievement of a harmonious family atmosphere that has served both branches of Clan Alsask very well by building morale so vital to the accomplishment of good work and enjoyable leisure – in short the entire community has thereby achieved an excellent quality of life as well as a high standard of living.

And so it is that after five years as an RCAF Station and ten as the unified CFS Alsask, the military officers, men and women of this radar unit along with their families continue to work effectively and thrive personally in an outwardly cold, raw and austere but inwardly warm, refined and comfortable environment. Whatever the future may bring in the way of change, the past fifteen years have seen many service personnel and their families enjoy a host of interesting and rewarding experiences at Alsask.

This article was written by LCol LA Gibbon in 1978 and was published in C&E Newsletter 1981/1.

1974 – A Record Walk – Sentinel 74/3

A world indoor walking record of 100 miles or better in 24 hours was set by Cpl. Russ Phillips of CFS Alsask, Sask., in February 1974.

At 12 noon, Sunday, February 10th, Cpl. Phillips completed 2,397 laps for a walk of 104 miles, 2,109 feet in 24 hours. His speed during the first six hours was 4.8 mph, and for the last six hours slightly over 4 mph for an average speed of 4.35 mph.

The walk was aimed at raising money for the Military Police Blind Children Fund, to which $680 was pledged.

Cpl. Phillips, nicknamed the “Roadrunner”, walked inside the CFS Alsask gymnasium and drew over 100 spectators from the station and surrounding communities as he neared his goal of 100 miles. A claim for ratification has since been presented and sent to the Guinness Book of World Records. Apparently there have been no official or unofficial records specifically for indoor walking.

Cpl. Phillips who competed in the 72 hour walk at Aintree, England, last year and finished third with 176 miles in 66 hours of walking, is planning to compete again this year.

Cpl. Phillips – Alsask’s Roadrunner