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Canadian Stations

I cannot remember hearing any Canadian Great Lakes coastal stations so very little information on them  is known to the Archivist, but thanks to all who have provided Canadian station info. we now have a good basic page. However, images are sadly lacking and much needed.  Can you provide any?

In 1998 the Canadian government published a paper back that presents a history of the Canadian stations: "Come Quick, Danger - A History of Marine Radio in Canada" by Stephan Dubreuil - ISBN is 0-660-17490-1.  This is a nice book which covers stations serving the high-seas, Arctic and Great Lakes.  There are many pictures of old radio CG installations and gear.  However, with respect to the Great Lakes stations several knowledgeable sources have informed me that this book is not a reliable historical reference.

The following listing of stations (all in Ontario) is based on information from the book, from a 1959 Marconi publication, and from Robert, VA3ROM who extracted much information about the stations from the actual Wireless Handbooks of Ships and Coastal Stations all the way back to 1910.

        VBA Was established in 1910 in Port Arthur with the call MUG. Marconi built and run until late 1913 when it becomes a government station with its present day VBA callsign. The 'A' is to recognize it as the first and oldest of the Canadian Great Lakes marine radio stations. While the Department of Naval Service had overall jurisdiction of the Canadian marine radio stations, the Marconi Telegraph & Wireless Co. of Canada operated the Great Lakes stations under contact. The RO's were all trained by and worked for the Marconi Co. VBA was the only Canadian Great Lakes station that started out as a Marconi station, all the others were government stations with modern VB call series. (Radio Telegraph Act of 1913). The cities of Port Arthur and Fort William were combined in 1970 to form Thunder Bay. The current Thunder Bay VBA Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Centre is active on VHF with 9 remote sites covering upper Lake Superior and upper Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.
        VBB, Sault Ste. Marie, was established in 1912 and operated until 1997 when it was merged into VBA as a VHF remote site.
        VBC was established in 1912 at Wiarton, now Midland, on the Georgian Bay. It operated until 1997 and then merged into VBA as a VHF remote site.
        VBD at Tobermory serving Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay dates to 1912. It later became a VHF remote site for VBC, and now for VBA.
        VBE was established in 1913 at Point Edward and operated there until 1954 when it was moved to Camlachie. It was based there until 1982 when it was moved to Sarnia, its present location. VBE is one of the three MCTS Centres, and is active on VHF covering lower Lake Huron and most of Lake Erie using 5 remote sites.
        VBF at Lake Erie's Port Burwell dates from 1914 was in  operation to at least 1969.  Anyone  know the actual date it went SK?
        VBG serving Lake Ontario from Toronto was established in 1914 and operated to the mid 1990's? Is this station the same as Trafalgar (Oakville) a VHF remote for the Prescott MCTS?
    VBH Kingston covering eastern Lake Ontario and the lower St. Lawrence River was established in 1914. It is now a VHF remote site for the Prescott MCTS.
        VDQ    Cardinal, ON 0n the St. Lawrence River is now a VHF remote site for the Prescott MCTS.
        VFG2   Gore Bay (Manitoulin Island) (Lake Huron)
        V??    Port Colborne (Lake Erie) (Inactive by 1950)
        V??    Port Stanley (Lake Erie) (Inactive by 1950)

In the mid 1990's Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) and Coast Guard Radio Stations (CGRS) were all amalgamated and became Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) and the stations became Centres (large complexes). Current MCTS Centre information is listed in Radio Aids to Marine Navigation.

Ian Marsh, G4EXD, has supplied the frequency information below for the Great lakes stations from the  'Admiralty List of Radio Signals', volume 1, for 1978. Read the details of his contribution here

VBA    VBA-VBB    VBC-VBE    VBE-VBF-VBG    VDQ-VFN    VFN-VCC    US station links on this page

Postcard image of Marconi Station at Port Burnwell, Ont.
This 1914 postcard image was furnished by Mike Baker, Curator - Elgin County Museum - St. Thomas, Ontario

Here's a 1950 Map of the Canadian Great Lakes Stations, and here is a link to the Canadian MCTS  Maps page which shows the current Great Lakes VHF coverage provided by the Marine Communications and Traffic Services from control points at Thunder Bay, Sarnia and Prescott.

In the 1990s a MF (500KHz?) Morse code traffic service was established at VBB Soo and VBG Toronto. VBA Thunder Bay began providing a Morse code MF service for Churchill, Manitoba in 1986 when the former VAP station was shutdown, and that service was provided until end of 1998. It was not for the Great Lakes  but for western Hudson Bay. These late-in-the-era CW service had short lives.  

Bob Cooke, VE3BDB, was a Canadian DOT (Department of Transport) RO from January 1967 to December 1969, for a total of three years.  He worked at VBF Port Burwell in the building shown in the 1914 post card photo above and at VBE Sarnia (Camlachie), with a brief relief posting at London Aeradio. (He was trained for both marine and aeradio.) Bob has provided a nice history of the Canadian stations in the form of some brief text and 3 pages from his 1969 magazine article entitled "Short wave listening on ... CANADA'S GREAT LAKES MARINE RADIO SERVICES."  The second page of the article consists of three tables of frequency information for the Canadian stations.  Visit Bob's site. 

Robert Mazur, VA3ROM, is currently working on the history of VBA Thunder Bay and subsequently on some of the earlier Canadian marine radio stations that were absorbed into VBA. Bob is currently an MCTSO (RO) at the VBA Thunder Bay MCTS Centre (formerly a Coast Guard Radio Station). He has worked at VBA for about 1/3 of it's 100 year (1910 - 2010) history, so is an excellent source of information about the station. You can follow Bob's work on his website .   I have also used information provided by Bob to help update this page, correcting errors and adding content. Thanks Bob . 

Recollections of one ex-laker radio op:

The Canadian coast stations were Port Arthur,  Sault St. Marie - VBB, Midland - VBC, Sarnia - VBE, Port Burwell, Toronto, Thunder Bay - VBA, Kingston, and Cornwall (St Lawrence River).  

If you called some of the Canadians stations, you had to wait a couple of minutes before they would answer since they had to turn on their transmitter and let the tubes warm.

Recollections of another ex-laker radio op:

There was a station at Midland, Ontario, on Lake Huron, staffed by Marconi operators. They had a transmitter of about 500 watts on 500 KHz with a rotary "chopper" in the B+. Had a really rough sounding note. I only remember seeing one big tube in this transmitter, but it could have had another driver. I also think there was another Canadian station on Lake Superior that I used for calls to the states because the price was cheaper than U.S.  However, it had to be a very good propagation day.

Around 1960? Collins provided us with a converted military SSB transceiver and told us to make all the SSB phone calls we wanted to test out the new "thing". It worked great, however I can't remember which shore stations they had given SSB equipment to to complete the circuit, somewhere on Lake Michigan I think. (Most Likely WAY or  perhaps WAD)

Jack Painter of the USCG Remembers:

Looking at Sarnia (now an MCTS) and Port Burwell Radio on the Lake Erie chart, I recall how powerful those formerly independent stations were in the 1960's and 1970's.  There was never a time, no matter how awful the Lake Erie weather, that the reassuring and powerful signal from Burwell or Sarnia on 2182 KHz didn't cut through the slop.  Their MF service will always be missed by those who they helped on a regular basis for decades. 

Canadian Ship Callsigns: 
1992