Early monitoring in Canada    
a report from Ed Davey

File 1602-10- SRE-A

December 18, 1967.

Attn: Mr. W.J. Wilson, SRRE,


Your December 8th letter was received on December l8th. The following is submitted in a narrative form rather than the short summary as requested — in which case you can use on that which you deem relevant,


The first frequency standard operated by the old Radio Branch of the DM&F that I have recollections of seeing in approximately 1932 was a Sullivan Fork operating at 1000 cps. The temperature control system for the fork chamber depended on the expansion of toluol confined in a fairly large glass tubular helix. After several “flareups’, the system was condemned as being rather crude and a decided fire hazard. I do not believe it was ever successfully operated. This piece of equipment was set up in the original Radio Test Room at 299? Wellington Street, Ottawa, about where No. 3 Temporary bldg. now stands. This project was the responsibility of the late Mr. J. W. Bain who had a short time before entered the Radio Branch from a lecturing professorship at Queen’s I believe.  He worked under A. N. Fraser, Chief Engineer and C. P. Edwards, the Director. The purpose of the Sullivan Fork vas not for measurement of remote signals but rather for the calibration of wave meters which were in use in the Field Offices for the adjustment of transmitters ashore and afloat, a number of which were still of the ‘spark” variety.


Some time later, perhaps a year or so, Mr. Bain was successful in obtaining sufficient funds from the Radio Branch allotment, to purchase the first General Radio (GE) Primary Standard of Frequency, developed by 3K. Clapp of General Radio who was the son of the eider C belonging to the old Clapp—Eastham radio firm in the New England States. This frequency standard was based on a 50 Kc Piezo Bar, with two stages of mercury thermostatic control. The frequency division was to 10 Kc and 1 Kc Intervals as well as 50 Kc by the use of multivibrators each using 5 filament type tubes (2OlAs I believe), the power supply for which were floating batteries. Bias voltages were from “C batteries which always seemed to be going dead. Filament type tubes were very critical to filament voltage with drop of 2/10 volts often causing one or other of the multivibrators to drop out, consequently, uninterrupted transmissions for more than a week was a real achievement and required a good deal of “nursing” of the equipment. The evaluation of audio frequencies was carried m on a Wien Bridge. The associated receiving equipment was supplied by Can. Marconi and consisted of three T.R.F. receivers covering from  100 Kc to approximately 25 M/c which in those times was considered real something! This equipment was also installed in the second floor front room of the old Test Room.


As the new GR standard was complete with receiving equipment, something could now be done about the measurement of remote signals. This was confined to broadcasting stations, as Mr. Bain was not proficient in International Morse, which injected the problem of identifying telegraphic signals. Emission types other than Al or A2 (chopper undulated) were seldom encountered, though several ships were still using spark. It was not long before the following circumstances indicated that the Test Room was a very poor location for this kind of work.


missing from the available report, photos:

(A) The 4KVA short—wave transmitter (VAA) was installed & operating on the floor above.

(B) The local CREC station CRCO transmitter was located on the top of the Jackson Bldg.

(C) A navy station was operating at Rockliffe — later moved at Chapel Street.

(D) The time signal transmitters CHU were operating In the Dominion Observatory.

(E) Street cars were running on Albert and Wellington Streets.


At the Experimental farm


 Conditions for receiving at the Wellington Street site were spotty and unpredictable. While all this was going on, the undersigned was the receiving operator at VAA - the receiving station was a partitioned—off end of a green house (of all places) in the Arboretum immediately behind the Horticulture Building at the CEF. (This accommodation cost the Department nothing which was the only good point about it!) Due to the excessive humidity and general unsuitability of the greenhouse C.P. Edwards obtained permission from Dr. Archibald, then director at the CEF to use the unoccupied side of the old T.R. Booth farmhouse still standing near the corner of the Base Line Road and the Prescott Highway. This accommodation was also free ! Since VAA receiving station occupied one room only, the powers that were decided to move the frequency standard and receivers from the Test Room to the Booth Farmhouse and make the fullest use of the VAA receiving operator to operate the equipment in his s time and the whole works was dumped in my lap, and the undersigned so became the first monitoring operator in the Radio Branch. (About 1934 I think.)


Things were “looking up”. We now had a frequency standard, a fairly good receiving site (out in the country) and a code man at the controls which allowed our endeavours to gradually expand into the field of Canadian and Foreign point to point stations. Spare time was difficult to find during the summer when the VAA circuits to Hudson Straits & Bay became very busy — but we did what we could. My instructions from HQ were, to measure, measure, measure , with nothing said about breaches of other regulations. Many transmitters were still MOPA and showed frequency deviations in the order of +/- 2Kc/s before eyebrows were raised!


I remained mostly alone in the combination of VAA receiving operator and doing the monitoring work until the Civic Holiday 1936 when I developed a ruptured appendix. This resulted in Charlie Rose being brought in from the East Coast to fill in. If I recollect correctly it was about this time that Mr. Bambrick assisted Mr. Rose but a talk with Art will clear dates up.


Upon my recovery in October, instead of my going back to VAA, I was assigned full time to monitoring which pleased me greatly, and  Mr. Rose took over the VAA receiving station.

Affiliation with the Time Room, Dominion Observatory


The time Room was then under the direction of Mr. J.P. Henderson with Malcolm Thompson and Ted Hollingsworth as assistants. Dr. Meidrum Stewart was the Dominion Astronomer. Their time standards were a Reifler and two Shortt pendulums rated by star transits. By mutual arrangements, the Time Room agreed to give us a “second rating” against their time determination to compare the accuracy of our own rating against CHU and Arlington Time Signals, using the Micro Dial of the Synchronous Clock. We had a spare synchro dock mounted in a walnut case which we loaned to the Time Room. This was controlled by our 1000 cycles over a line between the Booth Farmhouse and the Observatory. It wasn’t long before the Time Room observed that the rate of our crystal dock was as good as and sometimes better than their own time standards. This in time led to the Time Room forsaking the Reifler and Shortt pendulums in favour of a crystal controlled time base. Our 1000 cycle was also used to modulate the CHU transmitters for the dates of these happenings, I suggest that you contact Malcolm Thompson or Ted Hollingsworth. Most of the 1000 cycle une mentioned above was in open wire along the Prescott Highway. After a report by telephone that our 1000 cycles was out from Mr. Henderson, I would patrol the open wire and more often than not would discover the pair “wind shorted” and proceed to clear it by slashing the pair apart by using a hand pole! Thus restoring vital ? Service. When, later on, the CHU transmitters were relocated at Jockvale, our 1000 cycles continued to modulate the Time Signals via the AT3 transmitters.


Expansion of the Monitoring Service


When the old Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission was terminated and the CBC was formed, our Mr. Bain, after a bitter controversy with A.G.L. McNaughton (later the general), was successful in his fight to have the 3 crystal General Radio Standard and all receiving and auxiliary equipment installed in the National Research Council Building on Sussex Street transferred to us. The equipment consisted of ten racks and was installed for the purpose of checking frequencies of CRBC stations only together with supplying standard frequencies to various labs within the building. The CRBC at that time was also operating a monitoring station at Strathburn, Ontario, for the same purpose. This plant complete with buildings also became part of the spoils of Mr. Bain’s victory. Mr. Bain contended that it was the prerogative of the Radio Branch to engage in Monitoring in Canada since the Radio Act was being administered by us. Andy McNaughton - later the general - insisted that the equipment remain where it was to serve the laboratories. With these spoils we had another monitoring station (Strathburn) and enough working equipment to start one or two more - perhaps on the west coast and in the Mid West. Later I was ordered to go to Sussex Street to dismantle the equipment and move it out to the Booth Farmhouse. Young Dr. McKinley had just entered the service of NRC.


The NRC equipment was installed in the Booth farmhouse. This included 3 - 50 Kc crystals numbered 1, 2 and 3. Number 2 was the “working standard” and controlled the usual multi-vibrators. Numbers 1 & 3 were comparison oscillators and were purposely offset a few parts in 10 milln to produce a countable difference. Crystals 1 and 2 were compared for 5 minutes followed by 2 and 3. Each 100 beats resulted in a dot printed on a continuously running chart and formed a day-to-day visual record of the rate of the working standard. There was also an automatic Time Signal Recorder which was self-actuated at 11:55 am and 9:55 pm, cutting in a receiver tuned to NAA long wave. The chart of this recording system printed the closing of the Micro Dial contacts of the Synchro dock controlled by number 2 crystal against the “nose” of the Time Signal. While this was going on we were at other work. Among the auxiliary equipment acquired from NRC/CRBC was a 1000 cycle dock which had been modelled by Alphonse Ouimet, then an engineer at Sussex Street, — to control the timing for the first four bars of “O Canada” which preceded the 11:00 National News in those days. I believe the necessary tones were also derived from the frequency standard. The older General Radio Standard which had been moved from the Test Room was sent to Vancouver and formed the nucleus of Vancouver Monitoring Station. When Vancouver was reequipped later after the war this old original standard was sent to the Victoria Workshop to be used for checking wave meters. It’s probably junked by this time. If my memory serves me correctly - some of the equipment which we already had at the Booth Farmhouse and which was replaced by that acquired from the CRBC became the nucleus of the first western Canadian Monitoring Station located at Rivers, Manitoba. OIC G.A. "Duke" Coutanche came to HQ for training and instruction.


While the Monitoring Station was located at the Booth Farmhouse, a Government edict with the slogan “Buy Empire” was initiated (probably related to the Imperial Conference). This had the effect of temporarily preventing the purchase of equipment from the U.S. market if similar equipment could be obtained from one or other of the British Empire countries. Due to this economic situation we purchased an English Marconi Type 482-G Frequency Standard. The crystal was a 100 Kc cube, mounted In a hammock formed of 6 very fine silk threads which required careful tensioning. At the time of a local earthquake on Halloween night, 1935  which did considerable damage to Cornwall, Ont, the 100 Kc cube was shaken our of its hammock and it required days of fiddling to get it remounted and the silk threads correctly tensioned. The oven was a single stage affair, and temperature control was effected by a temperature sensitive bridge. As I recall, this standard was very temperamental and served to improve my vocabulary. The dial drives of the HFM5 were belts made from a special trout fishing line, procurable only in Devonshire in the United Kingdom. “Purchasing” always viewed with dark suspicion, the item of expensive trout line in a requisition for radio spares.


Well, here we were, with Monitoring Stations at Ottawa, Vancouver, Strathburn, and Rivers, a fair expansion - well with always more hoped for the future.


I believe it was about 1938 that I obtained full time help when the late Gerry Gard was transferred from the Saint John Inspection Office to the Ottawa Monitoring Station with no further increase in staff until shortly after the outbreak of war. It was the policy of HQ that the monitoring service would form the nucleus of an Interception Service in case of war. In December of 1939 I moved the Marconi 482-C Equipment and installed it at Hartlen Point, which was specially built for Interception and HF/DF work. However, Mr. Bain - looking forward as usual - thought that getting a frequency standard installed there would be a “foot in the door” for the post-war years.


This forethought paid off as Hartlen Point continued as a monitoring station after the war and resulted in the eventual move to Montague, as Hartlen Point was selected not for its location as a Monitoring Station but as a H.F. D/F site.


This brings us up to 1939 — the demands of the Foreign Intelligence Service under Commander J.E.F. DeMaribois caused an increase in staff at the Ottawa Monitoring Station to a peak of 125 and resulted in the new station on the Merivale Road which also continued as a regular Frequency Monitoring Station after the war.


Another aspect of the use of Frequency Standards which made a deep impression on me was our involvement in Ontario Supreme Court proceedings. This was at the time of the fall of Tobruk (December 1942?) The case was that of a suit of Breach of Contract between the CREC and Gooderham Worts, the Toronto distillers. The newly formed CEC required a Toronto broadcast outlet, during the time that the new 50 Kw cleared channel job was under construction at Hornby, Ont. The CBC leased CFRB and VE9GW (a short-wave outlet) the agreement in part being that at the expiration of the lease the CREC would turn over the two stations to Gooderham Worts — “in a condition in keeping with the progress of the art”. Among other things, Gooderham Worts contended that the CBC had not lived up to the above mentioned part of the contract. To prove their point, the CREC knowing that we were making daily routine measurements on their broadcast stations were permitted to peruse the Ottawa Monitoring Station files for CFRB and VE9GW. (The suit was for $50,000 and had gone through the lower courts — with the CEC later appealing through the Ontario Supreme Court).


Our routine files on CFRB and VE9GW clearly indicated almost to the hour at which the CBC, after taking over, had installed crystal control which of course resulted in our files suddenly showing frequency deviations changing from the order of +/-1.5 Kc to only a few cycles. This item was used by the defence to show that they had “kept up with the progress of the art”. Mr. Walter Rush, our Supt, Mr. J.W. Bain and myself were subpoenaed as expert witnesses at the trial in Queen’s Park. I recall Mr. Justice Greene, asking me on the witness stand to repeat the statement that our equipment was capable of determining frequencies with an accuracy of one or two parts in ten million. The outcome was a much smaller award to Gooderham Worts.


May I take this opportunity of wishing all Telecom the compliments of the season and trust that something in the above ramblings may be of use in your research.


Yours truly.



E. Davey,

9 Simonton Drive

Chatham Ont