by William J. (Bill) Wilson

When radio first got started in Canada in the early 1900s, those working in the new Radio Division and concerned with encouraging, facilitating and regulating its use found that they needed a workshop for doing equipment testing and research.


A small vacant building was found for such a facility in Ottawa in a residential / business area on the north side of Wellington Street near its intersection with Kent Street. 


R.O (Al) Hewitt, who grew up in that area and after the War worked in the Marine Radio Aids Section of DOT, told me about the workshop, which at the beginning was called the Radio Test Room. Ed Davey, who was responsible for much of the success of DOT's Monitoring Service, mentioned the existence of this Test Room, as the staff came to call it, in his history on the early days of radio station monitoring in Canada.


Through its development, construction, evaluation and maintenance of radio equipment of all kinds during the two or so decades following World War Two, the Test Room filled a very important role in the Radio Division's managing and facilitating the growth of radio throughout Canada in those beginning years. What was done and learned from the Test Room's work helped in giving technical direction and assistance to the Division's staff across the country as they did their work.


However, that original facility had to be moved when the Government decided in the mid '30s to level that area in Ottawa and build new buildings for office space for the Supreme Court of Canada and the Department of Justice. Later, during World War Two, #3 Temporary Building was built to provide office space which was occupied in part by DOT's Air Services Branch and its Radio Division.


And so the search for a new location began. Of course, by that time the use of radio had grown and the number of stations and kinds of technology had increased considerably. Much larger test and workshop facilities were absolutely necessary. The Castle Building, then an unused grocery warehouse building at 683 Wellington Street between the intersections of Booth and Preston Streets, seemed interesting. With 3 large floors, a large basement and a freight elevator serving all, it looked ideal. Further, there was a yard on the west side opening on to Wellington Street with a platform and access door for shipping and receiving goods by truck. Also a railway spur connected to the Canadian Pacific Broad Street Freight Yard served a basement entrance at the back of the building. Since it offered all that was needed, it was quickly put to use.


In a short while the new Test Room comprised several small offices and a modest but suitably equipped machine and construction shop on the first floor, while laboratory and work bench facilities were distributed in several large rooms on the second floor. The third floor was pretty well given over to storage space. The yard was also used by staff as a place to equip vehicles with special radio equipment for use by the Department's radio inspectors. The Test Room truck was also parked there. The Department's Purchasing Branch kept a Stores Depot on the first floor where the Test Room staff could purchase the materials and supplies they needed to do their work without having to make special arrangements to buy parts at local radio, hardware etc.  stores in Ottawa.


The Officer-in-Charge was E. David Hayman and his staff included the following: Jack Brooman, Jack Vincent, Joseph Arial, Rene Arial, Alf Lawton, Doug Gifford, Dan MacLean, Jim Furness and Edgar Arial.


Direction regarding the various activities carried out by the Test Room staff  was given by the Heads of the various sections of the Radio Division Headquarters down town. These activities included research, development, construction, and evaluation and provision of radio equipment, described briefly as follows:  


1) marine radio for safety and ship-shore communications and radio navigation aids for Department ships,


2) maintenance of the radio equipment in the coast radio stations operated by the Canadian Marconi Company under contract with the Department,


3) radio for aeronautical safety and air traffic control, air-ground radio communications and for aiding air navigation,


4) point-to-point radio communications linking district offices and isolated DOT establishments e.g. lighthouses and arctic stations,


5) radio facilities for canal vessel control on the Sault Ste. Marie, Welland and Ontario - St. Lawrence Canals,


6) control and suppression of harmful interference to the use of radio from electric power facilities including street railways,


7) equipping radio inspectors' vehicles for monitoring and inspection of radio stations for compliance with license requirements and elimination of harmful interference,


8) examination of radio operators for certification as to qualifications to be radio operators, and


9) assembly of control equipment for synchronizing of marine radio beacons and fog alarms so ships could locate themselves vis--vis light and fog alarm stations.


The Department's District Offices and their sub-offices were very well equipped to do their work and maintain radio stations and equipment they used in their District. The only exception involved the Quebec District where all marine radio stations along the St. Lawrence River and Gulf and on Department ships were taken care of by Test Room staff from Ottawa. If, in any District, radio problems of any kind came up that could not be solved in the District they were usually referred to Headquarters staff and the Test Room for resolution.


Shortly after the second Test Room was established, a short-wave radio station, call sign VAA, was installed there to provide radio communications between Headquarters and the various District Offices and Departmental radio stations around Hudson's Bay and Hudson Strait. It was operated there until the transmitter was moved during World War II to a new multi-purpose transmitter site on the Greenbank Road south-west of Ottawa and the operating position and receivers moved to the new Ottawa Monitoring Station in the Central Experimental Farm.


This second Radio Test Room burned down in the late '60s and it was re-established in an unused commercial Canal warehouse located in Ottawa by the bend in the Rideau Canal near the railway Deep Cut Overpass near where Echo Drive joined Nicholas Street.  Later it was moved to a building on Bank Street in the Glebe area of Ottawa.


The Radio Regulations Engineering Laboratory established in 1954 was not part of the Radio Test Room. It grew out of a workshop which was part of the Ottawa Monitoring Station and worked on equipment required for frequency and signal strength monitoring for our monitoring stations.


The RRE Lab's job flowed from the Department's creation of Radio Regulations Engineering, their research needed for the development of Radio Standards Specification governing the technical suitability or radio equipment for licensing, and the decision to actually test such equipment for research and/or conformity with those standards. It was eventually moved out to the Communications Research Centre building complex at Shirley Bay. 


William J. (Bill) Wilson

Ottawa, February 9, 2006.

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