LARC History part 1


History of the Lakehead Amateur Radio Club Inc.  

Compiled by Jim O’Brien – VE3UA, January, 1998

and verified by Bill Klemacki – VE3AJ.

Part 1 of 3

It is impossible, given records available to the Club today, to produce documentary evidence as to who the first Lakehead amateur radio operator was. However, it has been reported that a dentist, Dr. Quackenbush – VE3CH, was licenced in the mid 1920’s. His incentive to study and pass the examination was prompted by an older brother who was a licenced amateur but living out-of-town. There is also a record of sorts, in our High-Q archive, which relates how three hams experimented with peanut tubes and struggled with Morse Code. Pat O’Shea – VE3FW1, George Williams (employed at Mahon Electric in the early 1960’s, call unknown) and John Fieldhouse -VE3FQ1 were successful in obtaining their amateur tickets in 1929. Another article from the same archive credits an early QST which refers to a ham operator, and quite properly so, simply as 3JE, since the VE prefix was not yet in use. The operator, in the early ’20s, was a resident of Toronto, it would be many years later and many miles at sea before Frank Start – VE3AJ1 made his mark in the Canadian Lakehead.

Another source sheds a little light on the subject of early Canadian call signs. Charles C. McDonald, then a resident of Elstow, Saskatchewan, is reported to have been issued the call 4AC in the early 1920s. The numeral “4″ indicated the Fourth District comprising Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The suffix “AC” indicate it was the third call issued in that district. What is not clear is whether or not there was indeed a prefix when call signs were first issued by Federal authorities. In any case, at some point in the early ’20s the letter “C” was assigned as a prefix, indicating a Canadian station. The “C” was subsequently changed for a brief period to “NC” indicating North America – Canada. Apparently the Canadian government issued the “VE” prefix in 1928. When Charlie McDonald moved to Port Arthur in 1929 he relinquished C4AC and became known in the ranks of amateur radio operators as VE3GS1.

The following has been documented in the form of minutes of Club meetings, financial records and occasional bulletins.

Some amateurs felt, in 1934, there was a growing need at the Canadian Lakehead for an amateur radio club. The prime leaders of this movement were Joe Sky – VE3HA1 and Ray Godsalve – VE3RA1. Both of whom consulted with Pat O’Shea – VE3FW1 as to the advisability of forming a club, procedures, programmes and constitution.

On 17 April, 1934, all interested amateurs in Fort William and Port Arthur met at the YMCA, Fort William, where after a general discussion, “The Canadian Lakehead Wireless Experimenters” was organized. Pat O’Shea – VE3FW1 was elected President. The initial objects of the Club were:

(1)        Disseminating radio knowledge among the members by short lectures or talks; and

(2)        Mutual cooperation and interchange of ideas to promote the welfare of amateur radio communication.

In May, is was decided to name the Government Radio Inspector, Mr. AC Pawley, honorary President.

The Club responded, in August, to a proposal from amateurs in Winnipeg which suggested a schedule which included Fort William as part of a “Trans-Canada Trunk”. Acting on the advice of our president, we stated the Winnipeg/Fort William link had “always been very erratic”, and suggested another link at Fort Frances or Rainy River would be necessary. We promised our cooperation if the extra hop could be established.

Early in the ’thirties, monthly dinner meetings were held in the Fort William YMCA and members were invited to bring a friend. Each member was expected to pay the sum of 45¢ for his own meal. Annual dues (at that time referred to as a “donation”) were 50¢. I guess you had to be there!

Since YMCA regulations had to be observed, it was decided in November of 1934 to exclude the ladies. No record has been found where that exclusion order was ever rescinded, perhaps it was only intended to effect the next meeting. Records available today are not clear on this issue.

Later in the decade meetings were held in rooms shared with the Camera Club at the Kam Club on George Street. It was customary then that different members would give a technical talk on some aspect of radio. Mike Caveny – VE3GG1 in October ’36, led interesting discussions on two subjects, “Power Limitation” and “What to Do With the New Amateur”. An amateur exhibit was held at the 1937 Fall Fair. A 20 Metre transmitter was constructed for the exhibit, with all members getting involved in various phases, from design on paper to building the transmitter.

Some members were not satisfied with the name Canadian Lakehead Wireless Experimenters. It was felt a more familiar geographical term should be used. It was agreed by a vote to change the name in 1937. Unfortunately, the members could not agree on what name was appropriate. They did, however, agree to put off reaching a decision.

The first woman mentioned in the minutes was Miss Ena (Christina) Cummings – VE3APE in 1937. Employed in the Department of Transport, Ena worked with Radio Inspector A.C. Pawley. A common practice then, in many DOT offices, was to use buzzers and Morse Code to communicate between offices within the building. Ena decided to become a ham when she heard that a local school teacher intended to be the first female amateur radio operator at the Lakehead. Already skilled in the use of Morse she only needed to learn the fundamental radio theory and perhaps brush up on amateur specific regulations. Ena did indeed become the first female operator and the teacher soon lost interest in amateur radio when realized she could not be the first woman licenced. Apparently Ena was an active participant in the transmitter project since she was the one that regularly reported the progress at the monthly meetings. She was elected Secretary Treasurer in 1939. During the war years, Ena was an Air Traffic Controller at the local airport. On one occasion she helped a pilot safely return to the airport despite a malfunctioning landing gear by calmly talking him through the incident.

A motion in the minutes of the April 1939 meeting was adopted which briefly changed the Club’s name to “Lakehead Radio Club”. The new name only appears on records for the remainder of the year; and following the war, the name reverted to Canadian Lakehead Wireless Experimenters without explanation or any further mention of Lakehead Radio Club.

A recruiter from the Royal Canadian Air Force addressed the November ’39 meeting. He focused on the military Wireless Operators trade relating the following inducements to the potential recruits before him; candidate’s skill and qualification requirements, wages, courses available, equipment in use including Radio Detection apparatus and air plane warfare. He stated that all uniforms and tools are issued to recruits.

By Government decree, the use of amateur radio equipment ceased for the duration of World War II.

Financial records for the years 1937 to 1941 show a final balance of $5.51. That sum was donated to the I. O. D. E. Hurricane Fighter Plane Fund on July 1st, 1941.

At the November 1945 meeting, the first recorded gathering since the hostilities, President Bruce Grant – VE3SJ echoed the feelings of a few members that anyone interested in amateur radio should be permitted to join the club. P. J. O’Shea – VE3FW1 reminded the members that the existing constitution required that members be licensed amateurs. Harold Dow – VE3AFQ voiced strong objections to accepting SWL memberships. Ena (now Mrs. Mulheron) – VE3APE suggested that interested persons be accepted as associate members. It was agreed that associates would be permitted, that their membership would be effective until March 31st, 1946, but, that this concession must not set a precedent. At the same meeting the first mention was made of the Canadian Amateur Radio Operators Association (also known as VE Ops.). Pat O’Shea – VE3FW1 expressed the opinion that this new group would become our national organization and encouraged all amateurs to support the association. Eric Page – VE4WW was elected Secretary to replace Ena Mulheron – VE3APE who is departing for Toronto. (She and her husband eventually settled in or near Sault Ste. Marie.) Bert Tamblin – VE3ANP1 stood to recognize Mr. O’Shea and Mr. Smith for their fine work in training local amateurs. He stated that almost every Lakehead amateur to date received their initial training from one or both of these gentlemen. Twenty-five attended this dinner meeting. The cost of the dinner is now $1.15, coffee extra.

In January 1946, five standing committees formed. Along with the duties normally associated with the name of the committee each group would, in turn, be responsible for planning activities for future meetings. The new committees are: Technical, Ham Activities, Monitoring, Membership and Financial. Perhaps there is a need to explain the purpose of the Monitoring Committee. Following the War and perhaps even before the War many unlicensed and illegal operators were often heard on the air waves. It was the intention of organized clubs to assist DOT to track down the “bootleggers” (much later they came to be known as “pirates”) and get them off the air. Bootlegging amateur calls appears to have been a frequent activity. Harold Dow – VE3AFQ, Bert Tamblin – VE3ANP and Bob Andrews – VE3BFM (now VE3RA) set up loop antennas in an attempt to locate the culprits. Petty Officer Mackenzie – VE4AIA advised that the Chief Yeoman of Signals at H. M. C. S. Griffon kept watch for bootleggers.

Les Harris – VE3AYZ1 (ex VE3GB) prepared club members for emergencies by organizing groups and establishing efficient traffic handling procedures. Monthly meetings were held in the Lorna Doone Restaurant. A revised set of by-laws was presented and approved after some minor amendments at the April meeting. The Club received many items of correspondence proposing the acceptance of the Canadian Amateur Radio Operators’ Association as the Canadian representative organization in the International Amateur Radio Union.

Another duty was added to the Membership Committee’s list of responsibilities, that of “Keeper of the Door”. In that capacity, the Keeper must ensure the President is provided essential information on newcomers, who attend our meetings. The pertinent data requested of the visitors included: name, call, address and their primary ham interests or recent ham activities. The visitor was thereby introduced by the President and made welcome to our midst.

In 1947, another unsuccessful attempt was made to organize a Winnipeg to eastern Ontario link on 75 Metres.

In response to correspondence concerning proposed amendments to regulations affecting amateur radio operations, the club went on record as favoring the retention of pre-war regulations for the 80, 40 and 20 Metre bands. The club also proposes opening up a 21 and 11 Metre band for all emission types, the 10 Metre band for AM and CW only and also a 6 Metre band for all emission types. Further, the club recommended that the present two year restriction for phone operation remain as is.

Movies at regular meetings continue to entertain and enlighten the members.

Ralph Parker – VE3HU1 (of radio station CFPA) suggested to the club that steps be taken to eliminate B. C. I. (interference manifest in some larger B. C. radio receivers). Members are urged to write A. R. R. L requesting information on clearing up the interference.

The club decided to assist the “Aid to Britain” fund, sponsored by Canadian amateurs, for amateurs in Great Britain. A contribution of $28.00 was sent, this consisted of half the current club funds plus $15.50 (the result of a collection taken at the meeting).

Our first Annual Field Day Exercise was held in 1948 with nine members participating. The site was Mount Baldy Ski Hill. Equipment included two surplus transmitters—a Mark 19 Set and one British set—and an S40 Receiver. A total of sixteen storage (truck and automobile) batteries kindly lent to us by Smith’s Service Station and Wilson Motors were used to power the radios. I believe the only member from that outing who is still active today is Bill Roberts – VE3ARN (now VE7YQT).

In March ’51 the Club again voted on whether or not to change the name of the Club. We elected to change to the “Lakehead Amateur Radio Club”. There was also a vote taken following amalgamation of Fort William and Port Arthur but the attempt to introduce Thunder Bay into the name was defeated.

An annual activity in these early times was a family picnic. More often than not, it was held in Grand Marais in concert with the Arrowhead Amateur Radio Club of Duluth. These were always well attended and provided welcome diversions for the whole family.

Since we had no permanent home, monthly meetings were held initially in the YMCA, then for a brief time in Kam Club, in various libraries, the basements of the R.C.A.F. Recruiting Office and the Fort William Court House. In the late ’50s, the Club regularly met in the basement of the Fort William Police Station (then on Donald Street and now the home of the Thunder Bay Museum). At that time, an antenna was attached to a parapet on the west side of the building. This permitted radio communications in support of local Civil Defence and Emergency Measures by qualified members using their own calls. Late in ’58 members arriving for the regular meeting found the Club room had been taken over by a group of weight-lifters. Once more, the Club was in need of accommodations. As luck would have it, a new Civil Defence Headquarters (subsequently the Emergency Measures Organization Headquarters) was under construction on Waterloo Street and permission was obtained to use their lecture room. The first meeting in these new quarters was in February 1959. The Club was fortunate to enjoy these facilities until well into the ’80s when the building was condemned and subsequently demolished. Once again we were homeless, on the street. Since that time we have made use of a number of classrooms in Confederation College.

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