History of Amateur Radio in Edmonton and the Northern Alberta Radio Club
Originally presented at the February 20, 2019 General Meeting of The Northern Alberta Radio Club.
According to Roy Usher, VE6EA The Northern Alberta Radio Club traces its history back to the early part of the 1900’s. Roy prepared a binder of the early Edmonton amateur radio history and presented the binder to the Club at a meeting at the Devlin Café June 16, 1967.
The first item was a copy of a 50 Years Ago clipping from the Edmonton Journal dated January 23, 1965 Part of the clipping states “The Edmonton Amateur Wireless Association will hold its regular fortnightly meeting next Friday in the YMCA.” The notice would indicate that there was an amateur radio presence in Edmonton in 1915, although perhaps not on the air. According the Ken Angus writing in the June 1938 edition of the N.A.R.C. Ham News Joe Dobry of Edmonton made his first QSO in October 1914 and was back on the air again after the war as soon as the restrictions were removed with a new rig. In 1919 an amateur radio club named the Teepee Wireless School (or perhaps College) was formed by Joe Dobry. The name was chosen in the hope that being an educational institution they would be able to get radio parts at a discount. The discount did not happen and there was no money available to buy the parts either so the club name was changed to The Edmonton Radio Club.
With the increase of broadcast radio stations including CJCA in 1922 the club became more of a broadcast listening club rather than a club devoted to radio experimentation. Eventually the membership of the broadcast listeners declined in the club and it again became focused on amateur radio. The club was renamed the “Edmonton and District Radio Club.”
This photo shows the 1927-28 members of the club. Including Ted Sacker VE4BW (Sacker Electronics), Frank Makepeace 4AH (Engineer at CJCA, CFRN, CHQT and installed the transmitter for CKER), Joe Dobry 4DR (founder of amateur radio clubs in the Edmonton area, Medical student and part time Radio Inspector. Joe went on to become a doctor at Killam, Cardston and Calgary. Joe was also one of the founders of the Waterton – Glacier Hamfest.), Charlie Harris 4HM, a locomotive engineer with the CNR and active radio amateur and ARRL section manager for over 30 years, whose call is now preserved as the call of the NARC repeater VE6HM. Dick Rice 4XK (who started CJCA, CFRN Radio and TV.
Up until 1929 amateur radio licences consisted of a number designating the call district followed by two or three letters to identify the individual station. Call district 1 was the Maritimes, Call district 2 was Quebec, call district 3 was Ontario, call district 4 was the prairies, call district 5 was B.C. and the Territories. This worked well until amateurs started communicating over international borders as other countries were using a similar system. To alleviate this problem a U was added to the beginning of an American call and a C was added to the beginning of a Canadian call so 4HM in Canada would become C4HM and an American call would have become U1AW. This worked well until contacts started to be made between continents at which time another letter was added. For North America that letter was N so a Canadian international call would become NC4HM and an international American call became NU1AW. An E was added as the prefix for Europe, A was added for Asia, O for Oceania, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. S was added for South America. This system was not official but it worked. In 1929 a world radio conference established call prefix letters for all radio stations in all countries. The Canadian amateur radio prefix became VE so the call that originally was issued as 4HM became VE4HM. This system was in place in Canada until 1946.
I have not been able to find out exactly when the Edmonton club’s name was changed but by the 1930’s the club became known as the Northern Alberta Radio Club. The September 1932 issue of QST reported that “VE4EA and VE4AH have been giving interesting lectures at the Northern Alberta Radio Club at Edmonton”
The Club was finally formally registered as a society with the Alberta Government in 1954 as The Northern Alberta Radio Club.
In the summer of 1933 an air show came to Edmonton. One of the stars of the show was Frank Hawks W2GKL.
After the airshow Frank Hawks attended a gathering at Charlie Harris’s with several other local amateurs. Roy Usher and his brother Lorne both initially operated as VE4EA but later Lorne acquired his own call VE4 ZP. Frank Hawks was killed in an accident a year later.
(06) In the 1930’s there was a bit of a youth element within the club with a fair number of them being YL’s.
Young ladies getting licence in Jan 1939.
This slide shows photos of several gathering from the 1930’s.
The Club published the N.A.R.C. HAM NEWS during 1938 and 1939 until World War 2 Broke out. The publication was sent to all Alberta amateurs and included news and happenings from parts of the province as well as technical discussions and humor.
The editor of the publication was Ken Angus VE4VJ. Ken passed away in 1945 at the age of 27.
This letter from the Department of Transportation dated September 5, 1939 shut down all Canadian amateur radio stations during the war. The operating ban on amateur radio was lifted on October 15, 1945 with the Canadian amateurs coming back on the air as VE4’s. The first band that was made available to Canadian amateurs was 10 metres and fortunately the sunspot cycle was high and according to Roy Usher amateurs were working all continents within a few hours – something that had taken up to seven years before the war. The rest of the bands were made available for amateur use by April the following year. The following letter outlines the Canadian amateur licencing scheme which went into effect shortly after the war. The Letter is from the Canadian General Manager of the American Radio League (ARRL).
This letter was sent by the DOT to all amateur radio operators in western and northern Canada indicating the new prefixes in western Canada that would come into effect April 1, 1946 with Manitoba remaining VE4, Saskatchewan VE5, Alberta VE6, B.C. VE7, the Yukon VE8 A-L and the NWT VE8 M-Z
Now a bit about the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and amateur radio in Canada as the ARRL is an American organization. In 1920 Canadian amateur radio operators asked to become members of the ARRL as the number of radio amateurs in Canada was really too small to create and operate their own national body. Also at this time Canadians were not even able to communicate from one end of the country to the other without relaying through amateur stations in the USA. The ARRL took on the task and created four divisions of the ARRL within Canada. Alberta and B.C. were part of the Vancouver Division. The other Canadian Divisions were the St. Lawrence Division which included Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Ontario Division – the province of Ontario, and the Winnipeg Division comprising of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The ARRL took on this task with the understanding that at some time in the future there would be enough Canadian amateur radio operators to create their own national body. Over the years there was always a bit of animosity among certain Canadian amateurs that the ARRL was also representing Canadians. However it was not practical for the small number of Canadians to form their own national body. The ARRL in Canada was eventually reorganized into the Canadian Division with a Canadian Director and activities reported monthly in QST. In 1979 the Canadian Radio Relay League (CRRL) was incorporated as a self-governing and self-administering division of the ARRL. On January 1, 1988 the CRRL became an autonomous Canadian Amateur Radio organization.
In June 1988 The CRRL began publishing its own magazine, QST Canada.
In 1967 The Canadian Amateur Radio Federation (CARF) was formed as a federation of provincial amateur radio organizations. For those of you that remember ARLA – The Amateur Radio League of Alberta, ARLA was a founding member of CARF and ARLA’s delegate to the founding meeting was Stella Broughton, VE6VF Secretary of NARC and ARLA. In the early 1970’s CARF was reorganized to allow individual amateurs to join.
CARF began publishing The Canadian Amateur in January 1973.
The Canadian Amateur was previously a monthly publication of The Radio Experimenters of Canada of North Surrey, B. C.
Both the CRRL and CARF were duplicating many amateur radio services in Canada and also causing confusion as to what organization one should join to support amateur radio in Canada. As a result on May 3, 1993 Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) was formed from the amalgamation of these organizations.
Now back to our local amateur radio history.
During the war NARC continued as social club with Ken Angus, VE4VJ; Mickey Turpey, VE4WY; Hilda Hughes, VE4WH; and Roy Usher, VE4EA taking turns as presidents of the club.
Early in the winter of 1946 the Club accepted an offer of a club house and 300 watt rig from the Department of National Defence. The buildings were located on the old American Rail Head Depot Base on the east side of 142 Street at about 141 Street and 109 Avenue, Building 12.
This air photo shows the isolation of the American Rail Head in 1948. The American Rail Head Depot its self was located on the west side of 142 Street with a railway spur coming off of the old Edmonton, Yukon and Pacific Railway (EY&P) roughly where the 107 Street traffic circle is located today. After the war the American Rail Head Depot became an industrial area with a new rail access being connected from the north. The south rail access from the old EY&P alignment was abandoned back to the area of Molson’s Brewery.
This air photo shows the American Railhead base with the modern survey fabric over laid on an air photo from about 1950. The Station was licenced as VE6NC and was likely located in one of the Quonset huts. VE6NC has been the NARC Club call ever since. The American Rail Head Base was turned over to the Canadian Department of Defence at the end of the war.
This page is from the 1946 Hamfest Program and describes the VE6NC station. I have not been able to determine how long the club operated VE6NC from this site but by 1953 the area had been subdivided into residential lots and residences were being constructed.
This page is also taken from the 1946 Hamfest program. The Alberta Government Travel Bureau saw an opportunity to advertise the wonders of the province around the world and offered free QSL cards to Alberta Amateurs.
This image is an example of one of the four QSL card designs that the Travel Bureau provided.
In the fall of 1948 the first HF mobile station made its way onto the streets of Edmonton. In the following years more amateurs installed radios in their vehicles. About 1957 surplus VHF mobile equipment became available and they were converted to two meter FM service. In 1964 a committee was formed to study the technical considerations of establishing a 2 meter repeater. Testing took place in the fall of 1964, a brief was sent to the Department of Transportation in February 1965 and a licence was received in July 1965. The delay was caused as the DOT had no process in place to licence amateur repeater operations. The NARC repeater VE6WQ became the second amateur radio repeater in Canada.
At first the transmitter and receiver were located at residences in Sherwood Park with a telephone link between them. The link proved to be too expensive and was discontinued. The Club obtained the use of the old gas company tower site installing the transmitter there and leaving the receiver in Sherwood Park. A uhf link operating on 449 MHz was used to connect the receiver back to the transmit site. The tower site was located on the west side of Highway 14X (Anthony Henday Drive today) just a little north east of the current VE6HM site.
This image shows the location of the gas company site outlined in orange on a current Google Earth image. As you can see the 80’x80’ tower site is now in the south bound lane of the Anthony Henday Drive. Later the complete repeater was move to the tower site with transmit and receive being isolated by cavities. The repeater input was 146.46 and the output was 147.0. Remember these frequencies were in use before the current 2 metre band plan was developed for Region 2. This repeater offset scheme was duplicated in Grande Prairie, Calgary and Medicine Hat and is probably why today the repeaters in these areas are out of sync with the current 2 metre band plan. There were also two simplex frequencies of 146.7 and 146.94. Again remember back then the radios were crystal controlled and they did not have the frequency agility we have today. The repeater output frequency was changed to 147.06 on April 1, 1975.
The Club issued a series of $50.00 non-interest bearing debentures and bought the gas company site for $1000.00. All of the debentures were eventually redeemed. The repeater and site continued to be improved and in 1975 the repeater site was relocated to its present location to allow for road widening of Highway 14X.
Martin Burger VE6ARA designed the new 105 foot tower and Norm Simons VE6HR designed the antennas and feed line.
The 105 foot tower served NARC well until the Microcell Tower was installed in June 1999 except that the tower was struck by lightning in 1990 and limped along until 1991 when the feed line and antennas were replaced. In the early 1980’s The Shell Refinery constructed a road across the eastern part of the repeater site without The Clubs knowledge. Shell had to buy the part of the repeater site that they build the road over paying $5000 and granted an access easement on their road to the club in perpetuity for access to the repeater site.
In 1958 Alberta Amateur radio operators were successful in lobbying the Alberta Government to issue free ham plates to Alberta amateurs. Since NARC was located in the capital city it fell to NARC to lead the negotiations for Alberta amateurs and later to administer the issuance of vehicle licence plates. In a Department of Highways news release dated August 25, 1958 the Minister of Highways Gordon E. Taylor, announced that the Government of Alberta had approved the issuing of a special licence plate bearing the call letters to some 600 licenced amateur radio operators in Alberta commencing April 1, 1959.
The first Amateur plate issued was VE6NC, L – R Ken Curry VE6KC President of NARC, E. C. Manning Premier, Art Craig VE6BY NARC Licence Plate Committee.
On the morning of Sunday August 24, during the 1958 Alberta Hamfest a special televised breakfast originating at the CFRN-TV studios in Edmonton was simulcast to Calgary Lethbridge and Red Deer. During that simulcast Gordon Taylor, Minister of Highways announced that the Department of Highways would be issuing licence plates with amateur calls to all Alberta amateurs.
A call letter licence plate committee was formed by NARC to administer the ham licence program. The committee kept the names of all amateurs and received the funds in money orders for the licence plates and forwarded names and funds to the Department of Highways. The Club was awarded the ARLA President’s award for 1969 for the License Plate Committee’s work on behalf of Alberta amateurs.
The Northern Alberta Radio Club began publishing HAM HUM in the early part of 1964 likely February but I am not sure as there is no date on the newsletter.
However the March 1964 issue of Ham Hum notes that the format had changed for the second issue. This publication was mailed out to all Alberta amateur operators. The intent was to allow for better communications regarding activities and concerns of Alberta amateurs. The publication asked that each amateur contribute a dollar towards the cost of the publication. The June 1964 issue of Ham Hum reported on the formation of the provincial amateur body the Amateur Radio League of Alberta (ARLA). ARLA became the provincial Amateur radio organization that represented Alberta hams at the provincial level, setting up repeaters in the rural area and coordinating repeater frequencies until it was dissolved in September 2002.
ARLA began publishing The Alberta Amateur In September 1966.
The Alberta Amateur eventually became the VE6 published on a monthly basis during most of this time. Ham Hum also raised the subscription fee to $2.00 per year in the June issue and requested that 50 amateurs donate $2.00 each to cover the costs associated with the September issue. I do not know if this funding request was successful as I have no more copies of Ham Hum.
In November 1966 Roy Usher VE6EA started the Emitter and remained the editor for 11 years. The Emitter continued to be published until about 2012. The last Hard copy I have is March 2012.
Cover of Roy Usher’s first NARC Emitter November 1966
Cover of the January 1976 NARC Emitter.
Cover of the January 1987 Emitter. Over time colour covers were added.
Cover of the January 1996 Emitter. Over time the Emitter size format went from a page size of a folded legal size sheet to a full size letter issue to finally a folded letter size page by the early mid 1990’s.
Cover of the January 2006 Emitter. By the early mid 1990’s the Emitter also began featuring photos in each issue.
Wives and girlfriends often took a back seat to the men in amateur radio but within NARC there was the Ladies Auxiliary of the Northern Alberta Radio Club. In 1955 records show that their membership stood at 24. I do not know how long the Ladies Auxiliary was active but their minute book in Roy’s collection indicates that they were quite active from 1951 to 1962. The ladies provided teas and entertainment for the fellow’s hamfests and looked after cards and flowers for the sick and shut-in amateurs.
In the 1950s and 1960s NARC provided training in Amateur radio to young people stricken with polio in residence at the Aberhart Hospital at the University of Alberta Don Taylor VE6FB is in the dark suit.
In 1989 NARC established VE6SSC at the Edmonton Space and Science Centre now call the Telus World of Science.
Front Cover of TCA showing NARC president Dave Clark, VE6LX and Secretary Ed Flipsen, VE6FET at the VE6SSC station.
Early VE6SSC station identification placard.
Around 1994 The Edmonton Space and Science Centre was renovated and the renovations included the installation of a free standing amateur radio tower over the front entrance of the facility.
QSL card of the Edmonton Space and Science Centre with VE6SSC tower over the main entrance. This tower was in place for several years until the facility was expanded again. During this renovation the free standing tower was taken down and the amateur antennas were relocated to the east side of the grounds with a new tower where they are today.
NARC has participated in field day since the very early days. These photos are of the 1936 five meter field day at Cooking Lake. The previous photo of Ken Angus VE4VJ was likely taken at the 1936 five meter field day too.
The following images are of the 1977 NARC field day at Highland Park in the Camrose area.
Amateurs have gathered together for hamfest back to the very early days. These hamfest were not always the elaborate affairs that we think of today. Often they were a gathering of hams for a picnic on a Sunday. However there were also some notable hamfest sponsored by NARC over the years. According to Roy Usher’s notes the first Edmonton hamfest occurred in 1930 although there is no information on this. There appears to have been six local area hamfests from 1930 and the outbreak of World War 2. Hamfests resumed again after the war with hamfest alternating between Calgary and Edmonton. Calgary hosted the 1946 hamfest.
Edmonton following up with the next one on July 26 and 27 1947.
The following are covers of some of the Edmonton hamfests following 1947.
July 30 & 31, 1949 Hamfest.
July 28 & 29, 1956 ARRL Convention
July 23 & 24, 1958 Alberta Hamfest sponsored by NARC.
According to Roy’s notes there were no more local hamfests after 1958 until the Golden Jubliee Hamfest held September 16 and 17, 1972 at the Silver Slipper Saloon at the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds.
There again seems to have been a hamfest dry spell until May 1987 when a hamfest was held at the Namao School.
This was followed by a 1989 and 1991 hamfests also being held at the Namao School.
In 1993 a Hamfest was held at Shaker’s Acres.
In 1995 a hamfest was held at the Edmonton Space and Science Centre. Wayne Green, Publisher of 73 Amateur Radio magazine was the guest speaker. This hamfest was sponsored by the Edmonton Space and Science Centre.
In May 1996 NARC held its Diamond Jubilee Hamfest on May 24 – 26 at Shaker’s Acres.
The last NARC Hamfest was held on May 22 – 24, 1998 at the Edmonton Inn.
I am going to finish up with some of the early rigs.
These are photos of Roy Ushers rig in 1930. Note the large hand wound transformer.
Early rig of Charlie Harris, 4HM.
Jim Smalley VE4GD of Calgary, and owner of Smalley Electronics, about 1929 and a later rig. Smalley Electronics eventually had several stores in western Canada including one in Edmonton.
Rigs of E J Taylor, VE4HA; Frank Makepeace, VE4AH; and John Robbins, VE4FR. You will notice the fine wood cabinet of John Robbins rig. John worked in the provincial woodworking shop.
The information presented is based on information from the files of Roy Usher VE6EA, Ken Oelke VE6AFO, QST and materials I have acquired over the years. This is a very brief overview of the history of amateur radio in the Edmonton area up to about the year 2000. There is much more detailed information in Roy’s files, but there is still a lot of overall information missing. I would appreciate it if anyone who has more information to share to help make the history more complete.
Earl Grotzki, VE6ERL