Home | Back to Reviews

"The Story of the West Coast Radio Service, 1906-1956" by Larry L. Reid

Reviewed by Harold Sellers, 73737.3453@compuserve.com This review first appeared in abbreviated form in the March 1999 ed. of "DX Ontario," the bulletin of the Ontario DX Association. The reviewer has supplemented it with additional information, and it is presented here with his permission.

This is the interesting story of the men and women who built and manned the first chain of shore radio stations along the British Columbia coast from Victoria to Prince Rupert. It's not as richly illustrated as "Come Quick, Danger," but it does a good job of conveying to the reader the adventure and pioneer spirit that was part of the early days of radio in Canada.

The book begins, of course, with the background history of the marine stations constructed along Canada's west coast. A chain of stations between Vancouver and Prince Rupert was approved in 1905. Construction began in 1906. While marine stations on the east coast were built and operated under contract by the Marconi Company, on the west coast it was the federal Department of Marine and Fisheries that did the work and employed the operators.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is its descriptions of the buildings used for the radio stations over the years. Early station buildings comprised an operating room, a transmitter room, an engine room and a room to accomodate the operator. The operator would have a single cot with mattress, linen and blankets, a table and chairs, a cook stove and basic cooking utensils. Washroom facilities were an outhouse out back.

Some sites faced extreme weather conditions. There are stories and pictures of buildings braced by thick wooden beams, or with steel cables going over the roof, to prevent the strong winds from blowing the structure off its foundation!

The reader will be impressed with the character of many of the radio operators, particularly in the early years, but even in the war years. For many years the life of a west coast radio operator was an isolated one if you were stationed away from a major town or city. There was a fraternity amongst the radio operators. Some very unique and unusual characters staffed some of the stations, but they were a very dedicated group who played an important role in maritime safety, and even the development of radio.

"The Story of the West Coast Radio Service" does not have any chapters. There is a main section to the book, with several pages of pictures. This is followed by two appendices, one entitled "Lack of International Regulations Prior to 1912" and the other, "The Coming of Telegraph to Britsih Columbia." Its 91 pages make a very enjoyable read.

The book is available from the Society for the Preservation of Antique Radio in Canada (SPARC) (see below). SPARC also maintains a radio museum that is located in the Pharmaceutical Warehouse, Riverview Hospital, Coquitlam, B.C. It is only open on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call one of the following if you are in the area and wish to visit: Paul, 250/277-4489; Bruce, 250/298-1038 or 299-1116; or Fred, 250/290-9491. The SPARC website is http://www3.bc.sympatico.ca/radiomuseum

(91 pages, softback; available from SPARC, 20803 Camwood Ave., Maple Ridge, B.C. V2X 2N9, Canada. Price: US$10.00 [including surface mail postage]. For more information contact Bruce MacMillan at bruce_macmillan@bc.sympatico.ca)