Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a link to a video released in 2015 by the

Canadian Coast Guard and dealing with the modernisation of MCTS


Note:  Ralph Cameron found the attached document in his files and thought we might like to have it for the web site. The author is not identified, but it ends at 1996 so I thought Lea Barker probably wrote it. I checked with Lea and he agrees that he might have done it but does not recall this specific document. I think it can be posted with credit to Lea but with a note saying that if there are co-authors who worked on the document we would be pleased to add their names to the document.

John Gilbert

March 26, 2013

A Brief History of MCTS

Marine Communications and Traffic Services

by Lea Barker


Until the very beginning of this century, maritime transport was guided by few lighthouses and buoys. Together with the sextant, compass, and signalling flags, these aids did little to ward off accidents. The Department of Marine and Fisheries, created after Confederation, lent support for more favourable means of providing safety at sea. It oversaw the first steps of what evolved into today's advanced field of telecommunications.


1901 - Guglielmo Marconi's much-vaunted transatlantic transmission and reception was indeed a momentous achievement. It sparked a revolution in communications at sea. Earlier that same year two federal stations had begun operating across the Strait of Belle Isle.


1904 - The Canadian Government signed a contract with the Canadian Marconi Company to establish a network of stations. The network soon included stations at Cape Ray; Cape Race; Point Amour in Newfoundland, as well as other stations in Quebec, namely at Heath Point on Anticosti Island, Belle Isle and another at Fame Point.


The first ship-shore communication in North America originated at Fame Point. This first communication was made possible with the perfection of Spark Equipment which would become an industry standard for most of two decades.


The Canadian Marconi Company agreed to run and maintain the stations which were the property of the Canadian Government. The stations transmitted weather reports and within a few years these operated on a 24-hour basis.


1905 - More wireless stations were built at Camperdown, Cape Sable, Sable Island (Nova Scotia), Saint John (New Brunswick), Point Rich (Newfoundland), Cape Bear (P.E.I.), Point au Maurier (Quebec).


1906 - Stations on the west coast opened. This second chain of stations was not contracted out to Marconi but instead made a departmental project under E. Hughes. Sites were selected at Point Grey (Vancouver), Gonzales Hill (Victoria), Pachena Point (Vancouver Isiand entrance to Straits of Juan de Fucca), Estevan Point (halfway up the west coast of Vancouver Island), Triangle Island (25 miles off the northern tip of Vancouver Island), Ikeda Head (at the south end of the Queen Charlotte Islands), Digby Island (Prince Rupert), and Cape Lazo (Comox).


1912 -  The word "radio" was coined at an international conference held after the sinking of the Titanic.


An acute shortage of operators was felt throughout the network, especially on the Pacific coast. The "Learners' Division" was created for on-the-job training. Inexperienced operators went without pay until they could pass the learners' examination.


Stations are opened on the Great Lakes at Port Arthur, Tobermory, Sault Ste. Marie and Midland.


The coverage of stations range from 100 to 350 nautical miles.


1914 - Antonin Blouin, an operator at the Grosse Ile station received the SOS of the Empress of lreland which sank off the coast of Rimouski. A total of 1,012 of the 1,477 persons onboard drowned. The network by this time counted 23 stations on the east coast, 8 on the Great Lakes, 2 around Hudson Bay and 10 on the west coast.


1917 - Chebucto Head (VAV) became the site for the first Direction Finding station in Canada. Chebucto Head lies in the approaches to Halifax Harbour just as the Camperdown site did. In fact, these two stations were well in view of each other. At the end of the 1920s there were 12 direction finding stations across Canada. In 1929, 40,000 bearings had been given.


1918 - Antonin Blouin became the first Canadian to teach Morse code and Meteorology. He opened his school on William street in Montreal. At the outbreak of World War I stations were closed, but they were soon reopened and transferred to the Navy. The war created a pressing need for radio operators who, because of the importance and urgency of their work, were given on-the-job training. Before this time, Marconi had sent English instructors to Canada.


The Radio Division fell under the Department of National Defence during both world wars.


The first experimental broadcasting licence was issued by the Department of Naval Services, under the authority of the Radiotelegraph Act of 1913. The holder of this licence was a radio station in Montreal owned by the Marconi Wireless Company of Canada.


1919 - Marconi perfected radiotelephony, allowing voice broadcasts to carry over great distances. In 1925 stations were revamped with this new technology. In later years, radiotelephony eventually supplanted radiotelegraphy for its obvious advantages.


1920 - After the war great strides were made in tube equipment which would remain until the 1950s. Tube equipment marked a great jump in marine communications because it offered greater signal clarity as well as the possibility to adjust volume.


1922 - Radiobeacons were accepted as a viable means to provide ship positions. Radiobeacon stations transmitted a characteristic signal 24 hours a day with which a vessel could determine its position. An experimental radiobeacon station was installed at Cape Ray Newfoundland and went into commission on August 27,1923.


1927 - The foundations for the Hudson Bay route are laid.


The absence of aids to navigation compounded by the futility of compasses in the north prompted the cooperation of the Departments of Marine and Fisheries, Canals and Railways and National Defence to collect as much information possible to establish aids to navigation in the northern region. Planes were used to make ice observations and radio stations, constructed expressly for this purpose at Killiniq, Nottingham Island as well as Wakeham Bay, assisted in the communications. Here, the base for ice and weather observation is grounded.


1928 - Stations opened at Resolution Island, Cape Hope's Advance, Nottingham Island, and Wakeham Bay, making up a new network to serve ships plying Arctic waters.


1930 - The Department of Marine became independent and Fisheries was slated to the Department of Canals and Railways, which together with the Civil Aviation Branch became the Department gf Transport under C.D. Howe in 1936.


1932 - The International Telecommunication Union allotted new frequency bands including the VHF, UHF as well as microwaves. In the following years, the exploration of these new bands unleashed the possibilites of radar.


1942 - The shelling of the Estevan Point radio station and lighthouse by a Japanese submarine marked the first hostile attack on Canadian soil since 1814.


1944 - The Ottawa and Lulu Island Transmitter stations were developed for the Marine and Aviation Sections as well as for the Airline Companies.


1946 - The rising number of radiotelegraphy, radiotelephony, aeradio and radiobeacon stations triggered the creation of regional offices across the country.


The Department of Transport took charge of military radio stations at Coral Harbour, Frobisher Bay, Montreal, and Goose Bay.


The following years were marked by the development of transistors, opening the path to miniaturization. Transistor technology was ten times more durable and cut costs because of its remarkable reliability. As a result, radio installations came to be progressively more compact and failure-free. However perfected, transistors were eventually supplanted by integrated circuits in the 1960s.


The Decca Navigator was introduced. This radio position fixing system operated automatically in tandem with chains of land transmitting stations. The Decca Navigator allowed mariners or pilots to obtain their positions with strict accuracy.


Loran systems were instituted by the Royal Canadian Navy.


1947 - The three standard Loran stations at Deming and Baccaro, Nova Scotia as well as at Spring Island, British Columbia became the property of the Department of Transport.


1949 - Newfoundland joined Confederation and stations at Gander, Goose Bay, Belle Isle and Hudson Straits were handed over to the Department.


1950 - Marine Services consolidated all maritime matters under their authority. "Telecommunication" became the umbrella term for all matters concernins communications.


Many point-to-point communications circuits were replaced in favor of the teletype, due in great part to the expansion of vast landline networks of wireless companies.


1953 - The Ship Electronic Workshop opened, in turn creating a new vocation - the technician. Technicians took over all maintenance of radio stations and radiobeacons formerly handled by operators and inspectors. The Ship Electronic Workshop later ensured equipment standardization throughout Canada. The SEW also conceived new systems, a task that was later transferred to the Engineering Division in 1972.


1954 - The clientele of radio stations along the St. Lawrence grew considerably, due in part to the growing number of pleasure craft as well as the additional traffic resulting from the opening of iron ore mines in Sept-Iles.


A radio station at Three Rivers was opened to serve as relay between Montreal and Quebec City.


1955 - The Radio Regulations Division was formed by combining the sections of Radio Inspection, Radio Inductive Interference, Broadcasting & Measurements and Radio Frequencies Licencing.


1956 - The Radio Division became the Telecommunciations and Electronics Branch, a catch-all term for the administrative body in charge of management and operations. What's more, T & E oversaw research and development of new and improved communication, electrical equipment and systems involving aeronautical, marine, and meteorological services.


1957 - The Marconi name fell from its long-held statuts as the emblem of radio. The Department of Transport took over all Marconi stations, bringing an end to five decades of operating and maintenance contracts. Marconi operators were subsequently hired as government employees.


The Fame Point station was moved to the newly built Department of Transport marine radio station at Fox River. This ended 53 consecutive years of operation for the first commercial station on the continent.


The Canadian Marconi coast stations at Grindstone, North Sydney and Battle Harbour were also transferred to the Department. In the following years most stations were relocated at Air Services sites. For example, the Montreal station at St. Michel moved to the Dorval airport.


1959 - The St. Lawrence Seaway opened for traffic in April. Reaching from Thunderbay to Anticosti Island the waterway moves ten billion dollars a year of goods through the heartland of the continent. At the time, this brought a new dimension to navigation on the St. Lawrence and later a cutting-edge facility opened for testing in Quebec City-the Vessel Traffic Centre.


1962 - On January 26,the Department of Transport's fleet of 60 ships and 181 northern service landing craft was officially designated the Canadian Coast Guard. Camperdown, the "mecca" of radio operators closed and became Halifax Marine Radio.


The Halifax radiotelephone station was decommissioned.


1965 - The Canadian Coast Guard College opened at Sydney, Nova Scotia in several World War II buildings. (Modern facilities were opened in 1981.)


1967 - On the 1st of April the Department of Transport introduced a vessel traffic management system in Quebec City for ships entering water on the east coast of Canada. The first phase of this project involved the provision of complete VHF coverage of the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Les Escoumins. VTS has since then been extended to other Canadian waters.


1968 - Radiotelex tolled the death knell for most "point-to-point" radio stations.


T & E began setting up a vast VHF network to ensure clearer radiotelephone communications. Because of the limited range of VHF, more and more remotely controlled sites were commissioned. Consequently, HF communications later waned into insignificance.


In January the Department opened yet another traffic centre at Montreal.


1969 - Coast Guard Traffic Centre Sarnia started operating as Marine Info Ontario in April. Marine Info Ontario was later moved from Port Weller to Sarnia in March of 1973.


Radio Regulations left the Department of Transport on April 1 to become the Department of Communications. Regional offices stayed with DOT until 1970


1970 - Radio Regulations regional offices are transferred from the Department of Transport to the Department of Communications.


1972 - The Canadian Coast Guard took over all duties formerly performed by Marine Services.


In October the Coast Guard Traffic Centre Halifax started operating at Chebucto Head. The system was installed to cover Canso and Chedabucto Bay and regulations to make participation mandatory were drafted - a direct result of the grounding of the tanker Arrow in February of 1970.


In the early 1970s, the Canadian Coast Guard began offering services from the Southside Base in the port of St. John's - a centre called Pilotage and Marine Operations.


1974 - Another traffic management centre was opened at Chebucto Head to provide radar and radio coverage of Halifax Harbour and its approaches. A similar centre was installed to cover the lower west coast waters of the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Harbour.


The Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Management Centre at Les Escoumins started offering traffic services on the 1st of May.


1975 -  The Canadian Coast Guard assumed responsibility of all marine radio stations of the Telecommunications and Electronics Branch.


A vessel traffic management system for Placentia Bay was completed.


The St. John's Vessel Traffic Centre was opened the 1st of August.


1977 - The jointly-funded Canada-USA Canadian west coast Loran-C chain was declared operational in September of that year. The master station was built at Williams Lake B.C. and the secondary stations were built in Alaska and Washington State. More Loran-C stations were built on the east coast, spelling the end of Decca and Loran-A stations.


A marine Search and Rescue centre was officially opened at St. John's. The following year SAR controllers took over the centre.


1978 - The Eastern Canada Traffic Zone Regulations (ECAREG) came into effect in October. NORDREG and WESREG soon followed.


A distinct Coast Gurad T & E branch was created solely for the needs of maritime transport. Marine radio stations were separated from aeradio stations, ending more than two decades of combined radio services.


T & E started pushing for a more efficient system by using remotely controlled peripherals. Radiotelephony for urgent communications and hardcopy needs were now met with the fully implemented radiotelex.


The Continuous Marine Broadcast of notices to mariners began. The broadcasts, recorded in both official languages by operators, can still be heard on a designated VHF channel.


A Traffrc Centre was opened at Tofino (Amphitrite Point) on the 2nd of January. St. John's traffic centre became one of three centres responsible for the adminstration of ECAREG.


The Port aux Basques Vessel Traffic Centre opened in January after the transfer of some equipment from Placentia Bay.


1979 - Canada became a member of the INMARSAT organization. The system continues to complement existing terrestrial Maritime Mobile Communications.


Automatic scanning was introduced.


1980 - The Canadian East Coast Loran-C chain was inaugurated in May.


1984 - A Vessel Traffic Centre was opened at Prince Rupert on the 1st of January to provide coverage for northern coastal waters of British Columbia.


1989 - Vessel Traffic Services participation became mandatory.


Search and Rescue and Ice Observation became separate branches within the VTS centre.


1995 - The U.S. Coast Guard sent its last message of dots and dashes. It was a farewell to an era pioneered by the likes of Morse, Marconi, and Deforest in favour of more modern technologies.


The Canadian Coast Guard College took Morse code out of its curriculum.


1996 - On January 31, Charlottetown Coast Guard Radio was transfigured and its facilities are now remotely controlled by Sydney Coast Guard Radio.


The last broadcast on 500 khz from Halifax (VCS) was made November 19.1996.








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