CFS Alert: Photos 9 - STRUCTURES
The first operations buildings at Alert Wireless Station were built in 1956 and 1957  by personnel from 2 Construction and Maintenance Unit (2CMU), Calgary and Whitehorse. (Photo via Darryl Catton)
In 1956 a party of 28 men from the 2nd Construction and Maintenance Unit (RCAF) Calgary and Whitehorse, were flown to Alert  from Edmonton via Thule, Greenland. Their job was to start construction of buildings required for the Alert Wireless station and improving the runway. It was a task which was completed the following year.

It took five weeks of continuous flying to get the men and their construction materials flown in from Thule. Once they arrived, the men worked for months on end erecting pre-fab buildings and turning a make-shift runway into a permanent one. Their job was arduous and the conditions were rough - no radio, no TV, no alcohol or entertainment - just a really good cook who kept the men happy with their three square meals a day.

The crew of 2 CMU just before leaving the Edmonton Municipal Airport for Thule, Greenland in 1957. They are posing next to a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. Photo via Darryl Catton)
"One of the most difficult tasks our team had was moving the bodies from the site of the Lancaster bomber crash from 1950," recalls Darryl  Catton who was part of 2CMU .  "I wasn't personally involved but we were such a small group, that the men would sit around after work and talk about their various projects. That was a difficult task - exhuming the bodies and moving them to a more permanent location."

Although the men of 2CMU thought they were there to expand the weather station that had been there since 1950, what they were actually doing was building a listening post to keep an eye on the Russians - after all it was the height of the Cold War. The personnel of 2CMU wondered why one of the buildings was out of bounds, the one were all the radios were being installed. Sometimes they snuck into that building and started twiddling knobs in order to receive stations from all over the world.

Darryl Catton reminisces. "What stands out for me is the peace and quietness of Alert. Once you walked away from the base, away from the sound and the noise of the diesel engines it was really serene - almost a religious experience  - to think that maybe only a handful of people in 1957 had walked that land - I didn't really appreciate that until I got older.  It was quite an experience and it's followed me through my whole life."

1958: Administration section. (From the Alert photo pool.  Submitted by Joe Costello, RC Sigs)
1958:  View of inside of kitchen. (From the Alert photo pool. Submitted by Joe Costello, RC Sigs)
1958:  View of kitchen from the dining room. All those signs are gag signs made in October 1957 by either L/S Lynn Tennant or LAC Rick "Lard" Richardson.  (Photo by Earle Smith)
1958: The power generation hut for Operations. (From the Alert photo pool. Submitted by Joe Costello, RC Sigs)
1958: An above-ground pipe for the distrubution of heating fuel. (From the Alert photo pool. .Submitted by Joe Costello, RC Sigs)
1958: Water wagon. It was used to transport  water from Lake Dumbell to each hut.  (From the Alert photo pool . Submitted by Joe Costello, RC Sigs)
1958: This is one of  the infamous "honey" buckets which had to be  emptied on a regular basis as part of the SHWAILETS duty which is discussed in more detail in the Memorabilia document of this web page. Anyone who served at Alert will never forget what happens in the summer when things weren't frozen. As the buckets were being dragged out, (the dining hall one was always full to overflowing) they would invariably snag on a nail on the floor and there goes the shower one just had that morning. DND should have had a Special Service medal produced for SHWAILETS duty alone. 

When the SHWAILETS detail were removing a full drum from under the loos, there was a procedure that was followed. One of them would carefully check to see if any one was using it. If yes, the door was unlatched quietly, quickly opened and then slammed shut. Usually screams and curses emanated from any stall that was in use. 

It was slightly different outcome matter in the winter. If the effluent spilled on one's beard it would freeze. Some personnel come in for lunch after dumping the barrels with yellow icicles hanging from their beards. Once inside, the icicles would melt. Thank goodness for modern plumbing!. (From the Alert photo pool. Submitted by Joe Costello, RC Sigs)

This is believed to be the RME workshop where various construction projects were undertaken and the various tracked vehicles were maintained. (Photo via Gord Walker) 
Sign in RCE (Royal Canadian Engineers) workshop. (Photo via Gord Walker) 
Mid 1960's:  Hut 24 was one of the buildings which provided accommodation for personnel stationed at Alert. The antenna at the left of the building was used for the reception of AM 
broadcast stations from the US and Canada, Thule, operated by the U.S. military, just boomed in at Alert.  (Photo via Gord Walker)
Mid 1960's: How cold is it in Alert? Glad you asked. This is the door on hut 24. (Photo via Gord Walker) 
Igloo Gardens was Alert's mess hall.  At that time there were no women in Alert, hence the joke about ladies served free.  Gord Walker relates this short anecdote. "We had a nurse come up on one of  the Herc flights as a passenger and she had to use "the facilities".  She was provided with an armed guard escort that preceded and followed the Bombardier shuttle vehicle between the airport and the Rec Centre. Once she was in the Rec Centre it was declared "out of bounds" to the base personnel until she had done her business and was headed back to the Herc.  I think it was perhaps one of the only times they actually issued live ammo AND put the bolts in the rifles". (Photo via Gord Walker) 

Alert, Spring 1962, highlights the hundreds of 45 gallon oil drums that were manhandled from the C-130's during the station's resupply period. Part of "Shwailets" duties included puncturing the top of the oil drums with a wedge and pumping the oil into a holding tank - a weekly task. Oil supplies were later transported in rubber bladders which avoided this process. Also showing is the "water transport sled" which carried water from Lake Dumbell  which was pumped into each hut's holding tanks, another Shwailet duty.  (Photo by David Smith)

In 1967/68 Operation Boxtop supplied fuel by C130 Hercules aircraft that were equipped with “bladders” that were filled up in Thule and flown to Alert, thus the cumbersome transporting of 45 gallon drums was eliminated. Ray White made a trip to Thule in a Herc that was so equipped. He says "It was very spooky going to Thule in an almost empty aircraft and returning with all that fuel oil sloshing around in the main cabin.  When it arrived in Alert the supply people only had to connect the pipes and pump the stuff out. Also in  the same time frame, latrines were pumped into pipelines and then down to Shwailets Hill without human intervention

I remember on that trip to Thule, in late February 1968, I think, and walking down the roadway between many hundreds of barracks buildings. I encountered a USAF NCO who said, “first time I’ve ever seen a Navy Chief here. What’s up?” When I replied that I was from Alert and was just visiting for some R and R (USAF terminology for rest and recreation) he couldn’t believe it.  Imagine seeing someone in this gawd-forsaken place for R&R!! "

The buildings at the left were for Transports and maintenance. At the right were the barracks. Buildings had ropes strung between them for use during snow storm whiteouts. When someone exited a building, he hooked  unto the safety line and followed it to the adjacent building. If anyone became lost and was out of sight of the camp, you were essentially dead. There were times personnel had to dig their way out of the barracks. (Photo by Jim Thoreson)
Maurice Drew  comments on the safety line. "Civilians had a hut, directly adjacent to the operations building and separate from the military. Austin Moss was elected to be our saviour during one of the worst storms ever. We had run out of water and food. Austin was to go next door for supplies. When we tethered him to the safety line and opened the door he vanished in a puff. Fortunately, we had tied a length of rope around his waist so we could haul him back should he not be able to make it on his own. We nearly lost him and the look on his face when we got him back would have stopped a clock!  Some time later, when the storm abated, we had to tunnel our way out through compacted snow."
This is an example of one of the diesel-alternator sets which provide power for CFS Alert. The diesel oil which fuels one of these sets is of a low sulfur type so as to have a minimal effect on the environment. (Image extracted from a Newswatch Special "From the Top of the World: CFS Alert")

Credits and References:

1) Gord Walker  <walker6(at)>
2) David Smith <drdee(at)>
3) Jim Thoreson <jimthoreson(at)>
4) Joe Costello, RC Sigs <joe(at)
5) Earle Smith - VE6NM <t16ru672(at)>
6) Maurice Drew <maurice0404(at)>
7) 50th Anniversary of Alert by  Holly Bridges
9) Ted   <era76(at)>

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Jun 16/13