In 1941 Ladner was established as an air training field under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. At war's end the RCAF had no further use for the facility so it was stood down in 1945. The land remained unused until it was transferred to The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in 1949 at which time it began operations as a signals intelligence station under the name Vancouver Wireless Station call. When the Armed Forces were unified in 1968, the station's name changed to CFS Ladner. The approach of urban growth and new technology forced the station to close its doors in 1971.
In the text which follows, the station will be referred to as VWS or Ladner depending on the time period. (Badge photo by Joe Costello)
Ladner's position with respect to Vancouver. The former station is represented by the green dot. (Map courtesy Mapquest.com)
An edited passage from Wikipedia provides an excellent summary of the station's history.
"After the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan came into effect in 1939, the Royal Canadian Air Force began looking for locations at which to train pilots for World War II. Boundary Bay was selected, and in 1940, land from three farms was appropriated for an airport. Initial construction proceeded slowly as boggy areas had to be filled with hay and gravel, but roads and runways were in place for the base's opening on April 10, 1941. The 18 Elementary Flight Training School (EFTS) was the first unit established at the newly created Royal Canadian Air Force Station Boundary Bay. Flying De Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes, the 18 EFTS's training arrangements were unique in that air force pilots were trained by private civilian instructors. Pilots would train in conjunction with the 8 EFTS stationed at Sea Island (current site of Vancouver International Airport) and would also use facilities at the nearby Langley Airport. On May 25, 1942, the 18 EFTS was disbanded and its personnel and equipment were transferred to the 5 Operational Training which also ran flight operations at Abbotsford.
Boundary Bay's first operational squadron arrived from Lethbridge, Alberta on October 5, 1943. The 133 squadron flew Hawker Hurricanes and was tasked with intercepting Japanese fire balloons. The 133 was moved to Tofino, on July 1, 1943. As the war in the Pacific escalated, Boundary Bay would also host B-24 Liberators and Handley Page Hampden torpedo bombers. After World War II, the airport was no longer needed. The 5 Operational Training unit left the base on October 31, 1945 and the RCAF finally closed it down in 1946.
The site was left unused until it was transferred to Royal Canadian Corps of Signals in 1949. Re-established as the Vancouver Wireless Station, it was tasked with the duties of a signals intelligence (SIGINT) station. When the Canadian Forces were unified in 1968, the site was renamed Canadian Forces Station Ladner."
At its peak, VWS employed approximately 200 military personnel as well as numerous civilian personnel for both Operational and Support roles.
John Roy who served at Ladner just prior to Unification sums it up neatly. "It was a great Duty Station - just do your job and behave and you were in. There was great food in the Mess Hall and comfortable barracks with one person per room that was probably meant for either two or four. The only draw back was a cramp in your social activities if you lacked a car. It was fun to drive on the abandoned runways even though the speed limit was 20 or 25 mph."
The station's main area of interest were radio transmissions from the Soviet Arctic, the Soviet mainland and Soviet naval traffic in the Pacific, to name just a few. It was an intercept only station thus lacking a DF component. Ladner's "output" was sent out via encrypted landline from the Comcentre. Because of that , there was no need to send anything over the air. Consequentially, to the best of anyone's recollection, the station did not have an assigned radio call sign.
In the period prior to Unification, the station employed Teletype Equipment Corporation Models 15, 19 and a couple of 28's.
In 1966, a Signals Intelligence collection trial was conducted between VWS and Masset. During the two-month trial period, approximately 80% more useable material was collected from Masset than VWS thus sealing the fate of the latter.
Jack Rhodes, who worked at the station in the 1950's, remembers that there were 27 rhombics arranged around all points of the compass. This likely means that there were three rhomic arrays with 9 antennas each. If arranged like the rhombics at Churchill, that would provision one rhombic for each 10 degrees of the compass rose. He remembers. " There were banks of RCA AR-88 receivers (DR-89) being used in triple diversity configuration. Back then, the Americans called the shots on everything we did."
|DR-89 Triple Diversity Receiver: The DR-89 consisted of a 7 foot tall rack which contained three AR-88 receivers, a Tone Keyer with combined output meter, a Speaker Panel, a Meter Panel with meters for all three receivers, an antenna patch panel and a power supply. When used in a diversity installation, the AR88's did not have S-meters installed because the S-meters for all three receivers were actually installed outboard on the Meter Panel of the DR-89 rack. Click on photo for more info. (Photo courtesy US Govt War Dept, 1945)|
[Looking for more information on radio operations and the type of equipment used at the station. If you can contribute, contact: Jerry.Proc@sympatico.ca]
Paul Peters VE7BZ, whose father served at Ladner, remembers some details about the ham station at the base. "An amateur radio station was established at VWS by the late Don Vaughan-Smith. Operations lasted from 1949 to 1971. Equipped with Collins gear for a number of years, its main purpose was to provide phone patches and personal messages to and from Alert Wireless Station. Since the beam antenna spent most of its time pointing north, it was not fitted with a rotor. In case the antenna had to be repositioned, this was accomplished by pulling it to a new bearing using a rope. This rope is in evidence in the photo below. The station was located next to Hanger #3 behind the firehall".
The Summer 1963 call book indicates VE7GG was registered to the Tower Radio Amateur Club, Vancouver Wireless Station, Ladner, B.C.
VE7GG, circa 1956. (Photo by Don Vaughan-Smith via Jim Troyanek's VWS web site )
The 1966 white paper Supplementary Radio Activities Consolidation Plan indicated some concerns that VWS has frequently been the subject of complaint from local interests and it can only be a matter of time until urban growth with its attendant electrical noise and political pressures will make it prudent to vacate the property. Also recommended was an immediate reduction in the number of positions at VWS to save money.
When CFS Ladner closed on July 15 1971, personnel and equipment were redeployed to Masset. The closure of the station was expected to save the Treasury approximately $1,100,000 per annum. Ladner's area of responsibility was taken over by Masset.
Following the closure of the station, the site was used by the community of Ladner for a variety of uses - model aircraft flying, driver training, picnics, public fairs and auto racing. When it became apparent that Vancouver International Airport could no longer sustain general aviation and commercial traffic, Transport Canada proposed reactivating Boundary Bay for general aviation. The airport underwent restoration, and on July 11, 1983 two of the three runways were reopened as Boundary Bay Airport. The other runway and some ramp space was made available for driver training and other events. The old Operations Building adjoins this unused runway.
Since 1983, the airport has changed hands several times. Most recently, Alpha Aviation acquired the airport on December 1, 2004 and assumed management. They completed the extension of runway 07/25 which has greatly improved the usability of the runway for corporate jets. As of 2007, a new maintenance hangar is in the end stages of completion and the old maintenance hangar has been declared a heritage site. Plans are in the works to convert the old hangar into an aviation museum.
From 1998-2005, the Boundary Bay Driving Centre used the abandoned third runway for driving training and drag racing. This runway is now scheduled to re-open to flying activities. Today, besides the airfield, all that remains from the airport's military days are RCAF "arch-style" hangar, the abandoned roadways and the Operations building used for SIGINT operations. Current tenants at the airport include the Canadian Flight Centre, Flightec, Macleod Aviation, Montair Aviation, the Professional Flight Centre and the Pacific Flying Club. A new industrial park currently occupies part of the property.
On 6 May 2005, 828 the Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron dedicated a monument honouring the men and women who served at RCAF Station Boundary Bay.
To sum it up, all the buildings and the living quarters are all gone except for the gatehouse.
This is all that remains of the gatehouse. (Photo by BD Tyre) The front of the gatehouse as seen in July 2007. (Photo by Jim Troyanek)
The community included homes and such amenities as a grocery store, gymnasium and a sports field. Later on, as the community grew to over 100 buildings, other additions included a school and chapel. Click to enlarge. (Image courtesy Google Earth)
Even though the camp has been abandoned since 1971, some streets are still noted on today's maps. (Image courtesy Mapquest)
Ladner - aerial and satellite photos after closure. Click to enlarge. 1990's: This low level easterly view shows the former Operations Building circled in red. In the centre bottom right, nothing remains of the camp and the Permanent Married Quarters (PMQ's). At the top is Boundary Bay. Within the boundary of the runways was the antenna field. The runways used to have huge X's painted at the ends to remind pilots that they were not in use. (Photo by Waite Air Photos Inc. Submitted by John Roy) 2007: This satellite image shows a close-up of the former Operations Building. It is a large, 3 story concrete building centered at coordinates 49° 4' 19.81"N 123° 0' 10.73"W. (Photo courtesy Google Earth) July 2007: This is the last remaining hanger from the original airfield and has been deemed a "Heritage Hanger", according to the sign out front. (Photo by Jim Troyanek) 2008: A complete satellite view of the airport. (Photo courtesy Google Earth)
Low Level Aerial Photos For additional information and photos, please visit Jim Troyanek's Vancouver Wireless Station web page.
In early February 2009, the Delta council approved a recommendation by its heritage advisory committee to designate the 40-hecatre, former VWS community site, a heritage property. A few remnants of the site remain, including fire hydrants and the original paved streets, which are laid out in a grid system with cul-de-sacs. The only way people can access the site now is to park on 72nd Street and walk through an entrance north of the train tracks.
Credits and References:
1) John Roy <john.roy3(at)sympatico.ca>
2) Spud Roscoe <spudroscoe(at)eastlink.ca>
3) VWS badge photo by Joe Costello. The original hangs on a wall at Leitrim.
4) Paul Peters <ve7bz(at)rac.ca>
5) Bruce Forsyth's Canadian Military History Page http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quarters/2529/
6) SUPPLEMENTARY RADIO ACTIVITIES CONSOLIDATION PLAN. A presentation given by DIO to Defence Council on 30 May 66.
7) BDtyre photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/bdt/sets/72157594541221570/
8) Jim Troyanek's VWS web page. http://troywoodintarsia.com/vws/vws.htm
9) Tom Brent <tgb(at)telus.net>
10) The Optmist , Fri Feb 6/09 article. "Post-war community gets heritage designation"
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