The original 1907 Point Grey station was set up on 1 1/2 acres of land that is now occupied by the University of British Columbia, Museum of Anthropology.
Station Point Grey was a secret section of Fort Point Grey, which itself was part of the wartime Defence of the Port of Vancouver. The Fort was the southern point of the defence line across the entrance of the Port of Vancouver. Fort Point Grey was located adjacent to where the University of British Columbia (UBC) Museum of Anthropology now exists. In fact, the museum's centrepiece, namely the Bill Reid exhibit, sits atop of what was once the foundation of one of the Fort Point Grey's gun emplacements. All the wartime buildings have long since been demolished, however, much of the concrete gun emplacements are still visible at the site and down the embankment to English Bay.
The Point Grey Monitoring Station had been in operation since 1908. Overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the site had been used to monitor radio traffic across BC and maritime radio traffic off the West Coast of Canada. In 1937 the Point Grey Monitoring Station was transferred to the newly created Department of Transport. In 1939 Point Grey Monitoring Station began radio interception work for the war effort.
From 1940 onwards, Station Point Grey intercept operators were using state of the art superheterodyne receivers, and manual transcription of the intercepts. Intercept stations at the naval base at Esquimalt near Victoria, BC, on Lulu Island and at Masset north of the Queen Charlotte Islands would also cover the region for the Examination Unit in Ottawa. This was the home of Canada`s wartime cryptonanalysts, as well as Naval and Army intercept clearing centres.
|Point Grey Monitoring Station looking south. Circa 1940. The UBC campus is in the background. As well as being a signals intercept station during World War II, Point Grey also carried on with its role as marine radio station VAI . It is stressed that there were no Direction Finding activities at this station at any time. This was confirmed by at least two operators, namely, Elizabeth King and Olive Carroll They both worked as intercept operators as well as putting in shifts as marine radio traffic operators for VAI. (Photo from the Hayes Private Collection, Victoria, BC)|
During the Second World War, the two storey building housed upwards of two dozen radio intercept operators. Part of the function of the soldiers at Fort Point Grey was to protect and secure Station Point Grey. After the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US Fleet in Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the security of Station Point Grey was elevated to a state of great importance. By 1943, Station Point Grey had an extensive antenna array farm. A number of different radio networks were monitored by the radio intercept operators at the station, however no intercepts were more important than the diplomatic traffic to and from the war time Imperial Japanese Government in Tokyo. The most important messages being intercepted were those between the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin, General Hiroshi Oshima and the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. After decryption, these messages helped the Allies with their war effort.
For the special intercepts, the operators would use wax cylinder recorders and record the Katakana code transmissions to and from Tokyo. A high-speed teletype system also connected Station Point Grey with the Examination Unit in Ottawa. From there, raw intercepts were sent on their way to Arlington Hall in the US and to Bletchley Park in the UK.
Station Point Grey also intercepted the messages regarding the technology exchange going on between Germany and Japan. They were sending blueprints and equipment for their Me-163 rocket planes, the Me-262 jet planes, the V-1 buzz bombs and advanced radar. This was passed as special intelligence directly to the Royal Navy and the United States Navy. The RN and USN then tried to search and sink these ships that were transporting special shipments.
After the Japanese Imperial Navy (IJN) attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and the Imperial Japanese Government declared war on the Canada and her allies, the Parliament of Canada made the decision to secure both Fort Point Grey and Station Point Grey by requiring all students of Japanese heritage, irrespective of nationality, to leave their studies at the University of British Columbia for the duration of the conflict with
|Facing North: The antenna array at Point Grey, circa 1943. The station is to the left, while the station chief's house is to the right. (Source: Private Collection of W.J. Bowerman).|
Radio researcher Tom Brent indicates the following"Existing records indicate the original (1907) Point Grey radio station buildings were being occupied by militia units involved in the construction of the gun emplacements and fortifications in late August 1939 and one would presume the new location for the receiving station a short distance away on Wesbrook Crescent was in service at that time. While the Lulu Island location is correctly identified as a part of Richmond, the Wesbrook Crescent site as well as the original site 1 kilometer West, are in an area of Vancouver known as Point Grey. Both Point Grey locations were on land now occupied by the University of British Columbia".
Tom provides further details about his research on the Point Grey Station."First, it must be noted that the Point Grey station (VAI), in addition to its marine radio function, was a signals intelligence intercept station only. That is, it had no direction finding function so there was no issue with multiple antenna systems interfering with direction finding accuracy. The only direction finding station operated by the Department of Transport on the B.C. coast was at Pachena Point light station on the west (Pacific) side of Vancouver Island and to my knowledge it was never used for SIGINT purposes.
With regard to transmitters interfering with the signals intercept work, this was not an issue. In the early 1930's, VAI's transmitters were moved from Point Grey to a new site on Williams Road in the Steveston area of Lulu Island (now known as Richmond). Just before the outbreak of World War II, the transmitters were moved again to another location on Lulu Island where more land was available for antenna systems. Early in 1945, with the war winding down in the Atlantic, a decision was made to increase the number of intercept positions at Point Grey. However, the existing building had no more room and the former transmitter building on Williams Road was pressed into service and set up as a receiver site.
Point Grey was the primary Department of Transport marine radio station on the Pacific coast, all the others were smaller in terms of equipment and personnel. While all stations had the capability to work on marine frequencies below 3 MHz, Point Grey was the only station to use higher frequencies in the 8 and 12 MHz bands.
For quite a while I have thought that the marine radio stations must have carried on with "business as usual" during the war. After all, marine commerce was still happening on the B.C. coast and weather reports and navigational bulletins and warnings were still necessary. Therefore I was not surprised when the two ladies who worked at VAI confirmed it by stating they served as marine radio operators as well as carrying out intercept work. One of the operators (Elizabeth King) did indicate that intercept work could be incredibly boring. She said she spent many hours knitting while waiting for a Japanese station to come on the air".
|This ia a 1931 plan of the Point Grey area. It shows the location of the wireless station at the bottom left. The station eventually moved to the ‘military area’ marked on the plan. In the early 1930's, Point Grey's transmitters were moved to Mitchell Road on Lulu Island (now known as Richmond). The receiving equipment stayed at Point Grey until 1956 when the station was closed and moved to Vancouver airport. Apologies for the low resolution of this document.|
|Aerial view of station VAI circa 1950. The station is circled in red. (University of BC photo # 1.1/3196)|
|2018: This is the approximate location of station VAI per Google co-ordinates 49.2695 -123.2499 . (Courtesy Google Maps)|
Station Point Grey intercepted German and Japanese (Katakana code) traffic during WWII. Point Grey is now part of the City of Vancouver. (Photo courtesy SPARC Museum. Submitted by Laval Desbiens)
Credits and References:
1) Copy and photos from Laval Desbiens <desbiens.laval(at)videotron.ca>
2) "History of Canadian Communication Electronic Support Measures" (CESM) by S.A. Gray
3) "History of Canadian Signals Intelligence and Direction Finding" by Lynn Wortman and George Fraser.
4) Point Grey info via Tom Brent <navyradiocom(at)gmail.com>
5) Aryeh Ben-Ami <dufs44(at)bezeqint.net> who provided document " Station Point Grey and Very Special Intelligence: Part 1 by Patrick Bruskiewich"