The Foundations of DRTE
(F.T. Davies)

A Brief History of CRC
(Nelms, Hindson)

The Early Days
(John Keys)

CRC's Pioneers


Bits and Pieces


The Alouette Program
The ANIK B Projects
David Florida Laboratory
Defence Communications
Detection Systems
The DRTE Computer
Doppler Navigation
HF Radio Resarch
The ISIS Program
Janet - Meteor Burst Communications
Microwave Fuze
Mobile Radio Data Systems
Prince Albert Radar Lab.
Radar Research
Radio Propagation Studies
Radio Warfare
Search and Rescue Satellite
Solid State Devices
Sounding Rockets
Trail Radio


John Barry - Doppler Navigation
John Belrose - The Early Years
Bert Blevis - The Role of the Ionosphere and Satellite Communications in Canadian Development
Bert Blevis - The Implications of Satellite Technology for Television Broadcasting in Canada
Richard Cobbold - A Short Biography of Norman Moody
Peter Forsyth - the Janet Project
Del Hansen - The RPL Mobile Observatory
Del Hansen - The Prince Albert Radar Laboratory 1958-1963
LeRoy Nelms - DRTE and Canada's Leap into Space
Gerald Poaps' Scrapbook
Radio Research in the Early Years
John Wilson - RPL as I Recall It, 1951-1956



Annual Reports





<< prev | next >>
<< p1 | p2 | p3 | p4 >>

The President’s Greeting

An official opening ceremony was planned. Events such as this, especially since PARL was in the Prime Minister’s riding, need some sort of gimmick, preferably technical, to highlight the occasion. In this case, a suitable gimmick was thought to be the transmission of a congratulatory message from President Eisenhower of the United States to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. The message was to be transmitted from the Millstone Hill Radar and received at PARL after having been bounced off the moon.

Technical challenges

This posed technological problems that were rather more severe than had been anticipated. If the moon is above the horizon, there was no difficulty pointing both the Millstone Hill and PARL radar antennae at it. Its location can be determined using information (coordinates) from the Nautical Almanac. Consequently, given enough power, and the radar at Millstone Hill was certainly powerful enough, there seemed to be little difficulty in transmitting a signal from Boston and receiving it at Prince Albert using the moon as a reflector.

The technological problem that arose was because of the characteristics of the signal used—specifically, the type of modulation employed. At first, double sideband modulation was tried. That is the method used, from the earliest days, by standard band radio broadcast stations to transmit signals to your home radio receiver. It proved to be unsatisfactory. The moon-reflected signal could be heard but was so badly distorted as to be unintelligible. After some hours of trying, the PARL engineer involved, John Day, said, “I wonder if the problem could be caused by libration of the moon?” Although the moon appears to be stationary to the naked eye, it is actually wobbling a bit in its orbit and its surface is irregular. That combination of wobbling and irregularity causes the distance from the earth of any point on the moon’s surface to vary a small amount. The characteristics of double-sideband modulation are such that this variation can change the phase relationships between the two sidebands and produce distortion.

With this insight in hand, I telephoned the staff at the radar site at Millstone Hill and presented John Day’s suggestion to them. It was not greeted with much enthusiasm. It seems that Lincoln Laboratory had recently conducted research and published a report stating that the surface of the moon was smooth to radio waves. It that were true, the moon’s libration could not produce the distortion we were experiencing. However, they agreed to try a proposed solution: the use of single-sideband modulation (SSB). Single-sideband modulation would not be affected by relative phase shifts between sidebands because only one sideband exists. The equipment needed to transmit a SSB signal existed in Boston.

PARL had no equipment capable of receiving it, so Lincoln Laboratory agreed to ship the needed receiver. The time to the official opening was getting short. Consequently, Lincoln Laboratory arranged with a shipper to give the receiver special handling. Each step of the route was specified so that it would arrive in Prince Albert in three days. It did not arrive in three days, or in four, or even five. So Lincoln Laboratory provided another receiver. This time, they purchased two airline seats, one for the receiver and one for the person who was to accompany it. The person and the receiver arrived on schedule. (As a matter of interest, the first receiver reached Prince Albert thirty days later, after having cleared Customs into Canada from Blaine, Washington.)

Once the single sideband circuit was placed in operation, the distortion problem was eliminated and communication was possible. President Eisenhower’s greeting, which we had dubbed “The Big Message” was transmitted from Millstone Hill in Boston and received satisfactorily at PARL.

As an aside, at the suggestion of staff at the Millstone Hill Radar, on the same evening that the Eisenhower message was successfully received, another tape was made to illustrate the effect of the delay involved in transmitting signals via the moon. A long distance telephone connection was established from PARL to Millstone Hill and was used to modulate the Millstone Hill Radar and a verbal test-message was transmitted. I acted as announcer, and spoke in short sentences. Both the original signal from PARL and moon-reflected signal received at PARL from Millstone Hill were then recorded on tape at Prince Albert. The result is an echo-effect that illustrated the delay of two and one-half seconds involved in the transmission of the signal to the Moon and back. The audio clip is here (109 sec, 280 kb).

Quality assurance

The President had placed two restrictions on the use of his greeting. Firstly, the press must not get wind of it before the event. To help ensure this, the staff at Millstone Hill, when pretransmitting the President’s message, played the tape backwards. That way, in the unlikely possibility that the transmission was intercepted, it would be unintelligible. Secondly, the transmission must be of good quality. To ensure that the latter condition was met, the President directed his Press Relations Officer to review the tape recording of the message. The Eisenhower message was sent late one evening and a tape recording made. The PARL administrative officer drove the tape to Saskatoon in the laboratory station wagon to reach the eastbound Trans Canada Airlines (TCA) plane that left Saskatoon about midnight. Having set this action underway, those of us involved in the operation went home to bed. It had been a demanding and sometimes nerve-wracking experience.

The next morning, my home telephone rang about 8:15 a.m. I was still in bed. President Eisenhower’s Press Officer was on the other end of the line and was calling from La Guardia Field. He had traveled there from Washington to pick up the tape. The aircraft had arrived but the tape was not on board. I said I would telephone TCA in Saskatoon to see what had happened to it and asked if he could phone me back in 20 minutes. He replied that he couldn’t. He had used the last spare change he had to make this telephone call. (Those were the days before calling cards.)

I got the telephone number of the pay telephone he was using and asked him to stay nearby while I tried to learn what had occurred. A phone call to TCA revealed that the tape had been removed from the aircraft in Toronto to be listed for Customs. Someone had forgotten to put it back on board. Another aircraft was scheduled to leave Toronto within the hour and TCA promised to put the tape on that one. They did. The Eisenhower representative waited and took it back to Washington where the quality of the transmission was pronounced satisfactory. Thus, preparation for that portion of the Official Opening was complete.

The Official Opening

The official opening was set for June 6, 1959. The actual opening was to be performed by the Prime Minister, Mr. John Diefenbaker. His wife was to accompany him to this event. Two learned societies, The Royal Society of Canada and The Canadian Association of Physicists, were meeting in Saskatoon that same week. An invitation had been issued to members of those societies to attend the official opening of PARL. Members wives often accompanied society members on such occasions.


The Official Opening took place in an area near the antenna. A stand had been erected from which the dignitaries, Mr. Hartley Zimmerman, Chairman of DRB, and the Prime Minister were to address the invited guests who were then to take a tour of the laboratory itself. Of course, all was spit and polish for the occasion. The Lincoln Laboratory engineers who had been involved in the design and installation of the equipment were on hand.

As the time for the official ceremony approached, the sound system was switched on. It had two functions, to permit the official speakers to be heard inside PARL and to power some outside speakers for the benefit of the guests who were seated on chairs. What do you suppose happened? The sound system produced a machine-gun-like sound. We looked for a loose connection but that clearly was not it, because the sound was too regular. Someone suggested that the power output stage of the sound amplifier was squegging. The amplifier was dismantled and resistors inserted in the plate circuits of the output stages. No dice. Still the same noise.. Then, Eureka, someone from Lincoln Laboratory had a flash of intuition and realized that a “toy” of their making, called the Chipmunk Radar, was the cause of the trouble. It was a portable radar that could be taken anywhere by a couple of people, be set up and be operating in a matter of minutes. It had a rotating vertical beam antenna about five feet high and was really a very neat device. The LL folk wanted to demonstrate it to people taking the tour of the laboratory. In preparation for the tour they had set it up in the PARL transmitter bay and turned it on. The noise in the sound system was due to the pulses from this baby radar. When it was turned off, the problem went away.

During the opening ceremony, Mr. Zimmerman spoke briefly to introduce the Prime Minister. You can hear two clips from Mr. Diefenbaker's address: here (1 min 40 sec, 400 kb) and here (2 min 32 sec, 608 kb). At the end of the second clip, Mr. Diefenbaker pressed a button on the podium. At the press of the button, the 84 foot parabolic antenna swung into action and pointed to what the guests doubtless thought was the location of the moon. Then the voice of the President of the United States, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was heard congratulating Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on the establishment of this cooperative effort. The fact that the movement of the dish was being controlled by PARL staff, that the antenna was pointed nowhere in particular, and that the voice that was heard had been recorded some days before, didn’t matter. The effect was the same. It was a very convincing demonstration. You can listen to the President’s message here (1 min 38 sec, 400 kb).

Dr. John Chapman had been anxious to show the Prime Minister around the facility. It had earlier been decided that John would take the PM part way up the antenna. That meant taking the internal elevator up to the point at which it provided access to the caged platform, that was the point at which one had to climb an external ladder to reach the rotating turret and the antenna itself. The designer of the tower was a Lincoln Laboratory Engineer named Leon Bagdoyen. When he learned that the Prime Minister of Canada was to step out on the platform he had designed, he got cold feet, figuratively speaking. What would happen if the platform collapsed? With Canada’s Prime Minister on it? The probability of this happening was zero because the platform was bolted to the main structure with about a dozen 3/8 inch bolts. But just to play safe, Leon went to the local hardware in Prince Albert and purchased and installed 3/8 inch high-stress steel bolts. During the demonstration, John Diefenbaker went up the elevator and stepped out onto the platform. The platform did not collapse. Leon was greatly relieved.


For some time my wife, Jean, had been asking if she would be expected to do anything in connection with the event. I had assured her that nothing was expected of her. However, someone in DRB Headquarters decided that it would be a nice gesture to hold a luncheon for Mrs. Diefenbaker and the spouses of those who were to attend the Official Opening. Consequently, about two weeks before the event, Jean got a telephone call from DRB headquarters, asking if she and Mrs. Allan Barsky, the Mayor’s wife, would be joint hostesses at a luncheon for Olive Diefenbaker and the other visitors’ wives. Jean immediately phoned the Mayor’s wife to ask if she would like to take part in such a venture. Mrs Barsky declined to be co-hostess in no uncertain terms. It seems that the Mayor, a Liberal, had run against John Diefenbaker in the last election and lost. ( Mrs. Barsky did come as a guest).

The luncheon was to take place in our home. This caused some fast work, as we were in a new house in a new development. The interior walls had not yet been painted. Jean got a baby sitter to look after our four-year-old and proceeded to paint all the interior of the house. For her, this was a labour of love. I am told that some husbands take their wives on trips to Europe or on ocean cruises. In those days, give Jean a can of paint and a brush, or rolls of wallpaper, and she would be happy for days.

Of course, in addition to the decor, there was the matter of the food to be served at the luncheon. This turned out to be no problem at all. Prince Albert boasted something called the P.A.Club. It was a meeting place for the various professionals and others of elevated social standing in the community. The Club had hired a first rate chef from somewhere in Europe and his services were obtained for the luncheon. The results were outstanding. He prepared great quantities of delicious dishes. Indeed, there was sufficient food left after the luncheon that it was possible to invite some of the visiting scientists and engineers to a great meal that evening. One engineer from Lincoln Laboratory was heard to remark, “Isn’t it great to have food like this when you are really hungry.”

<< prev | next >>
<< p1 | p2 | p3 | p4 >>