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A neglected prairie sentinel to be restored

July 2018

On an elevated piece of land in Saskatchewan, just east of the Alberta border, sits a lonely and neglected radar tower.  This is the sole remaining radar tower of what was once Royal Canadian Air Force Station Alsask, an Air Defence radar station on the Pinetree Line.

The Pinetree Line stretched across the 50th parallel, one of three radar defence lines across northern Canada established to detect a Soviet air attack against North America.  These small stations, which were basically self-sufficient towns, were spaced approximately 150 miles apart and had a usual complement of one Search Radar, one Height-finder radar and an additional Search or Height-finder radar unit as a back-up.

Constructed in 1960, the Alsask towers were the last of the Pinetree Line to be built, closing the last gap in coverage across the prairies. Sitting on steel beams and covered in corrugated steel sheets, the tower was divided into two levels; a lower level housing the computer equipment and an upper level serving as the command centre. Sitting at the top of the tower was a radar unit, covered with a fiberglass dome resembling a giant golf ball.

Originally designated as 44 Radar Squadron in 1962, the station became operational in May 1963 and was re-designated RCAF Station Alsask, with the radar unit being re-named No. 44 Aircraft Control & Warning Squadron.

As a part of the Unification of the Forces in 1966, the station was re-named Canadian Forces Station Alsask.

Improvements in radar equipment lead to the closure of some radar stations throughout the 1960s and 1970s as fewer stations were needed to cover the same area.

By the mid-1980s, technology had improved to such a degree that only the far-north Distant Early Warning Line was needed. Throughout the rest of the 80s, the remaining Pinetree Line stations were gradually closed, with the last ones shut down by the early 1990s.

CFS Alsask closed in 1987 and the land was sold to the Village of Alsask.

The concrete operations building and two of the three radar towers up on the hill were demolished.  The remaining tower was turned over to Transport Canada for use civilian aircraft control.  It was finally decommissioned in 1996.

Most of the buildings in the domestic area remain today; some occupied and some vacant.  The PMQ trailers were once a senior’s village, but most are gone and the remaining ones are now vacant.  The old school became a senior’s centre but too has been vacant since the 1990s.  The gym and pool are also still in use as a public community centre for the Village of Alsask.

The former Construction Engineering building is a mechanical shop and one of the old buildings is used as offices for the Alsask Golf Club and a craft centre.

The single-members barracks have been remodeled into single-family row-houses.

The remaining tower was turned over to Transport Canada after Alsask closed in 1987 and finally decommissioned in 1996.

Now the Edmonton-based Canadian Civil Defence Museum and Archives have made plans to restore the still structurally-sound radar tower to its former glory, with the possible inclusion of an interpretive centre and gift shop.

The Alsask tower has remained unchanged since the Pinetree days, with its original dome still relatively intact.  With its impending restoration, a piece of Cold War history will be preserved to honour the men and women who served at these isolated sentinels.

Source material:  the personal recollections of the author (2004), Google Maps (2017), https://www.bigdoer.com/23415/exploring-history/canadian-forces-station-alsask/, https://www.bigdoer.com/23583/exploring-history/cfs-alsask-dome/, Ren L’Ecuyer’s Pinetree Line web site – or Larry Wilson’s Radar Tech Page – http://www.lswilson.ca/page5.htm

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/a-neglected-prairie-sentinel-to-be-restored/

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