CFS Alert celebrates 60 years

A large sign reading “Alert, Nunavut”, surrounded by smaller signs bearing community names and the distance to each.
CFS Alert’s new sign reflects its location in Nunavut. The older signs surrounding it, showing the distances to various locations, remain in place. PHOTO: Corporal Ryan Moulton, TN11-2016-0804-069-X3

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By Captain Kathleen Soucy

For 60 years, Canadian Forces Station Alert, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, has projected Canadian sovereignty in Canada’s far North.

Alert is the most northerly, permanently inhabited location in the world, located only 817 kilometres from the geographic North Pole.

On September 1, 2018, station personnel celebrated the station’s 60th anniversary of service. The station was first established in the early 1950s as a weather station. On September 1, 1958, it began its operational role as a signals intelligence unit of the Canadian Armed Forces. On that date, it became the Alert Wireless Station and was under the command of the Canadian Army.

“I am very proud to be in CFS Alert for its 60th anniversary. It is a great opportunity to recognize the excellent work that has been done by our Canadian Armed Forces members and civilian personnel throughout the years, and to thank them for the sacrifices they make to be here,” said Major Sandra Andrusiak, Alert’s commanding officer.

For the occasion, the 106 persons working at CFS Alert celebrated with activities such as a scavenger hunt called “60 questions for 60 years”: teams had a list of questions, mainly pertaining to the history of the station, for which searched out answers through a hunt of the main building. A Polar Dip was held September 2 for those who are courageous enough to brave the Arctic Sea, as well as a barbeque dinner with a giant birthday cake.

Sixty years of operational capability is always remarkable, but celebrating 60 years of operations in the extreme cold of Arctic Canada is an even bigger deal. Alert’s beauty on a sunny summer day is breathtaking, which makes it difficult to imagine how austere and forgiving this place can be. The reality is that weather is extremely unpredictable and a simple task can become very arduous. In the winter months, personnel can face temperatures of -50C, with extreme winds that can whip up the snow and make colleagues standing a metre apart lose sight of each other.

The station’s isolation is another challenge.

“Located 2,092 kilometres away from the closest Canadian city of Iqaluit and 700 kilometres away from the possible support of the United States Air Force Base at Thule, Greenland, CFS Alert is the most isolated and austere place Canadian Armed Forces members may work at during their career,” said Master Warrant Officer Marceau, the station warrant officer. Other challenges include the difficulty of getting around in bad weather, the danger that some animals represent and limited internet connectivity.

Personnel at Alert include military members, National Defence and Environment Canada employees, as well as private contractors. Their functions range from resource management support to meteorology, medical support, technical maintenance, food services, and loading and unloading aircraft. CFS Alert maintains signal intelligence facilities in support of Canadian military operations. Signals intelligence is conducted remotely, using equipment and facilities located in Alert.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan visited Alert in mid-August and met personnel living and working there. His visit included a tour of the CAF facilities in Alert, the announcement of a number of infrastructure improvements, as well as a demonstration of defence research underway to improve the military’s capacity in the Arctic. The more than $10 million in infrastructure investments announced for Alert include upgrades to fire alarm and suppression system ($5 million); replacement of fuel storage tanks ($2.5 million); and a power plant generator ($2.8 million).

RELATED LINKS

Royal Canadian Air Force

Canadian Forces Station Alert

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Image gallery

  • A large sign reading “Alert, Nunavut”, surrounded by smaller signs bearing community names and the distance to each.
  • A large sign reading “Alert, N.W.T.”, surrounded by smaller signs bearing community names and the distance to each.
  • Two military personnel wearing disruptive pattern camouflage uniforms and ball caps stand with open water and floating ice behind them.
  • A person swims in open water with floating ice in the background.
  • Nine white crosses and a stone cairn.
  • An aerial photo of many buildings in the snow.
  • An aircraft broken into many pieces rests on bare ground, seen from the air.
  • Several buildings seen from the air.
  • A man stands in a snowy landscape holding a balloon that is almost as tall as he is.
  • An aircraft lands in snow.
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