Oct 072015
 
Radar dome Alsask

An article by Chris & Connie.

Our subject is the very last “Pine Tree Line” radar dome, of many, many dozens that once existed across the nation, whose purpose was to scan the skies for approaching enemy aircraft. Part of CFS Alsask (Saskatchewan), it was one cog in an early warning system, spanning Canada, that dates back to the terrible days of the Cold War. The world was on edge, the threat of nuclear annihilation was imminent and paranoia was the norm. The planet was that close to being blown to teenie-tiny bits and every one was terrified. This dome and the others were built in reaction to that threat.

Today and the massive building stands empty, a hollow shell and a curious military relic to those passing on the nearby highway. It’s no longer needed and hasn’t been for some time – how enemy threats are handled has greatly changed – but its still around for some reason, having been saved from the wrecking ball.

BIGDoer.com, along with with the Canadian Civil Defence Museum Association are given rare and special permission to explore this fascinating structure connecting us back to those dangerous times.

After the Wold War Two, tensions between the world’s superpowers, the US on one side and the Soviets on the other, grew and grew. The arms race was on, each side flexing its military muscles and amassing huge armies and all sorts of ugly atomic weapons which to destroy each other with. The war machine was readied for action. Let the show down begin: it’s the Yanks vs the Commies, and if the planet was blow away in the process, so be it.

Alsask SK dome

The CFS Alsask radar dome, the last of its kind.

In anticipation of an attack – it was not a matter of if the enemy, the “Red Menace” those evil Russians, would drop the big one, but when – the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD, was formed. A joint US/Canada operation, its role was defensive and fairly straightforward. It’d watch the sky, 24hrs a day endlessly, for approaching enemy aircraft. Since it was believed they’d come in over the pole, and only over the pole, everything was focused north.

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There were three rows of dome installations, all sort of parallel. The most northerly was the Distant Early Warning or Dew Line high up in the arctic of Canada, Alaska and Greenland. The Mid-Canada Line was part way down, extending from Labrador to British Columbia. The lowest was the Pine Tree Line, of which this facility is connected, running from coast to coast. All were established in the 1950s and 1960s, most were gone by the 80s. The Alsask dome is the last from that line.

Royal Canadian Air Force Station Alsask Saskatchewan, later Canadian Forces Station or CFS Alsask (sometimes called Canadian Forces Detachment or CFD Alsask) was completed in the period 1961-1963. The dome is from that time and was the whole reason the base established. The dome building is located just north of the town on a small rise, the Alberta border a mere stone’s throw away.

In support of the dome installation was a base for personnel, long since decommissioned but still party intact, which can be seen to the south (article link further below). It was home to over a hundred military staff and technicians and their families.

CFS Alsask, the dome and support base were decommissioned in 1987 a victim of changing times and technology. It’s not that the threat was any less there, it was and I guess probably always will be, just things had changed. The old enemy I guess is still looked upon suspiciously but many new players have emerged since. A big giant complex looking only one way for incoming trouble hardly seems effective when the danger today comes from every conceivable angle.

Side note: word is the radar dome served another function for a time after it was closed by the military, but exactly what is not really documented. Why it was not torn down, while all others across the country were, is not exactly clear either.

The main support structure is completely metal. There are two raised floors that once housed all the transmitting and receiving equipment, computers, operations centres and offices. Outside a few odds and ends left behind, a crane lifting unit and precision equipment shipping container, some electrical cabinets, a motor (to turn the radar unit?), both floors are for the most part empty of stuff.

Pigeon poop covers everything however. These pesky birds always manage to get inside and always make a huge mess. Those droppings can be a health hazard, so we take precautions to cover our mouths with masks.

The golf ball shaped dome is a shell protecting the radar dish and is made of interconnected fibreglass panels. The light from the translucent material casts a warm golden glow within the structure. The remains of the radar assembly sans the dish itself, are still in place. The mechanism is giant towering one or two stories high! My kingdom for an ultra wide-angle lens. It overflows the the frame using our smallest lens, a 24mm. Damn!

When in use the arm and dish would slowly spin round and round (and round and round…stop!). Don’t get in its way. Demonstrating just how precision the whole assembly is, it can be easily rotated by hand! An open walkway allows access to the outside of the dome, used for maintenance and inspections I’d guess. It’s a long drop down!

The entire dome site is ringed with razor wire, reminding us this was a military installation of great importance. Old light poles stand vigil. A radar assembly bearing, a huge piece of finely machined metal, sits unceremoniously in the overgrown parking lot beside the building.

Radar dome

An old electrical cabinet.

The 44 Radar Squadron was the company stationed here. We’d absolutely love to hear from any former members.

At one time there were two additional domes here, one on each side of the current structure and used in conjunction with it. These were soon unnecessary and were torn down early on. It’s rumoured that an underground bunker may be present on the site, a place presumably where personnel could take refuge should the base come under attack – but so far no evidence of it or them has come to light. It does sort of make sense that one could exist here. Any military base, even a small relatively insignificant one such as this, could no doubt be a possible target.

The radar dome building has been historically recognized for some time but what happens next is not clear. Those connected with it hope in some way to fix up the place and put it on display but at this time no solid plans are in place. Much money would have to be raised, and many obstacles overcome and it’s one giant towering mountain to climb. Presumably the dome, and the what’s left of the old base nearby, could be incorporated into a museum showcasing Canada’s participation in the Cold War and how it impacted the country. That’s one plan which I’m certain many would support.

The Canadian Civil Defence Museum Association has a website…
CCDMA.

The nearby base, a literal time capsule, which we also visited…
Canadian Forces Station Alsask.

The dome earlier in the year…
Pine Tree Line radar dome.

Interesting reading…
Searle Grain.
Turner Valley gave us gas.
Hanna Roundhouse and Turntable.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: September, 2015.
Location: Alsask, SK.
Article references: Book: Captured Memories – A History of Alsask and Surrounding School Districts, Canadian Forces records, University of Regina, Canadian Civil Defence Museum Association.
The dome is NOT publicly accessible and BIGDoer.com visited with permission.

Civil Defence Museum truck

The BIGDoer-mobile and the Civil Defence group’s air raid siren equipped truck.

Radar dome interior

The second floor. Lots of poop!

Pine Tree radar dome

Looking west into Alberta.

Pine Tree Line radar dome

Poor weather this day.

Abandoned radar dome

One of a couple offices.

Radar dome Alsask

The radar arm assembly.

Pigeons

Pigeons have gotten inside and have made a mess.

Radar dome Alsask SK

My kingdom for a wider-angle lens!

Radar dome Alsask Saskatchewan

The translucent panels cast a golden glow.

Radar assembly bearing

The support bearing – drive shaft at centre of round flange.

Radar installatiion

There used to be two other domes here, one near those light poles in back.

Military radar dome

The driveway below.

Radar controls

The master motor control.

Old military installation

The blue room.

Norad radar dome

A precision equipment shipping container. And the radar arm drive motor?

Norad radar insallation

The view south. Alsask is just to the left out of view.

Cold War radar dome

The main structure is made entirely of metal.

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32 Comments on "CFS Alsask Dome"

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Chad
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Chad

Hello.

Very interesting pictures! I grew up on a farm about 10 miles away and could see the radar dome in the distance waiting for the school bus. I always wondered what it looked like on the inside. Thanks.

Chad

Emily Overes
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Emily Overes

(via Facebook)
That is unbelievably cool!

Cory Ferris
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Cory Ferris

I’ve driven past alsask a few time this year and noticed the compound from the highway… I love old sites and it would be great if they could open some of it to the public.

Janine Rainbow-Senger
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Janine Rainbow-Senger

My dad, Master Warrant Officer John Rainbow, was the refrigeration technician for the radar dome from 1974 to 1977. I loved living in Alsask!

Brad Gunny Latus
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Brad Gunny Latus

The way Russia and Putin are going we might need those Radars used again.

William Robert Macphail
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William Robert Macphail

Lots of those up north still. DEW line. An early warning system in case Russia came over the arctic. Never been in one though!

Brenda Richardson
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Brenda Richardson

A landmark!

Ed Barnes
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Ed Barnes

I was stationed there in 78 and 79.

Connie Biggart
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Connie Biggart

An amazing trip!

Gwen Alsop
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Gwen Alsop

My Grandpa worked here in the early sixties.

Shannon
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Shannon

I lived here for 3 years in the 70’s. My dad was a construction engineer for the DEW line as well as the Pine Tree Line. It was an incredible childhood. I think the Armed Forces are awfully different now.

Ted Duke
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Ted Duke

(via Facebook)
I am jealous of all the cool places you get to explore and photograph. My dream job.

Jean-Louis Robitaille
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Chris you have done a nice report. I was stationed in RCAF Alsask during one year in 1964. I was a clerc medical at the MIR. This is where I have known my wife. She was comming from CFB Calgary to substitute the nurse who was going on leave.Since that time I went once in Alsask in 1967. My girl went there in 1995. I have tought quite often about Alsask. I have liked Alsask. Also, I was lonesome off the beers that we use to drink at the hotel….with the boys and the Alsask’s citizens. Also we were playing golf on the golf course with the gofers… This summer, we celebrated our 50 years of weddind. Lots of nice memories. Pardon me for my bad english writing and many thanks again. P.S. Chris do you know where I would be able to find the names of the personnel of… Read more »
Chris Rowe
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Chris Rowe
I have just finished reading your two articles: CFS Alsask Dome, and Canadian Forces Station Alsask. Very nicely done and thank you for keeping some of this history alive, although regrettably, post-mortem. CFS Alsask was my first posting in 1980, after joining the Canadian Forces and becoming a Radar Technician. I loved the place, so these pictures were a nice reminiscence, but more than a little sad. This one remaining tower used to house the long-range Search Radar (AN/FPS-107), with the bottom floor being mostly open except for the entrance to the roughly L or U-shaped building that used to be there. When you entered, to the left were administration offices and meeting rooms in the wing that ran westward toward the back of the property, and to the right the high-security area in the southward wing housed the DMCC (Data Maintenance Control Centre) and the CD (Common Digitizer) Section.… Read more »
Bob Beaudoin
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Bob Beaudoin

I worked as a Radar Technician in Alsask from Feb 1963 to May 1964 (I was 21). I worked in the FPS-26 height finder radar tower: it had an inflated dome. Thanks for your work: I recognized some of the photos and they brought back fantastic memories! Keep up the good work and I wish you all the best!

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