Canada’s North Warning System
The other day, a bunch of Gjoa Haven’s Rangers set out on patrol to check on the North Warning System, a line of short- and long-range radar towers that covers 4,800 km west-east, and 320 km north-south. It’s been described as a continent-long ‘tripwire’ that will alert Canada and the USA of any inbound aircraft long before they reach the more densely populated areas on the continent.
The NWS was born out of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, set up in the 1950s to watch for Soviet bombers. The DEW line had two southern sisters: the Mid-Canada line and, most-famously, the Pinetree line at the 50th parallel. A former radar tech named Larry Wilson has a page full of stories from the radar lines he collected their operators, in case you’re interested in reading about the occasionally white-knuckle job of watching for signs of war. A particular highlight is a story about an operator dealing with an Arctic mayday call. Check out the pictures of the patrol, which show the radar bubbles and the station’s interiors, where visitors have been scrawling messages for decades. They also give a pretty good idea of just how important navigation is up in Gjoa Haven, where all directions look identically white and flat. These guys are truly experts.