After the end of the Second World War, the world was quiet, but not for long. Soviet aggression threatened not only Europe this time, but the North American continent. The threat was from over the North Pole, putting Canada in between the Soviet Union and the United States. Canada was very nearly a battleground. The Cold War was a crucial time for Canada and it resulted in multiple advances in military arming and in technology.
The exhibit follows the story from the beginnings of the Cold War, with Ground Observer Corps, who watched the skies for aircraft from 1951 to 1964 as the radar stations that would become the defence of Canada were built across the country. Over 50,000 Canadian civilians volunteered their time and money to watch for and report any aircraft in their local airspace. Though the group was disbanded in 1964, they remain an important part of the history of Canadian air defence.
As the Ground Observer Corps was watching the skies, radar stations were being built from coast to coast. Resources and personnel were shared between Canada and the United States for the construction and operation of the Canadian radar stations. These radar stations formed three 'lines' - the Pinetree Line, Mid-Canada Line and Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. Collectively, these radar lines were responsible for providing accurate information on the current situation in the skies and were critical pieces of the system until they were removed or replaced in the 1980s (with the exception of the Mid-Canada Line, which was stood down in 1962). A virtual exhibit about domestic life of the military and their families called "Off Scope" can be found below or at the link here.
These radar stations became a part of the larger organization of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command), which was made official in 1958. NORAD is the bilateral relationship between the United States and Canada for the purpose of air and aerospace defence. It allows information and resource sharing and is mutually beneficial to both countries for defence purposes. It is under NORAD that all aircraft were identified and monitored throughout the Cold War, and is still operational today.
NORAD is the reason for the construction of the famous Underground Complex (UGC) at 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base North Bay. Built 60 storeys beneath the surface and containing a three story building more than 142,000 square feet, the UGC was responsible for ensuring that all aircraft in Canadian airspace were properly identified and were not a threat. The UGC opened in 1963 and ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until its closure in 2006. Its original computers, the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) system, were over 12,000 square feet and contained over 55,000 vacuum tubes. The SAGE system was replaced in 1983 with the Regional Operations Control Centre/Sector Operations Control Centre (ROCC/SOCC) system, which took up dramatically less floorspace and did not produce the massive amount of heat that the vacuum tubes from the SAGE system did. Learn more about this amazing part of history on our virtual website, "UGC50", which we created in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the complex, by clicking here or the image to the right.
Click image to visit the virtual exhibit 'UGC50'.
Click image to visit the virtual exhibit 'Off Scope'.