Browse Exhibits (8 total)

Background Material: Radar

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Radar (an American term short for radio detection and ranging) was invented during the 1930s, with most of the major developments taking place in Great Britain and Germany.  Originally used in marine navigation (signals), radar, as a means to detect aircraft at altitude and distance, was discovered by Robert Watson Watt and Arnold Wilkins in 1935. 

Radar, originally called RDF (range and detection finding), played a vital role in helping the Allies win the Second World War.  Canada would provide the second largest contingent of allied radar personnel after Britain. Over 6,000 RCAF service men and hundreds of WAAFs were trained on radar and sent into every theatre of war. This doesn't take into account the hundreds of others participating in Navy and Army operations.

Sworn to an oath of secrecy that was not fully lifted until 1991, it was only recently that these men and women were able to share their experiences.  Canadian radar personnel were a crucial part of the war effort.  Many of these early radar veterans went on to have leadership roles in the development of radar during the Cold War and in the Canadian electronics and aviation industries.

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Background Material: The Cold War

The Cold War, lasting from roughly 1945-1991, was a time of strong distrust between the United States and their allies in the West, and the Soviet Union and their allies in the East.   Affecting life across the globe, it was a time of fear, competion, and hot wars.  As technology was used on both sides to try to prove superiority, radar became important.

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Canada's Involvement in NORAD

NORAD, or the North American Air [Aerospace] Defence Agreement brought Canada and the United States together in partnership for their mutual defence of North America.  One of the majore initiatives under NORAD was the creation and running of radar systems.

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Canada's Radar Chains

As part of NORAD, major radar lines were built on Canadian territory including the Pinetree Line, Mid-Canada Line, Dew Line, and North Warning system.  These lines were used with the support of picket ships, airborne radar, and American radar, and gave warning of an attack on North America.

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Cold War Radar Training

Radar training in Canada began with RAF Clinton in 1941, where it continued in the Cold War.  Those who worked with radar in this period studied here as well as other places such as CFB Borden, on subjects such as radar theory, navitgation, and meteorology.

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The People behind Radar

Radar technology was of little use without the people who worked with it.  This included those who worked on the equipment such as mechanics and technicians, and those who used it, Fighter Control Operators.  Women were an important part of radar in the Cold War, although they and others were semi-replaced as computers developed.

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Cold War Radar Technology and Equipment

Cold War radar initially resembled that of the Second World War, with plotting rooms at the centre of the operation.  However, the advent of SAGE moved the system in a semi-automatic direction.  Radar was used in planes and ships as well as on the ground. And as this technology advanced, so did counter-technologies to hinder radar.

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Other Countries Take on Radar

Canada was by no means alone in their use of radar during the Cold War.  The United States had their own initiatives outside of NORAD.  Since the Soviet Union and the United States were competing, the Soviets too delved into radar.  NATO and the Europeans drew on radar in the form of early warning systems as well as airborne radar.  Notably, West Germany and Israel teamed up to counter Soviet radar.

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