RCAF Station (RU) Ferrer Point
12 September 1942 – 19 September 1945
RCAF Stn Ferrer Point was located at the SW entrance to Nootka Sound. The inlet is part of the traditional territory of the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth people and has been ooccupied by them for at least 4,300 years. They called the Sound “Mowichat”. On August 8, 1774, the Spanish Navy ship Santiago, under Juan Pérez, entered and anchored in the inlet. Although the Spanish did not land, natives paddled to the ship to trade furs for abalone shells from California. When Esteban José Martinez arrived in 1789, he gave Nootka Sound the name Puerto de San Lorenzo de Nuca. Captain James Cook visited here in 1778 with two ships, the Discovery and the Resolution. Soon after, Friendly Cove became a hub for the sea otter fur trade. Captain Cook recorded that the native name was Nutka or Nootka. The earlier Spanish and British names for the Sound swiftly went out of use. In 1803, Nootka natives attacked the sailing ship Boston and all on board were killed except the sailmaker and the blacksmith, John Hewit. They lived with the natives for two years.
Before Japan officially declared war on the U.S.A., the American authorities approached Canada with the proposal that they be allowed to install “Early-Warning” equipment on the British Columbia coast. The U.S. was to provide the equipment and trained personnel to operate it. The Canadian Government would provide the sites, the buildings and supplies. The United States detachments were to be under the command of Western Air Command, and the R.C.A.F. would take over the handling of the detectors as soon as the Canadian personnel were adequately trained and WAC was prepared to assume the responsibility.
With the attack on Pearl Harbour, the establishment of the chain of radar stations for surveillance of the Pacific Coast became a high priority. Formation of the Radio Direction Finder RDF unit detachment at Ferrer Point was authorized by Org. Order No. 91 effective 23/July/42. The radar was constructed on a small peak called Northwest Cone that pokes up over a relatively flat area of Nootka. Building and general construction were undertaken by Marwell Construction Company of Vancouver and #9 CMU did the site preparation and communication lines. Work commenced on 12 September 1942 and reached completion in May 1943. Installation of technical apparatus commenced 20 March 1943. The necessary documents and maps were brought in by aircraft on 10 June 1943 and the detachment became operational that day. Station strength started at eighty personnel and gradually declined to about fifty on closure. At the start there were many teething problems but soon the radar unit operated 24/7 except for scheduled maintenance or when the wind was too strong and the antenna had to be bolted down.
On the opening date, an inspection of the facilities was carried out, which started the long series of visitors. A typical period for visitations was 14 June when a sanitary inspection of the station was carried out by the senior medical officer at RCAF Station Ucluelet. The station was inspected on 29 July by the C/O RCAF Station, Ucluelet, BC, at which time a pay parade was held and a sanitary inspection again carried out. A medical inspection and pay parade were held 16 August. Another sanitary inspection and sick parade were carried out on 15 September and the paymaster and educational officer also visited the detachment at that time. An emergency operation was performed on a member who had severely lacerated his left thumb while cutting wood. Padres, doctors, educators, accountants visited on a regular basis. As well, there was a constant flow of people doing normal admin work like qualification testing, etc. Many of these trips were by Stranraer or Norseman aircraft from No. 4 BR Squadron, Ucluelet, BC which was the support base for RCAF Ferrer Point.
The operation site is removed from the main detachment – a distance of approximately 1 1/2 miles. On the actual operations site was situated a guard house, operations building, winch house and inclined railway, 380 feet long. Generating equipment supplying power for the entire detachment was situated 500 feet from the bottom of this inclined railway. The Operations Site and Main Camp were connected by a plank road which terminated at the dock. The main camp consisted of four barrack blocks, the administration building, (housing offices, WT Section, Officers quarters), recreation hall, mess hall, MT Section and hospital. The detachment was served by marine craft such as the M/V Arrow which carried supplies and rations from Zeballos, a distance of approximately 20 miles.
The supplies came in every eleven days but when there were periods of bad weather, resupply was a lot more difficult and there were occasions when it was necessary to fall back on emergency rations. The original plan had been to supply the detachment with coal for heating and cooking, but getting it there was so difficult and driftwood so abundant on the beaches, that burning wood was more sensible. This system worked well but frequent wood cutting details were required to keep the wood sheds full.
Films were available as well as sports. They even held a dance by inviting the ladies from CeePeeCee Village to visit the Station. The routine was interrupted by the occasional Japanese Fire Balloon spotting in the area and the crews were called out on a few occasions to fight forest fires in the area. Overall, it was a pretty quiet life except for the weather.
On 18 December 1943, personnel at No. 11 Radio Detachment (Ferrer Point, on the northwestern coast of Vancouver Island) saw shell splashes close to their unit and reported they were under attack. Aircraft from Coal Harbour and Tofino investigated, hoping to illuminate something using their navigation lights, but found only two small fishing vessels. Meanwhile, news travelled quickly. Six hours after the reported shelling, the Seattle office of United Press was telephoning WAC headquarters about reports of Vancouver Island being bombed. It was learned that the SS Maquina, passing five miles away, had undertaken some 12-pounder gunnery practice, firing towards what the crew took to be an uninhabited shore. The ship’s captain claimed his gun crew had fired only two heavy rounds; those on the receiving end claimed there had been anywhere between nine and 20 shell splashes. The presence of a radar site was, of course, a closely guarded secret, apparently even to the Maquina.
On 15 February 1944, 33 RD, AA Coy chose a suitable site for the laying of a 75 mm gun but it was never installed. On the 5 June 1944, a record was established by radar gear when an aircraft was detected at 185 miles. During the seven day period 1 – 7 June, the detachment set a record of 319 plotted aircraft tracks in a single week. Another record was established when 76 aircraft tracks were plotted and identified in a single day on 7 June.
On 25 August 1945, the unit was instructed to prepare for closing down. On 11 September, they were advised that radar equipment was to only remain operational from 0800 to 2000 hrs daily, then on 14 September, under WAC authority, they ceased radar operations at 1300 hrs. The next day, they were advised to proceed with dismantling of radar equipment and on 19 September, the Unit was disbanded under WAC Operational Order No. 83.
The electronic gear and some of the more valuable items were removed and the remainder was left in place to disintegrate. Later, the main camp site, near Tongue Point, was used as a Christian Camp by the Esperanza Mission. One can still find numerous bits and pieces of the old station around showing where the various buildings and roads used to be. The radar antenna and the remnants of some buildings are still visible on the Ops Site and are accessible via an overgrown road and a two hour round trip hike.
The dedication of the plaque for Ferrer Point should take place in 2018.