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Historic Sites of Manitoba: HMCS Churchill / CFS Churchill / Churchill Naval Base (Churchill)

A T-shaped, metal-clad, two-storey building, about two miles southeast of Churchill, is all that remains of a former research and signals intelligence station established in late 1950 by the Royal Canadian Navy. As with many military facilities, its specific purpose and activities were not fully disclosed to the public. In general, the station monitored military communications in Canada’s northern region, particularly the interception of Soviet radio signals during the Cold War, and conducted research on the ionosphere including measurements of the intensity and duration of the aurora borealis. Named HMCS (His Majesty’s Canadian Station) Churchill, the facility housed about 100 naval personnel and their families, including Churchill’s only dentist, a naval officer attached to the base. It consisted of 6½ acres of land containing a field of radio antennas and three primary buildings including a high-security area, offices, barracks, and eating and recreational space. The buildings were elevated on piles to avoid shifting permafrost that underlay the site, an innovation that was widely copied elsewhere. The facility had its own sewer and water systems and, although it received electricity from nearby Fort Churchill, it also had a diesel-powered power supply as a backup.

Operation of the monitoring facility continued to June 1965 when most personnel were moved to Ottawa or Inuvik. In July 1966, the complex was renamed CFS (Canadian Forces Station) Churchill and closed fully in June 1968. A closing ceremony was held on 4 June 1968. Control transferred from the Navy to Public Works Canada. In 1971, MLA Gordon Beard and Churchill port commissioner John Kristiansen toured the vacant buildings and, hoping to preempt their sale to two Alberta developers, they proposed the complex as a site for a new Canadian university, to be based at Churchill. They conferred with Premier Ed Schreyer, who asked federal Supply Minister James Richardson to delay the sale pending provincial discussion of what role it would play in establishing a university in northern Manitoba. Nothing came of those plans but, later that year, the provincial government purchased the site from the federal Crown Assets Corporation for $20,000. In 1972, renewed plans called for the facility to become a “job training, higher educational, and research centre.” Other proposals were for it to become a “consumers’ co-op store, a fish and fur buying co-op, a trucking, bus and taxi service, a wholesale supply centre for northern co-ops which would include purchasing of boats and the handling of their own deliveries, a handicraft production and sales industry, a nursing home for old people, and a hotel bar and catering service.”

Ultimately, the building was never reopened and, as of 2016, it stands vacant, with many broken windows that leave it open to the elements. A prominent water tower that once stood behind the building is now gone.

Churchill Naval Base

HMCS Churchill at the height of its operations (no date)
Source: Churchill, North of 58° … Through the Years by Churchill Ladies Club, 2002, page 96.

Churchill Naval Base

The former HMCS Churchill (no date)
Source: David Smith (via Jerry Proc)

Churchill Naval Base

The former HMCS Churchill (June 2016)
Source: Heidi den Haan

Churchill Naval Base

Entrance to the former HMCS Churchill (June 2016)
Source: Heidi den Haan

Churchill Naval Base

The former HMCS Churchill showing its innovative pile construction (June 2016)
Source: Heidi den Haan

Churchill Naval Base

Interior of the former HMCS Churchill (July 2011)
Source: Theresa Crann

Churchill Naval Base

Interior of the former HMCS Churchill (July 2011)
Source: Theresa Crann

Churchill Naval Base

The messes inside the former HMCS Churchill, with sliding panels that could be used to separate officers from other personnel (no date)
Source: David Smith (via Jerry Proc)

Churchill Naval Base

The power generator inside the former HMCS Churchill (no date)
Source: David Smith (via Jerry Proc)

Site Location (lat/long): N58.74762, W94.12045
denoted by symbol on the map above

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Fort Churchill (Churchill)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Abandoned Manitoba

Sources:

“East interests crippling bay route – Knight,” Winnipeg Free Press, 28 April 1950, page 8.

“Churchill: There’s more to it than a port,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 January 1965, page 17.

“Churchill to lose navy,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 September 1966, page 7.

“Base eyed as U site,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 April 1971, page 2.

Manitoba to acquire Churchill naval base,” Manitoba Government News Service, 29 May 1971.

“Manitoba to acquire Churchill naval base,” Gladstone Age Press, 2 June 1971, page 3.

“Naval base feasibility study asked,” Winnipeg Free Press, 2 December 1971, page 80.

“Talks held on base,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 July 1972, page 57.

Churchill, North of 58° … Through the Years by Churchill Ladies Club, 2002.

HMCS Churchill, Radio Communications and Signals Intelligence in the Royal Canadian Navy by Jerry Proc.

We thank Heidi den Haan, Theresa Crann, and Jerry Proc for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 31 December 2016

Historic Sites of Manitoba

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