November 01, 2012

Visit to RCAF Station Senneterre / CFS Senneterre

Mid-morning on October 20th 2012 myself and CE rolled up to the top of one of the peaks at Mont Bell, following Montee de la Tour, where the operations site of CFS Senneterre once scanned the horizon for Soviet bombers.  The site has been re-purposed by telcos and other companies that need the high ground for antenna equipment, and most of the buildings have fallen into disrepair.  The station was operational from 1953-1988, and the majority of the domestic site at the bottom of the hill is still very much in use today by the local population, the PMQs are in a very good stare of repair, and most sport new vinyl siding and new roofs.  The larger buildings (hospitals, schools, etc) are still intact, though it is unclear what some are being used for.  There seems to be a department of transportation and other provincial government usage of the buildings.  Following Chemin de Penetration we found one of the TX or RX buildings that I'm becoming familiar with, as the exact same design was at Foymount and Parent.  Surprisingly, it has been re-purposed by the local gun club as an indoor firing range - after all, it's a concrete building!  They have put a new roof on it, and walled up the windows.  In hindsight there was a 2nd building down Chemin de la Normick, which also looks to be a comms building, but we didn't head over there.  Down Rue Arthur Facteau there were garages and maintenance-looking buildings, that looked like they were occupied as well.  Unfortunately, it was foggy and raining, otherwise the view from the top would have been fantastic!  For other would-be explorers; there were no obstacles that a car couldn't drive over; no offroading needed to get to the top and tour around, it is paved all the way to the top!

Road to Senneterre GATR Site
After visiting the operations site and taking a spin through the rest of the station, we tried to get to the Ground to Air Transmit Receive site (GATR for short!), but had to turn around after a few Km walking through the wet grass and weeds because the road became too wet and muddy, we didn't even get to the mountain itself (but we could see it!)

Lessons Learned:
  • Do not drink to excess the night before exploring a Canadian Forces Station. *groan*
  • Bring offline satellite imagery on an iPad, Playbook, whatever to get a bird's eye view.
  • Bring Air Photos from the period when the station was active to get a better idea of where things are.
  • Do not expect cell coverage; while there may be, it may not be Rogers (my cell provider)
    (Telebec serves the Senneterre area, FYI)
  • Bring tall rubber boots
Upon returning from Senneterre I went back to digging through the archives of, which I've mentioned before has become defunct since the original webmaster passed away.  Luckily, through some new found friends, I have a copy of the site - which is available via the Way Back Machine or other services, but extremely difficult to trawl through. (THANKS GUYS!)

Here are some pictures, with some of their original captions, and some of my own comments.

Below is the Senneterre GATR site, we did not make it up there, but I'm fairly certain there is little left of the original radio towers and am not sure if there is even a building up there anymore   Local reports say there isn't anything, I'm hoping to find something hidden in the bushes!
GATR Site - 12 miles away from station, 1963
Courtesy CFS Senneterre 25th Anniversary Album. 

Notice the poles and antennas in the below picture?  I believe that's the RX site, which CE and I didn't see
PMC accident by the Receiver site, December 6th, 1960
LAC Mike Bitten runs into LAC David Dunbar on the way to the Receiver site
Courtesy Mike Bitten

I wish I'd seen this map beforehand as it would have proved most useful.  Thankfully I'll have it for the next trip.
Composition of Roadways (drawing of roads and buildings), June 1st 1953
Courtesy National Archives of Canada

To the best of my understanding, this is the original configuration of the station.
Notice the large operations site in the middle, and two flanking buildings with Radomes.
This was 1956.
The radar towers and the radomes at the operations site, April 1956
Courtesy Bunny Gammon

You'll notice a new building has been added with a walkway between the buildings.  The rightmost radar is likely the same FPS-6 that is now on display in Senneterre as a monument to those who served.
This was 1959.

Combined Mess with Operations site on the hill
Note that the new FPS-6 Height finder does not yet have a radome, June 1959
Courtesy Sherman Esliger

You'll see that the height finder radar on the right has been covered by a radome, and the other radomes and their radars have been removed.
This was 1960
Operations site, April 1960
Courtesy Jeannine Lizotte

This was 1965
Barracks in Domestic site, March 1965
Courtesy Phil Frankland.

There seems to have been an annex added between the operations building and the next one over.  I'm unsure of it's purpose.
This was 1979
The Combined Mess (foreground) with the Operations site perched on the hill, December 9th 1979
Courtesy Jim Compton

This was what the inside of the operations room in the central building looked like
Interior photo of the Operations room, November 1958
Upper level (L-R) Sammy Fehr (later married Sid Bennett), Pat Bourke (Ops B), F/L Bourassa (Senior Director).
Middle level - Jim Cabell (Forward Teller).
Lower Dias - Bill Stewart (Ident), Doug Joy, Cpl Betty Doucette (later married Ray Zuback), Cpl Gil Pettigrew.
Courtesy Fred Hoskins via Bill Stewart

Unfortunately, the operations building burned ~1990, and only the foundation remains
Remains of Operations building, 1991 Courtesy Paul Ozorak

RCAF Station Senneterre / CFS Senneterre

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1 comment:

  1. my father was base photo sennetterre 1955 to 1961 we lived in pmq 20 and dad died 2003 these photos bring back memories