Weather Stations in the Canadian North and Sovereignty

Gordon W. Smith


A network of weather stations was established in the Canadian North during World War II, mainly by the United States, to supplement the thin scattering of Canadian stations that were already there. These weather stations were for the most part set up not specifically as projects in their own right, but rather as supportive elements in connection with the large enterprises in both the Northeast and Northwest which held the spotlight at that time. Thus, in the Northeast the weather stations were established mainly as adjuncts to the air routes designed to facilitate the delivery of planes to the European theatre of war. In the Northwest, they were similarly designed to help in the flying of planes to the U.S.S.R. and they were also considered to be essential supplements to the huge projects which were being carried to completion in that area. During the later stages of the war, and following it, the United States embarked on a massive withdrawal from these northern projects, and almost complete American abandonment of the weather stations took place as part of this general withdrawal. After only a short interval, however, the Cold War was looming on the horizon; and the United States, and to a lesser extent Canada, began to fret once again about the safety and security of their northern regions. Partly because of this growing sense of danger, but also for economic, scientific, and technical reasons not directly related to the Cold War, there was a revival and expansion of activity in the North. As had been the case during the war, the United States was the chief instigator and principal participant in most of this activity. A major feature of it was the further development of the existing system of meteorological services, which involved both the reactivation of abandoned stations and the establishment of new ones, as well as extension to regions not previously covered. By far the most sensitive new region, in relation to both the Cold War and Canadian-American relations, was the remote, most northerly part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.