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Sydney radar base was part of system to detect Soviet bombers during Cold War

By Gordon Sampson
Originally Published on August 10, 2015, Cape Breton Post

sydney radar base

As you look out at Sydney harbour from North Sydney, there are so many historical events that come to mind, and objects still exist to prove it.

Besides the eight military establishments around both sides of the harbour, there are other visible sites that need mention. There's the lookout off at Point Edward that has fallen onto the shoreline — it was used for strong searchlights moving left and right over the waters to detect submarine periscopes during the war. That's why it has a semi-circular opening in it.

But what is that structure with the dome on top of it on the skyline just outside Whitney Pier?

As a matter of fact, if you are old enough to remember, there were two domed structures across the harbour. Well, they were part of the Dew Line.

Just what is the Dew Line? And, how did it involve Cape Breton?

The Distant Early Warning Line, also known as the Dew Line or Early Warning Line was a system of radar stations in Canada's high Arctic with additional stations along the north coast, the islands of Alaska, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland. It eventully extended its stations along the Atlantic Coast and Newfoundland.

If I'm right, there were three major lines, each with a great many stations along them. These stations were set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War. It provided early warning of any sea-and-land invasion.

The DEW Line was operated from 1957 up to the late 1980s. It was the most ambitious project ever undertaken in the Canadian Arctic. As Canada didn't have sufficient finances to support such a tremendous effort, the U.S.A. financed most of it at that time.

However, Canada was always concerned about Arctic sovereignty, although at that time safety was the major concern.

Special buildings were constructed, then radar and communications equipment were installed.

A lot of civilian experts were involved, but by 15 April 1957, the system was handed over to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the U.S. Air Force.

In 1958, the Dew Line became the cornerstone of the new Norad organization.

In 1985, it was decided that the more capable of the Dew Line stations were to be upgraded; this was completed in 1990.

Canadian concerns over Arctic control grew, and Canada fearing American control, shifted the the responsibility of Arctic defence in Canada from the RCMP to the Canadian Forces.

With the end of the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the U.S.A. withdrew all of its personnel and gave full operation of the Canadian stations to Canada. This gave Canada a degree of physical presence and control in the Arctic.

Many stations and sites were deactivated, and Sydney's “radar base” as the locals called it, under the control of the Royal Canadian Air Force was closed down.

One structured dome was demolished, while the main one is still standing. Today, there are businesses on that property.

And there you have it. The structured dome we see across the harbour was a significant military establishment in its day.

To view the original article published by Cape Breton Post, click here.