Military Wiki
CFS Alert
Signals Intelligence Base/Weather Station
Environment Canada air chemistry observatory.
Motto: Inuit Nunangata Ungata
(Beyond the Inuit Land)
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Coordinates: 82°30′N 62°19′W / 82.5°N 62.317°W / 82.5; -62.317Coordinates: 82°30′N 62°19′W / 82.5°N 62.317°W / 82.5; -62.317
Country Canada
Territory Nunavut
Region Qikiqtaaluk
Elevation[1] 30 m (100 ft)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)

Canadian Forces Station Alert, also CFS Alert, is a Canadian Forces signals intelligence intercept facility located in Alert, Nunavut on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island.

Located in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada, it is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.[2] It takes its name from HMS Alert, which wintered 10 km (6.2 mi) east of the present station off what is now Cape Sheridan, Nunavut in 1875-1876.[3]


  • Inuit Nunangata Ungata (Inuktitut, "Beyond the Inuit land")[4]


  • The main feature of the Alert crest is the head of a muskox, a suitably northern animal. Behind the muskox is a background of black and yellow, signifying the periods of total darkness and total sunlight experienced at Alert. Below are two peaks denoting the two mountains to the south, Crystal Mountain and Mount Pullen, between which the sun rises in March. Behind them are the white peaks of the Western Mountains. Below the peaks, a blue band between two white wavy lines signifies the Lincoln Sea and the water and ice pack surrounding Ellesmere Island. The crest is encircled by a wreath of gold maple leaves and with the royal crown of Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign of Canada, on top. On a banner below the crest is the motto "Inuit Nunangata Ungata"

Weather Station

Alert (then part of the Northwest Territories) was first inhabited by employees of the Canadian Department of Transport and the United States Weather Bureau in 1950 when the Joint Arctic Weather Station (JAWS) was established. An airfield and small building were built to service various weather monitoring equipment.

This weather station remains in operation to this day, however operations were subsequently handed over to employees of the Canadian Department of the Environment via the Meteorological Service of Canada.

In April 1971 a party of federal and NWT government officials were in Alert trying to reach the North Pole. The Alert Station had been the embarkation points for many North Pole expeditions that relied on weather information supplied by JAWS. The 1971 expedition was led by NWT Commissioner Stuart Hodgson and included in his party were representatives of the Prime Minister's office, the Canadian Armed Forces, the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development as well as a large media group including Pat Carney of Gemini Productions, Ed Ogle of Time Magazine, Val Wake of CBC News and a Californian television crew. While waiting in Alert for a weather window to fly into the Pole the party's television crew spent a lot of time filming at the weather station. The military was not too happy about the film crew working on the station but the JAWS site was seen as being a sort of no-man's land. The Commissioner's party made two attempts to reach the Pole and failed. Some of the incidents surrounding this event are recounted in Val Wake's memoir My Voyage around Spray with Apologies to Captain Joshua Slocum.[citation needed]

Alert Wireless Station

The Canadian military was interested in the establishment of JAWS at Alert for several reasons. The JAWS facility extended Canadian sovereignty over a large uninhabited area which Canada claimed as its sovereign territory.

During the Cold War, Alert was strategically important because of its proximity to the Soviet Union; Alert was the closest point in North America to the northwestern area of the Soviet Union. In fact, Alert is closer to Moscow (c. 2,500 mi.) than it is to Ottawa (c. 2,580 mi.). Thus, the possibility of utilizing the site for the purpose of intercepting radio signals was deemed to warrant a military presence.

In 1956, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), which was expanding its presence throughout the high Arctic with the construction of the Distant Early Warning Line radar network, established a building uphill from the DOT's JAWS station to house "High Arctic Long Range Communications Research", or signals intelligence operations.

In 1957, the Alert Wireless Station was conceived as an intercept facility to be jointly staffed by personnel from the Royal Canadian Navy and the RCAF. Five additional buildings were constructed: a mess, 3 barracks/accommodations buildings, and a power house and vehicle maintenance building, in addition to the existing operations building, built in 1956. The operations building housed the radio intercept and cryptographic equipment. Up to 24 men would be posted to Alert at any one time. Alert was considered (and remains to this day) a hardship assignment, with no spouses being permitted. Until 1980 only men were permitted to deploy to Alert.

The February 1, 1968 unification of the RCN, RCAF and Canadian Army to form the Canadian Forces saw the Alert Wireless Station change its name to Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS Alert). Its personnel were no longer drawn from only the air force or navy, but primarily from the Canadian Forces Communications Command.

At its peak, CFS Alert had upwards of 215 personnel posted at any one time. The station became a key asset in the global ECHELON network of the US-UK-ANZAC intelligence sharing alliance, with Alert being privy to many secret Soviet communications regarding land-based and sea-based ICBM test launches and many operational military deployments.

Budget cuts to the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces in 1994, and modernization of communications equipment, saw CFS Alert downsized to approximately 74 personnel by 1997-1998 when most radio-intercept operations were remotely controlled by personnel at CFS Leitrim. Remaining personnel are responsible for airfield operations, construction/engineering, food service, and logistical/administrative support. Only six personnel are now responsible for actual operations and control of the facility was passed to DND's Information Management Group following the disbanding of CF Communications Command with force restructuring and cutbacks in the mid-1990s. Several of these personnel are likely also attached to DND's Communications Security Establishment.

With Canada's commitment to the global war on terrorism following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, CFS Alert has received renewed and increased funding to expand its SIGINT capabilities. However, as of April 13, 2006 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was reporting that the heating costs for the station had risen, in consequence of which the military were proposing to cut back on support trade positions by using private contractors.[5]

Air Command officially took responsibility for CFS Alert from Canadian Forces Information Operations Group (CFIOG) 1 April 2009. "The numbers of personnel in Alert continues to dwindle and most of the support staff will eventually be contracted. In order to ensure that the artifacts in Alert that are deemed "museum pieces" are handled appropriately, a team of two will be flown to Alert to accession the surviving artifacts." [6]

Aircraft crashes

The military has constructed several roads in the area to permit patrolling, as well as for logistics purposes from shore locations near anchorages east of the station, as well as to the airfield. Since Alert has not been accessible by icebreakers due to the very heavy ice conditions in the Lincoln Sea, resupply is provided by the Royal Canadian Air Force transport aircraft which land at the adjacent airfield.

Alert gets no sunshine from October 14 to March 1 every year, and doesn't get light at all for much of that time. Its weather conditions and isolation provide a significant challenge to pilots. This has led to some well-known crashes:

  • In summer of 1950 an RCAF Lancaster crashed during the establishment of the JAWS weather station when the parachute for resupplies being airdropped became entangled on the tail of the aircraft. All 9 crew members were killed and are buried west of the airstrip.
  • A subsequent flight (aircraft type unknown by this author) in 1950 to retrieve the remains of the Lancaster crew crashlanded on the runway in a dense fog. All members of this flight crew survived the crash. It was decided to create the burial mound at the end of the runway on the west side.
  • A C-130 Hercules, part of Operation Boxtop, crashed about 30 km (19 mi) from the airfield on October 30, 1991, killing 5 of the 18 passengers and crew. The pilot was conducting a visual approach and descended into a hill top. Subsequent rescue efforts by personnel from CFS Alert, USAF personnel from Thule Air Base 700 km south, and CF 435 & 440 Transport and Rescue Squadron, Edmonton and 424 Squadron in Trenton, Ontario, 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron, Greenwood, Nova Scotia were hampered by a blizzard and local terrain. The crash investigation recommended all C-130s be retrofitted with ground proximity detectors. The crash and rescue efforts were the basis of a film called Ordeal In The Arctic (1993).


Alert has a polar climate. This means it is cold most of the year and, on average, has snow cover for 10 months of the year. The warmest month, July, has an average temperature of just 3.3 °C (37.9 °F). The climate type also means that Alert is very dry, averaging only 153.8 mm (6.06 in) of precipitation per year. Most of the precipitation is snow and occurs during the months of July, August and September. On average there is 16.1 mm (0.63 in) of rain which occurs between June and September. Alert sees very little snowfall during the rest of the year. September is usually the month with the heaviest snowfall. February is the coldest month of the year. Snowfall can occur during any month of the year.[7] Alert experiences polar night from the middle of October, with twilight lasting until the end of the month, until the end of February, with twilight starting about the middle of the month. From the first week of April until the first week of September Alert sees the midnight sun.[8]


In early April 2006 the Roly McLenahan Torch that was used to light the flame at Whitehorse, Yukon for the Canada Winter Games passed through Alert.[9] While the Canada Games torch was supposed to pass over the North Pole, bad weather prevented a Canadian military Twin Otter from making the trip. The torch did not travel outside Alert that weekend (April 9–12).

On November 8, 2009, the 2010 Winter Olympics Torch Relay arrived at Alert via airplane from Thompson, Manitoba, reaching its most northerly point on land.[10] The next day it travelled to Iqaluit.

See also


Information about the 1971 Canadian North Pole expedition supplied by Val Wake.

External links

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