Bruce County Memories: Troops Prevent Attack On Tobermory Wireless Station

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Photo: Tobermory wireless station (Arthur Amos archives).
Submitted by Robin Hilborn, Bruce County Historical Society

At the start of the Great War, and convinced that Germany could attack Tobermory at any time, the government called in the troops. Their goal was to prevent enemy agents from sabotaging the radio equipment at the wireless telegraph station.

The Tobermory wireless station was built in 1912 at North Point, known locally as Wireless Point. It was one in a chain of eight on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes. The others were at Kingston, Toronto Islands, Port Burwell, Point Edward, Midland, Sault Ste. Marie and Port Arthur. The stations broadcast weather and navigation reports in Morse Code to ships on the Great Lakes.

In 1914 15 soldiers of the 32nd Bruce Regiment (before 1900, the 32nd Bruce Battalion of Infantry, founded in 1866) were posted to Tobermory. They camped at North Point, known locally as Wireless Point, beside the Tobermory station. The men were experienced soldiers, but were soon replaced with untrained recruits and local men, possibly when the Army realized that the threat of German invasion was not as great as imagined. 

Photo: On guard at the wireless station (16143/Archives of Ontario).

The station had two buildings: a smaller one housed the radio-telegraph equipment; the larger provided living quarters for the wireless operators and their families. There were two 185-foot radio masts, a well-known landmark for passing sailors. 

The transmitter put out 5.5 kilowatts of power and could transmit 350 nautical miles, at a wavelength of 600 metres, easily linking to its neighbours in the network.

Station operators used Morse code to communicate with ships on the Great Lakes, or at least those suitably equipped with Marconi apparatus. To send their weather and navigation messages, operators had to achieve at least 20 words a minute in Morse Code.

The Tobermory wireless station was closed in 1939, when messaging by dots and dashes was replaced by voice over marine VHF radio. The two masts were taken down in 1941.

However the buildings gained a second life after the war, transformed into Trails End Lodge. 

Arthur Amos bought the property in 1972 and his children, Sharon and Scott Amos, inherited it in 2020. The Amos family has maintained the station buildings in near pristine condition, so that Trails End Lodge is one of the last intact radio-telegraph stations of the early 20th century on the Great Lakes. 

You can visit the former wireless station by joining the annual Bus Tour of the Bruce County Historical Society. The tour on June 5, 2024 will also include the St. Edmunds Museum and the National Park visitor centre. Register by May 24, 2024, at bchsregister@gmail.com. The cost of $100 per BCHS member and $110 for non-members includes a picnic lunch.

Arthur Amos conducted much historical research on the station. With permission of his family, his material was used by Scarlett Janusas in her 2021 book, The Story of the Tobermory Wireless Station (available at the Bruce County Museum’s gift shop). 

Based in Tobermory, Janusas is an archaeologist who has conducted many underwater projects and cultural heritage assessments. She first stayed at the lodge in 1979, during her Scuba diving checkout, and met Arthur Amos. 

In her book she dispels one rumour, that the Tobermory station received one of the first distress calls from the Titanic. It didn’t happen, because the ship sank April 14, 1912 and the station opened on July 26, 1912. 

Scarlett Janusas is one of three featured authors at Authors Night, on August 12, 2024 in the Bruce County Museum Theatre. Also speaking will be Dr. John Carter, on editing the Rebellion issue of “Ontario History” magazine, and David Pyper, on his book The History of Sauble Beach.