AREA 9 – Ottawa’s Abandoned Cold War Spy Station

titlephoto

Area 9

Driving aimlessly along country roads you never know what you will come across, and earlier this week while looking for visiting snowy owls, we came across something that seemed worthy of investigation. A lone government sign in a farmer’s field north of Richmond, simply labeled “Area 9” with a locked gate to a long abandoned road.

An abandoned road with a locked barbed wire encrusted gate sits north of Richmond, On.

An abandoned road into Area 9 with a locked barbed wire encrusted gate sits north of Richmond, On.

An internet search of the sign that was marked “Department Of Communications – Area 9” lead to a website explaining that the Department Of Communications was established by the Department of Communications Act in 1969 and was “responsible for fostering the orderly operation and development of communications in Canada, the powers and functions of the minister extended to telecom, national communications policy, broadcasting policy, radio and radar research, and actions necessary to secure the international rights of Canada in communications.” It was also responsible for satellite communications and supporting the Canadian space industry. Departmental restructuring in 1993 eliminated the department as a government entity and absorbed into other government departments in 1993.

Likely part of some radio transmitter or receiver site, further searches for Area 9 info provided no results so a question was presented to my trusty Twitter followers to see if they knew anything about “Area 9”. Remarkably, the answer came in quickly and with interesting results. One person provided me with an aerial map from 1976 and 1993 showing the facility. A building, an “X” pattern and some equipment were clearly visible. But what was all this for?

a 1991 aerial image showing Area ( and what was there at the time.

A 1991 aerial image showing Area 9 and what was there at the time.

A 2002 aerial image shows that Area 9 has changed with farm fields taking over.

A 2002 aerial image shows that Area 9 has changed with farm fields taking over.

A second person privately messaged me with some information that provides one explanation as to what Area 9 may have been used for. Whether this information is accurate or not is hard to verify without a credible source, but here is the explanation I was given below:

“The site was part of a Cold War Project for over the horizon radio detection finding, likely used to listen to embassy communications. It consisted of a very large array of receiver antennas laid out in a NS and EW axis. The array was almost a mile long and antennae wiring fed back to a building south along the lane-way.”

A concept sketch showing how Area 9 may have looked when in operation overtop the area as it looks today.

A concept sketch showing how Area 9 may have looked when in operation overtop the area as it looks today.

A Cold War radio transmission interception facility. With all the embassies located in the Nation’s Capital it makes sense our government during the Cold War was doing their best to monitor radio activity being transmitted out of them and back to their home countries. Likely in operation from 1969 when the department was formed, until the Department Of Communications was disbanded in 1993, it represents an era of espionage that has since evolved into more advanced technologies.  Aerial photos show the facility still standing in 2002 but removed in 2008 with only the outlines of the previous buildings and antennae remaining today.

A recent aerial image of how Area 9 looks today.

A recent aerial image of how Area 9 looks today.

A ghost of Ottawa’s Cold War past, currently owned by Industry Canada, Area 9 now sits empty, receiving only the calls of visiting snowy owls.

Special thanks to Shawn Hooper, Brad Clarke, and Jim “LumberBarons”.

SOURCES

Google Maps

Bing Maps

http://maps.ottawa.ca/geoOttawa/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/department-of-communications/

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8 comments

  1. It was most likely a high frequency (aka short-wave) transmitter or receiver site, but probably NOT designed specifically for HF signals intelligence. The HF SIGINT sites Canada had/has are well-known, and generally use a very specific type of antenna that stand-out when you look at aerial images of the site, even if the antenna itself has been removed. The antenna type is known as a circularly disposed antenna array, or ‘Wullenweber’ design.

  2. My father was a research scientist with the Communications Research Center at Shirleys Bay in the 1970’s to 1990’s. He had a similar radar array at a similar location for his own research that has also since been removed. The area between Ottawa and Richmond was a hotbed of radar research activity during the cold war.

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