Marconi Wireless Station, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia

Backgrounder

Guglielmo Marconi’s wireless station south of Glace Bay, Cape Breton, was a significant site of early wireless communication in Canada, and played a critical role in the development of wireless technology. The facility was an important North American transmitting station for the control of coastal and North Atlantic shipping and formed an integral link in Marconi’s worldwide communications network. For many years, Marconi Towers was the major relay point for signals between North America and Europe.

Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian physicist, was the inventor of a successful wireless telegraph, which he patented and publicly demonstrated in Britain in 1896. The possibilities for wireless telegraphy attracted worldwide; however, some scientists doubted that radio waves could travel the curvature of the earth, thus limiting practical communication. To discover whether this was possible, Marconi set up a transmitter in England and a receiver at Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland, which was almost the closest point in North America to Europe. On December 12, 1901, he successfully heard the Morse code message – the letter “s” – sent by his transmitter in England, thus demonstrating that wireless telegraphy over long distances was indeed possible.

The news of this success quickly spread, and the Canadian government offered Marconi a federal grant and free land to build his first permanent wireless station in Canada. Marconi set up a station at Table Head, near Glace Bay, Cape Breton, but a need for a larger antennae and power plant called for a larger site. In 1904, Marconi left Richard Vyvyan in charge of overseeing construction of a 24-mast antenna “in the woods” south of Glace Bay. Construction was completed in 1905 and, in 1908, it began providing regular public intercontinental service with a “sister” site in Clifden, Ireland. Now called Marconi Towers, this site grew to encompass more than 20 buildings on roughly five acres of land and was connected to the Dominion Coal Company railway. Here, Marconi further refined wireless technology.

In 1922, Marconi Towers began broadcasting under the call letters VAS, or the Voice of the Atlantic Seaboard. It could contact ships up to 1,600 kilometers offshore. The station was of great importance to the vessels and fishermen who relied on it for weather conditions. In 1946, the station closed, and the Marconi Company of Canada sold the property along with its electronic equipment.


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