Mapping Canada: The RCAF's No. 408 (Photographic) Squadron

As the Second World War came to an end, the task of properly mapping Canada began. The RCAF's No. 408 Squadron played a critical role in this project.

Crew of Vickers Viking IV Flying BoatRCAF Foundation

Early Aerial Photography and Mapping

The RCAF had begun aerial photography and mapping of Canada following end of the First World War. The work was carried out with civilian organizations within the Canadian government.

1930-31 Map of CanadaRCAF Foundation

Mapping Canada

Technological constraints and the vast distances of Canada limited how much of the country could be mapped, and how accurately, before the Second World War.

Equipment near Vickers 'Viking' IV flying boatRCAF Foundation

Photography Equipment

The equipment available prior to the Second World War led to imperfect mapping of Canada.

Photograhper in a Vickers Vedette IIRCAF Foundation

To War Again

The Second World War temporarily put an end to the aerial photography of Canada by the RCAF. Priorities had changed.

408 Squadron CrewRCAF Foundation

A Squadron at War

No. 408 Squadron was formed in Yorkshire, England on June 24, 1941. It was a bomber squadron responsible for attacking targets in enemy held territory. It was disbanded at the end of the war.

The squadron was re-established as a photographic squadron on January 10, 1949.

Aerial Photograph of Estevan,SKRCAF Foundation

Aerial Photography Resumes in 1944

The RCAF resumed conducting aerial photography missions of Canada in 1944, before the end of the Second World War.

New technologies from the war helped make mapping more accurate, including new aircraft.

Shoran equipment in Lancaster No. 212RCAF Foundation

Short Range Navigation (SHORAN)

Developed during the Second World War, Short Range Navigation (SHORAN) was developed to guide bombers to reach their targets more accurately. 

This new technology allowed for the creation of better maps of Canada including its more remote northern areas.

Shoran RecorderRCAF Foundation

How SHORAN Worked

SHORAN used ground based transponders to respond to signals sent from aircraft. By measuring the round-trip time to and from one of the transponders, the distance to that ground station was determined and thus an accurate measure of distance was given.

Instructor showing a map to crewRCAF Foundation

The RCAF Maps Canada

An instructor briefs a crew on where they will be flying as they helped to map a portion of Canada using SHORAN.

Production of an Aerial PhotographRCAF Foundation

Aerial Photography and SHORAN

SHORAN helped complete the aerial survey of Canada, which provided control points to create the photo mosaics needed to produce maps.

Aerial photography led to the first accurate map of Canada.

Aerial Photo Taken Over CanadaRCAF Foundation

SHORAN and Vast Canadian Distance

The use of SHORAN made it easier and faster to map the vast distances of the Canadian north than other methods such as triangulation mapping and geodetic astronomy.

Shoran Ground StationRCAF Foundation

A SHORAN Station at Sprague Manitoba

SHORAN stations were located, preferably, in open areas so the signals from aircraft could reach them. A nearby body of water was needed to access the locations.

Lancaster FM214RCAF Foundation

A New Role for No. 408 Squadron

The squadron's new role was one of construction instead of destruction.

They conducted aerial photography and SHORAN missions over a period of many years.

Lancaster Aircraft on the GroundRCAF Foundation

RCAF Station Rockcliffe

This station was the base of No. 408 Squadron from 1949 to 1964. Rockcliffe was the centre of RCAF aerial photography and mapping after the Second World War.

Consolidated Canso at Shoran Ground StationRCAF Foundation

Summer Assignment

No. 408 Squadron was based out of Rockcliffe, near Ottawa, but in the summer they were relocated to places like Yellowknife.

Weather in the other seasons was often too dangerous for flying in Canada's north.

No.408 Squadron PersonnelRCAF Foundation

No. 408 Squadron in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

No. 408 Squadron Personnel: Flight Officer A Pulfer, Corporal Splett, Flight Officer Jim Pulfer in Yellowknife. 

Flying in the Arctic presented difficulties with compasses due to the proximity of the north magnetic pole thus making mapping all the more difficult.

Personnel Servicing Engine of a LancasterRCAF Foundation

Maintenance of the Aircraft

Maintenance of aircraft was often done in difficult conditions, including in the open. Aircraft were often worked on in the cold during the winter and among hordes of insects in the summer.

Dismantling Shoran Mast at Dore LakeRCAF Foundation

SHORAN Stations

The stations were often set up in remote locations that often required the equipment be carried from a nearby lake to positions on top of hills that were often a far distance away from the water.

The set up could take several days and crews worked under difficult conditions.

Shoran Ground Statio InstallationRCAF Foundation

SHORAN Station Installation

A ground station is installed near Reindeer Lake, Manitoba.

Shoran Ground StationRCAF Foundation

SHORAN Site Operators

George Baker, a navigator with No. 408, said about them: "they never received the credit they were due, no extra compensation, constant hordes of mosquitoes for weeks on end and many a time on short rations. Those men were the unsung heroes of the SHORAN program”.

Nose of Avro Lancaster FM217RCAF Foundation

Lancaster Mark X

The iconic Second World War bomber was the backbone of the SHORAN project. It was rugged enough to handle the difficult conditions of the Canadian north and large enough to hold all the needed equipment.

Consolidated Canso 11079 AK N, From the collection of: RCAF Foundation
Ski-equipped Noorduyn Norseman, From the collection of: RCAF Foundation
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The Canso and Norseman were the other aircraft needed to make the SHORAN project successful. Both aircraft could land and takeoff from land and water. This allowed them to bring people and supplies to the isolated stations.

Personnel with Avro "Lancaster" XRCAF Foundation

No. 408's Last Lancaster Flight

The squadron's last flight with a Lancaster took place on March 11, 1964 at Rockcliffe. The squadron left Rockcliffe shortly afterwards. Its role in the SHORAN mapping of Canada had come to an end.

Dakota and CansoRCAF Foundation

Other Roles for No. 408 Squadron in the North

No. 408 Squadron was often tasked with Search and Rescue missions, as well as locating forest fires in remote areas and reporting them.

National sovereignty and surveillance flights, directed at the Soviet Union, were also carried out by the squadron.

Credits: Story

408 Squadron RCAF: The Rockcliffe Years, 1949-1964 by Morris Gates, Clifton Kinney, Ron Cleminson, Alex Saunders, Noel Funge, Paul Nyznik, Wally Kasper, and Grant Pennington. 
Ottawa: 408 (Goose) Squadron Ottawa Group, 2014.

408 "Goose" Squadron Association

Bomber Command Museum of Canada

No. 408 (Goose) Squadron

Surveying and Mapping, Vol. XII, No.4, October-December, 1952, Washington, D.C.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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