From Small Beginnings

A Brief History of the Guelph,
Kitchener-Waterloo and the
South Waterloo Amateur Radio Clubs.

Produced by the Kitchener-Waterloo Amateur Radio Club.

W.H. "Bill" Barrie
125 Bridge Street
Almonte, Ontario

First Licenced 1932

First president of the
Progressive Radio Club
in Galt, Ontario
around 1933 or 1934


Radio in the mid twenties had its enthusiasts just like we are having computer 'NUTS' in the eighties. I grew up in a big stone farm house west of Galt (now Cambridge). At night we could see the lights of the big city of Kitchener and nearer to us, the lights of the town of Preston. The glow in the sky from the lights of Brantford and Guelph were often visible too.

A broadcast receiver in the house introduced me to the marvels of radio and soon the magic of radio communication caught me in its grip and has never let go. The first peanut tube radio in the house soon led to big aerials; Baldwin speakers; crystal detectors for experimenting and finally in 1931 to the "Model T" spark coil. The latter was leading me towards a transmitter. Magazines like Radio News and friends like Bill Scott all contributed to getting me into radio deeper and deeper all the time.

Before Hydro had reached our farm, my father had a Delco 32 Volt DC system. This was great for the farm but for radio it was a mixed blessing. The voltage was too high for our filaments and much too low for our anodes. Stalemate?? So you talk to anybody having anything to do with radio starting out with the radio stores. For me that meant Alex Rouse VE3FM and free 201As from his junk box. These tubes had thoriated filaments which could have their filaments restored by being run briefly at high voltage. I can't remember how I solved my voltage problems at that time but it was done somehow.

A radio magazine called Short Wave News described how to make a one tube regenerative receiver and then you could hear the whole world. I built this receiver and it gave me great results. I was getting along fine now but still had no licence for transmitting. Galt had its old timers like Con Gorth VE3UM, Mait Wilson VE3LS and others who were very patient with young squirts and very helpful with encouragement for would-be hams. Now with their help I soon had my theory and my code speed up to licence requirements.

In those days the Radio Inspectors like doctors made house calls. Imagine that happening in 1983! One day Mr. A.R. Clinchy from the Kitchener DOT office drove in and gave me my test. To me, a youngster, he was a frightening sort of person and was I ever nervous. However he soon put me at my ease and turned out to be a real gentleman. I passed the examination and duly received my certificate of proficiency in amateur radio theory and code with the call sign VE3AAS which has stayed with me to this very day.

Around this time, I remember call signs being issued to other local amateurs. VE3ZS Bill Scott; VE3AAI Jim Sweet; VE3ABZ Blackie Taylor. Licence a group of radio hams and next thing you know they've formed a ham club. This is what happened in Galt sometime around late 1933 or early 1934 and so the Progressive Radio Club came into being. It was started in Galt but immediately hams from Guelph and Kitchener were included.

Credit must be given to Galt for forming the very first amateur radio club in the area. According to some records the club was known as the Radio Club of Galt until it was given the name Progressive by Blackie Taylor around 1935.

The meetings at first varied from the first one in the home of Jim Sweet to visiting the homes of various local hams. Meetings were very informal at first which accounts for the fact that it is still very difficult to obtain dates for events that occurred in the thirties. What a thrill it was to a young man like myself to see other hamshacks! The old timers had lovely commercial receivers; beam antennas and their transmitters had huge finals with plug-in coils to change bands. Note: They were not Old Timers then but young men not so much older than myself.

My station VE3AAS became high powered too, thanks to a special vibrator (10 watts) transformer designed by Hammond's to step up 32 V DC to 400 volts with a BH rectifier. 160 meter operation meant trees spaced 266 feet apart for my antenna. An obliging and far-sighted grandfather, 50 years earlier had put them up exactly where needed.

The friendships of the 1930s have carried on through the years right up until the present time. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939 all amateur radio licences were revoked for the duration. The war saw many of us in the armed services, mostly in the RCAF as radar and radio technicians. Ralph Bartlett, Gord McPhail, Blackie Taylor, Bert Chapman, Puss Valeriote, Jim Sweet and others along with myself, found us thousands of miles from home and having eyeball QSOs in the most outlandish places.

Our amateur radio training stood us in good stead during the war. For myself, when I was posted overseas in May 1941, I was sent to No. 1 Radar School at the RAF college Cranwell, Lincolnshire and after a short period of training in the mysteries of RDF as it was then called, I was made an instructor.

I found most of the instructors were ex radio amateurs which just went to show what it meant to be a radio amateur. One of the other instructors who became my friend was Marshall Killen from Aylmer Ontario. He had been well known as CT2AA before the war and had come to Canada with his family from the Azores to join the RCAF.

Because of my early ham experiences, I have found myself drawn into many aspects of communication electronics. Going back to the old days when I played the violin into a carbon mike which loop-modulated a 201A crystal oscillator on 160 meters, I was heard clearly two miles away by Bill Scott VE3ZS. That little stunt in 1934 was as much fun as now in 1983 when I talk over the Telesat ANIK "A" satellite to Fred Hammond VE3HC in Guelph forty years later.

The initiative to have a club in the area during the early thirties - you will remember them as the years of the deep depression when money was as scarce as hens teeth - came from would-be hams studying for their ticket and needing radio parts, advice and encouragement. Already there was a small handful of hams on the air in Galt, Preston, Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph. With a one-tube regenerative receiver you could hear stations in any of these locations from where I lived.

Fred Hammond VE3HC was most prominent along with a couple of other Guelph stations VE3SM Fred Holm and VE3PZ Howard Matthews. Fred Holm, now a Silent Key, became to be known as Mr. Field Day because of his work in this area of ham radio. Up until 1934 there were only 2-letter call signs.

With some names missing from my memory, I can still recall Newt Good VE3CY, Norm Friedmann VE3HM, Earl Stickney VE3QW, George Gross VE3?, Ted Voege VE3? and Bert Chapman VE3?. In Guelph as well as VE3HC, VE3SM and VE3PZ there were Gord McPhail VE3IH, Ralph Bartlett VE3AO (now VE3BJX), and Puss Valeriote VE3? (now VE3DSC). In Galt there was Bill Scott VE3ZS and well as the ones already mentioned.

In 1934 due to the increase in the number of radio amateurs, DOT introduced 3-letter callsigns. This gave Jim Sweet VE3AAI, myself VE3AAS, Blackie Taylor VE3ABZ and John Bolt VE3AIF.

All of the above amateurs were directly or indirectly connected with the Progressive Radio Club. The activities of this club consisted of a get-together in the YMCA's of Guelph, Kitchener and Galt in turn. Programs consisted of ragchews, short talks, sandwiches (onion??) and visits to hamshacks and radio stations.

Once we had a very interesting talk by Len Hammond on transformer design and construction; a demonstration of 5-meter antennas by Fred Holm VE3SM and a visit to CKCR. The group operated very informally and apart from some attendance records I don't think any minutes were kept. As to when it started, and when it was dissolved I am very hazy. It was however in operation early in 1934 and possibly late in 1933. At that time there were no Field Days but we had the occasional picnic and of course there were the hamfests at Detroit, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, etc. Car loads were arranged to take us to them much the same way as we do today getting to the Dayton Convention.

The members of the Progressive Club kept mostly to 160 metres at first but eventually we got going on 80 and then on 20 when the whole world was then open to us. The aristocrats amongst us used 40 CW. Telephone type carbon buttons were used as mikes for loop modulation. Antennas in the group tended to be end-fed Zeppelins with the odd beam showing up towards the end of 1938. The only co-ax we had was copper tubing and that was very expensive.

We constructed most of our equipment ourselves but then we did not have the sophistication we have now-a-days. While we did not have to contend with pileups and the QRM of today, many of our signals left much to be desired. T6 instead of T9 notes on CW and over-modulation from the amplitude-modulated transmitters were taken as granted. It is nice to look back on what is called THE GOOD OLD DAYS but nice to be able to say YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY HAM. Now we take it for granted when we read about QSOs via Satellites; Moon-bounce QSOs, RTTY, Slow-scan TV and so on.

Bill Barrie VE3AAS
Almonte, Ontario
6th February 1983

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