Background

The Canadian military has operated in the North since the days of the volunteer Yukon Field Force, established in 1898. The Force helped the Northwest Mounted Police maintain law and order during the Gold Rush.  After the departure of the Yukon Field Force, no soldiers appeared in the North until 1923, when communicators of The Royal Canadian Corps of Signals opened the first stations of the Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System. The radio system remained operational throughout World War II, in response to commercial and industrial development in the Yukon and the Mackenzie Valley.

In the 1930s, the Royal Canadian Air Force began photo mapping the North particularly the Churchill area in order to support plans to open an ocean shipping port. Aerial surveillance was expanded considerably in the 1940s as the Cold War started. Throughout the 1930s the Royal Canadian Air Force undertook sporadic civil air operations into the north reaching the top of the continent, but never venturing out over the Arctic Archipelago.

It was not until the 1950s after four decades of existence did the Royal Canadian Navy recognize Canada’s North. It was at this time Canada built an arctic patrol vessel for the Royal Canadian Navy (commissioned HMCS Labrador) which would later become the first warship ever to transit the Northwest Passage. In 1954, the HMCS Labrador (pennant number AW 50) under the auspices of the Royal Canadian Navy was transferred to the Canadian Coast Guard marking the beginning of the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaker operations.

As military interest peaked in the 1950s Canadians saw the construction of the Distant Early Warning joint Canada-United States project. This peak rapidly diminished and in 1970, the Canadian Armed Forces had been given the primary mission of exercising sovereignty, with particular interest on the North. By 1975, the Canadian Armed Forces had established itself permanently in the North with the formation of a headquarters in Yellowknife, N.W.T known as Canadian Forces Northern Area.

Today, military responsibility for the North falls under Canadian Joint Operations Command. The Command oversees six sub-commands including Joint Task Force (North).

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