The Pinetree Line: My Rhyolite, Nevada (Ghost Town of the Mojave Desert)

Ste. Sylvestre 1957

Reading this got me thinking about my own Rhyolite, Nevada…not a place somewhere in the Mojave Desert, but a place that drifted off somewhere with the cliched sands of time, regardless. Dad was with NORAD.  In peacetime, he was able to serve Canada for 30 years of his life.  When I was really young, in my mind, my Dad was keeping the entire country stitched together and safe.  Never REALLY feeling secure, we had  bomb shelters in our basements or bunkers nearby.  This was the story of families living on the Pinetree Line.  And now, our homes are ghost towns.
Some time ago, Sam of this site, gave me permission to publish his collected photos of one of my own Rhyolite locations as it appears now, abandoned and without purpose.  In some cases, portions of our home bases were re-purposed, but for the most part, for the military ‘brats’ of Canada, these are our ghost towns.  I will try to publish some photos that capture a sense of what one of these bases was like in the 1950s through the 1960s. 
It was a different thing to have shuffled from place to place while growing up.  It was a distinct culture and likely our expectations as children were different from those of our civilian friends.  Nothing really felt permanent although our mothers learned to be resourceful, adapting kitchen curtains to fit a whole number of kitchen windows, making furnishings out of apple crates and that sort of thing.  My mother, being particularly skilled, reupholstered sitting chairs from military waiting rooms…things that otherwise, were being tossed for their damaged vinyl seats.  Being on the move required a certain mindset and that was nurtured in all of us.

1957 Ste. Sylvestre

I know that we bonded closely with our friends, but for a very temporary time.  My parents had us throw candies out the open station wagon windows as we drove away with each new transfer…and through tears, we would watch our friends gather them up while trying to wave good-bye. 

My Brother Pulls Me (Sitting in Wagon) Behind His Bike: Ste. Sylvestre

Following, is my summary of the facts about a single radar base that I once called home, a place where on more than one occasion, my mother was left alone without a car or driver’s licence, to take care of a growing family while my father made extended trips to both the Mid Canada Line and the Dew Line.  This was Ste. Sylvestre, 50 miles outside of Quebec City.

Pinetree Line

History of the Military Base (1954-1964)
In the early fifties, the fear of a Russian invasion from the north prompted the federal government of Canada and the United States to build numerous radar stations.
The highest peak of the Quebec territory was Mont Sainte-Marguerite, a part of the Appalachians . This mountain was and still is commonly known as Mont-Radar because of its connection with a military history. Mount Ste-Marguerite in St-Sylvestre, Lotbinière was chosen by the military because of its 2225 foot altitude. Indeed, between 1952 and 1964, during the Cold War , a military base communications administered by the ”  Royal Canadian Air Force  ” was installed. Its existence was placed in the context of NORAD , like about thirty similar bases on the same meridian, which is a shield of observation and communication called the Pinetree Line [1].
After four years of construction and an investment of more than five million dollars, a military base six hundred square acres in size, opened its doors September 15, 1953. In January of 1955, it was named  “No. 13 Aircraft Control & Warning Squadron “(13th Squadron). The DND had constructed three control towers operating day and night in order to sustain its adequate aerial surveillance of the area. “Tower Top Secret” whose structure is still present today was built on top of Mount Radar (Mount Ste-Marguerite). The other two, the TX, constructed on top of Mount Handkerchief (2000 ft. alt.) and the RX, were tower transceivers located a kilometer away on the surrounding mountains.

Epic Building Construction and Vintage Car

The direction of the military base rested on the shoulders of the commander with the support of up to 30 officers. For each section, there was a sergeant, a corporal, airmen and civilians (approximately 90 employees) throughout the year. Activities were organized at the base to improve the social life of people: sports competitions, maple sugar days, winter festivals, air shows and that sort of thing. All of these social activities helped to improve the relationship between the neighbouring town’s people and the military. In the large gatherings, the population was near 800 people, including women and children; only 200 to 300 were soldiers.
The village consisted of a number of buildings. At the entrance of the base was the guard house where the identification of persons and objects was required at both the entrance and exit.  This is something I remember on the approach to every community where I lived, something my civilian friends would not have understood or found a little odd.  
The buildings on base included the administration offices. The hospital served the civilian and the military population and in close proximity, was a dental clinic.  I was more than once, in awe of my mother when she related the story of a day when my older brother managed to open the oven door.  He was likely five years old at the time and I was a year younger.  It was a cold oven, but no less dangerous than had it been turned on!  He prompted me to climb onto the door alongside him and over the oven came on top of the two of us.  As my mother tells it, she put us, one under each arm, bleeding from our noses, ears and mouths and headed on foot, to the hospital!  God love her!

Military Hospital: Mont-Radar

A church was divided into two (Catholic and Protestant chapels) to meet the needs of the ethnic communities. Two schools were also built.  They welcomed 140 to 150 students from kindergarten to ninth grade. The Rec Center offered the services of a post office and housed the hairdresser (barber), gift shop, snack bar, grocery store, theater, library, gym, heated swimming pool and bowling alley. What a dream! The fire station, with its rigorous daily inspections, reported no major fires in a decade. A garage ensured the maintenance of military machinery. There was also a filtration plant, a heating chamber, a warehouse and kitchen building. In the latter there were two very busy bars, typically called clubs, offering beer for 10 cents!  To accommodate all these people, there were about seventy-five houses and shacks. Thirty mobile homes and a dozen trailers were added in the early seventies. The decision to cut back began March 12, 1964. The fact was that advances in telecommunications were making ​​redundant the expenses of maintaining such military bases. Soldiers and civilians were gradually transferred to other military bases, including those of St-Hubert, Mount Apica (Laurentides), Valcartier and Moses (Sept-Îles).

Summer Ste. Sylvestre

From 1996 to 2010, two entrepreneurs tried to develop an ecovillage, despite financial difficulties that were exposed in 2010 by a report on Radio-Canada [2] . In 2010 a new developer purchased the domain.
My parents have traveled back to the location of the radar base, finding some worn paths and little more than a ghost town.  I have made the same journey back to other homes, to find a similar story.  I will include some photos here.

The Hospital

It is possible to see a list of abandoned and partially abandoned sites here.  Thanks to Bruce Forsyth for his research.

Ste. Sylvestre Mont-Radar Courtesy of Borderline Black


Going and Coming: Norman Rockwell