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Wells Gray amateur radio operators a vital network in North Thompson

Radio operators provide critical communication networks
The repeater station on Avola Mountain that will also be connecting Blue River Fire Department through a second emergency repeater there; a vital part of the network of repeater stations in the North Thompson. New repeaters will soon be installed in Upper Clearwater adjacent to Wells Gray Park and in Barriere. (Photo submitted by: WGARC)

The Wells Gray Amateur Radio Club was founded in 1983 and has been a consistent source of communication in the North Thompson ever since, says club treasurer Cliff Olson.

A longtime member, Olson describes his call sign, which is a way of identifying the operator and area they are in: “My call sign is VE7EIN. VE stands for Canada, 7 is B.C. and EIN is me personally.”

In order to obtain a licence to operate an amateur or ham radio, a person has to take a course online through Radio Amateurs of Canada ( “When someone in our area is ready to take their exam after taking the course online I facilitate the test,” explains Olson.

He adds that the Wells Gray club is a registered society operating as a non-profit that provides a vital service for the North Thompson Valley. If the radio club is called for an emergency, members get together and offer communications support where needed.

“We concentrate our efforts on radio communication, specifically when it comes to emergencies, and don’t provide physical emergency service such as first aid. Our role is supportive to first responders or whenever called upon to provide additional communications in the valley.

“For example, if someone is missing in Wells Gray Park, and search and rescue calls us to assist with communications on a rescue where there is no cell service, we immediately offer our services.”

A new repeater will be installed in the “high country” adjacent to Wells Gray Park, adds Olson. “We have the new repeater that was just built for us, so this spring we will be installing everything needed to erect the shack to house the repeater station. We have the solar panels, thanks to TNRD director Usoff Tsao. When all of the snow is gone from that site we will get the shack built, solar panels installed and new batteries in to get things running.”

Tsao, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District director for Area “A”, says he wanted to add more resiliency to the communication systems in the valley, because of the issues with cell service in a lot of rural areas.

“These organizations are all volunteers. Even though this is outside our jurisdiction in Upper Clearwater, the extension of these communication improvements benefits residents in the valley, visitors and those living remotely if there is an emergency or if they are without phone service.”

The site location will not be identified publicly for safety reasons. “I can say that from the new repeater we can see Clearwater Lake, Mahood Lake and the valley that runs right up into Murtle Lake near Blue River,” says Olson. “Our signal will cover all of Upper Clearwater, Clearwater Lake, Azure Lake, and will carry over towards Canim Lake, networking with the signal from Timothy Mountain.”

According to Olson, the repeaters all link together in a strategic system with overlapping signals. The signal will also go as far as Hobson Lake if needed in an emergency, as well as covering the west end of Murtle Lake. The repeater on Avola Mountain covers the east end, and up the north arm of Murtle Lake.

“Those two repeaters will be linked together through the repeater in Blackpool. The other repeater we are going to be putting up soon will be in Barriere to assist in the event of emergencies within that part of the valley. The repeater installed there will extend communications to the East Barriere Lake area.”

Olson explains the reach of the repeater from Blackpool links right into the emergency communications coordinating office in Kamloops. It’s located near the main ambulance station, with Blackpool being the “main hub of our valley.”

A member of the Blackpool Fire Department, Olson is also helping to coordinate the new repeater system being installed in Blackpool.

“The Blackpool Fire Department is putting in a repeater next to the existing microwave in Blackpool beside the current radio club repeater,” he explains. “Another repeater will be installed on Avola Mountain next to the current repeater there. This means that Blackpool and Avola will be linked together in direct contact with Kamloops Firehall #1.

“Once this system is set up the Blue River Fire Department will be able to connect through Avola and when necessary to Kamloops during emergency situations.”

Information is carried through the chain of communication by a mobile unit in a vehicle, a portable personal unit, or a home station, allowing operators to talk directly to the Kamloops Emergency Coordination Centre via the network. Check-ins are performed regularly between Kamloops and the various repeaters by amateur radio operators and fire department volunteers in the valley, to ensure everything is kept in good working order.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Wells Gray Amateur Radio Club or have questions on courses, testing and equipment, you can visit the Wells Gray Amateur Radio Club Facebook page or the club’s website at

Olson’s home station set-up in Clearwater. Many ‘ham’ radio operators also have mobile units in their vehicles and to carry as portables. (Photo submitted by: WGARC)
Each repeater ‘shack’ or station is set up with batteries operated by a solar system and complex wiring inside protected from the elements. Stations are checked on a regular basis when members attend to perform tests to ensure everything is running at an optimal standard. (Photo submitted by: WGARC)
This is the actual repeater unit being housed inside a secured station ‘shack’ built and maintained by volunteers in the valley, which provides emergency communication networking throughout the North Thompson and Cariboo from Blue River to Kamloops and all points in between. (Photo submitted by: WGARC)

About the Author: Hettie Buck

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