A cold war mechanism! The DEW Line was a largely U.S driven defence project; the largest technological undertaking the Canadian Arctic had witnessed in the 20th century. The sheer magnitude and unprecedented expense of the project, coupled with Canada’s inability and disinclination to contribute to it, was widely seen as presenting a great challenge to Canadian Arctic sovereignty. The DEW Line was the northernmost and most capable of three radar lines in Canada and Alaska; a line of which used conventional radar systems that could both detect and characterize an attack. This would not only provide ample time for defences to prepare, but also allow the Strategic Air Command to get its active aircraft airborne long before Soviet bombers could reach their bases. The need was considered critical and the construction was given high national priority. According to Thomas R. Berger (1977):
“Between 1955 and 1957, Canada and the United States built the Distant Early Warning Line, a chain of radar stations intended to detect foreign aircraft in polar regions and to relay the warning to North American Air Defence Command units. The line stretches 5,000 miles along the Arctic coast from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Cape Dyer, Baffin Island. The construction of the DEW Line involved airlifting a total of about 25,000 men and one-half million tons of equipment by commercial aircraft. Approximately 45,000 flights averaging 720 miles each were made.”
Upgrades of the strongest of the DEW Line stations began in 1985; what remained of the line was renamed the North Warning System. With the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, the U.S withdrew full operation of the Canadian stations to Canada. Tuktoyaktuk’s DEW line was officially shut-down on July 15th, 1993. Canada’s remediation of the DEW Line commenced in the mid 90’s at a $550 million national expense. Cleanup was completed in 2014, requiring an additional 25 years of monitoring to follow.