December 1908 - 29 December 2002
It is with regret that we report the death of Mr. Sydney Sillitoe, one of
the pioneers of electronics in Canada.
Mr. Sillitoe received his Bachelor of Science degree (Electrical
Engineering) from the University of Alberta in 1931 and a Masters degree
(Structural Design and Communications) in 1933.
Notwithstanding his qualifications, he was then faced with the prospect
of either working in a relief camp for $25.00 per month or taking a $300.00 per
year job at McGill University. He
chose the latter and used his spare time to work towards a Doctoral thesis
studying ionospheric reflections. For
this work he had to design and build his own sounder plus the necessary cathode
ray tube display device. The
results of his work were published by the National Research Council of Canada
and by the Canadian Journal of Research (vol 11, 1934).
When Northern Electric began hiring again in the mid 1930s, Mr. Sillitoe joined the Special Products Development Division as a junior engineer. In the late 1930s he was involved in the Canadian production of the army's Wireless Sets No. 1 and No. 9 as well as work on a variety of transmitters for Air Traffic Control purposes.
In 1939, in response to a request from the R.C.A.F., Mr. Sillitoe undertook the design of the AT-1, general purpose airborne transmitter. This was a very much state-of-the-art project with critical specifications for both electrical and environmental performance. This 18-hour per day job went on for several months with frequent nights spent catching a few hours sleep in the lab.
successfully putting the AT-1 into production, Mr. Sillitoe became part of the
team that traveled to England to bring back the manufacturing plans for the
army's general purpose radio – the Wireless Set No. 19.
For that trip, he spent 12 hours in the bomb bay of a Liberator aircraft
which ultimately crash landed at Preswick.
The return journey took 30 hours, most of it in a much more comfortable
Boeing Clipper. However, this trip
went through wartime Lisbon - hardly a suitable place to be carrying bundles of
secret plans for wireless sets. Arriving
back in Canada in July, Mr. Sillitoe and his team began converting the 19 Set
plans for Canadian manufacture. The
first sets came off of the production line before Christmas - a truly remarkable
As part of Northern Electric's post-war redevelopment program, Mr.
Sillitoe designed the highly successful "Baby Champ" broadcast
receiver. He also used his wartime
production experience to develop modern manufacturing standards within the
company. In the late 1940s he went
on to develop equipment for power line and mine shaft signaling as well as
control switching equipment for the emerging television market.
At the Northern Electric plant in Belleville, Ontario, Mr. Sillitoe
designed one of the first wave-soldering machines to be used for mass production
of equipment using printed circuit boards.
During the 1950s and 1960s, he worked on the radar systems, navigation
systems and communications systems required for the cold war air defence
Throughout his life, Mr. Sillitoe was at the forefront of electronics
development in Canada. The Special
Products Division in which he began his work later evolved into the Research
& Development Section and finally into Bell Northern Research.
He retired from Bell Canada in 1974 having played a key role in some of
the most profound changes in electronics history.
In 1993, Mr. Sillitoe was interviewed by members of the Wireless Set No. 19 Group. He also participated with the Group in 2001 in a commemorative event marking the 60th anniversary of his return to Canada with the 19 Set plans. Mr. Sillitoe is survived by his son, John, of Surrey, BC.
(By David Lawrence, VA3ORP, The Wireless Set No. 19 Group)
Copyright © The Wireless Set No. 19 Website. All rights reserved.
History of the Wireless Set No. 19
Return to Home Page