Mr. Sydney Sillitoe 

15 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. 

                After 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 achievement! 

                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 network.   

                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)

 

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History of the Wireless Set No. 19

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