The Pinetree Line:  CFS Lac St. Denis

The Pinetree Line:  CFS Lac St. Denis

by Sandra Stock

One of the most obvious landmarks in the Morin Heights and St. Adolphe d’Howard area of the Laurentians was the large dome on top of Lac St. Denis mountain. This enormous puffball mushroom lingered on long after the Canadian Forces Base Lac St. Denis closed in 1986. There are also the remains of a village on the shore of Lac St. Denis that originally housed the base personnel.

CFS (Canadian Forces Station) Lac St. Denis was the result of the installation of the Pinetree Line–a radar network created at the height of the Cold War to detect possible enemy aircraft or missiles invading North American skies. The base was built between 1949 and 1952, officially opening on July 1, 1952. It would be one of eventually forty-four similar bases built across mainly the Laurentian Shield–hence the name ‘Pinetree’. Farther north, there were the Mid-Canada and DEW (Distant Early Warning–in the true Arctic) lines that fulfilled similar functions. ++However, the Pinetree stations tended to have greater numbers of military personnel and served training functions as well.

At first, the base was viewed with apprehension by local residents. Rumours of it being a nuclear weapons depot or even of the mountain being hollowed out for some mysterious purpose made the rounds. However, many civilian jobs for local people were available in its construction and ongoing operation. This direct contact allayed these rumours. Also, the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) finally improved its public relations by giving open houses, Air Force Days, and tours of most of the base. Also, as there were many families stationed at Lac St. Denis, children were bused to Morin Heights school (which benefited from the military presence through government funding for expansion), and soon the Air Force became part of the wider community. In the 1950s and 1960s civilians participated in many activities at the base and also had access to the excellent recreation centre that featured a curling rink and an indoor swimming pool–a real luxury for our area at the time.

The personnel residences were on the shores of the lake with Private Married Quarters (PMQs) and barracks for single airmen and airwomen. Airwomen were phased out by September 1962 but had played a significant role in the first decade of the base.

By the early sixties radar equipment was automated, and this–along with other developments–led to the eventual reduction of base personnel. In 1986, the base was finally closed although the puffball dome lingered on for many years after.

Various private sector developments were attempted at the former base but none proved really successful. A chronic care center was the first project but ran into financial problems and difficulties with the municipality of St. Adolphe. An amusement park and resort were tried for a few years after that. Then the dome was dismantled and its lower part used to create a pseudo-medieval castle. This became a restaurant and semi-historic jousting performance venue. Again, this was not a success and now the property may possibly be redeveloped as a hotel.

(Reprinted from The Laurentian Sun, February 2007)