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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Telephone Era in Alberta

The coming of the telephone to the Canadian West was the result of ambitious businessmen and civic leaders working with the new generation of communications workers—the telegraph operators. In the 1870s, the railway and telegraph made their way West.  Entrepreneurial individuals were the first to see the opportunities for the use of the new technology and, from the beginning, the Edmonton/Calgary rivalry was evident.

Major James Walker of the North West Mounted police, in 1877,  was the first recipient of a telegraph message and would subsequently leave the force to set up a lumber business in Calgary and also suggest the incorporation of Calgary as a town in 1884. While the telegraph "first" went to Calgary, the "first" with respect to telephones came to Edmonton via Alexander Taylor. This extraordinary individual, whose many accomplishments included being a telegraph operator, amateur astronomer and the official weather observer and lightning manipulator for Edmonton, ordered the first two telephone sets from England. He was aided and abetted by H. W. McKenny, who came to Edmonton from Ontario in 1848 and served as postmaster, police magistrate and chairman of the school board in St. Albert. He built a combination store, telegraph office and residence on the south side of the Sturgeon River Bridge in St. Albert.

first long distance call The telephones arrived in Edmonton in December, 1884, and were installed. The local communities were abuzz with excitement as McKenny's store and Taylor's telegraph office, nine miles apart, were linked and the voices came across the wires. What was said could be heard by not only the two people conversing but also everyone else in the room. In January, 1885, the local newspaper, the Bulletin noted:


Edmonton, 3 January, 1885. Reverend Father Leduc, St. Alberta. We wish you all a very happy new year. Alex Taylor, St. Alberta, 3 January, 1885. Edmonton. The people of St. Albert congratulate the people of Edmonton on telephone communication being established between two places, and wish the clergy and people a happy new year. Narcisse St. Jean, Chairman.

This section of the website includes:

  • History—the telephone and its role in the evolution of the Province of Alberta are explored including the coming of the telephone to communities throughout Alberta through commercial and residential networks.
     

  • Technology—the evolution of the technology is presented including the telephone, switchboards and networks from past to present.
     

  •  Companiesthe move from entrepreneurial individuals to the setting up of companies is explored with the competition between local suppliers and national companies such as the Bell Telephone Company.
     

  • Policy and Legislation—the period of aggressive competition is soon followed by government regulation, the setting up of public utilities and, ultimately, at the end of the 20th century in deregulation.
     

  • The People—the range of people involved in the business are presented from pioneers to linesmen to telephone operators, an important career option for women. The evolution of the work force in the profession is explored through the massive technological change from the 19th to the 20th century and to the new Millennium.


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