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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Companies

Once the telephone had established itself in the popular imagination of western Canadians as a valuable communications tool, the responsibility of linking everyone via telephone wire fell to the many telephone companies that sprang up across the west after 1880.

In many western Canadian municipalities, the competition among telephone service providers was fierce. Much of this competition stemmed from the Bell Telephone Company of Canada as it tried to establish itself in the west. In 1880, Bell was issued a charter by the federal government to set up telephone systems from coast to coast. Under the management of company Vice President Charles Fleetford Sise, Bell Telephones came into the Northwest Territories with the intention of being the dominant player when it came to the telephony business.

When Bell reached the west, including the then district of Alberta, it encountered municipalities that were much more anxious to develop telephone technology than Bell had anticipated. Towns like Edmonton, seen as too small to be worth establishing an exchange by Bell, went ahead and developed exchanges of their own. Over time, other local initiatives followed in places like Lethbridge and Pincher Creek, with varying degrees of success. This prompted Bell to become particularly aggressive in building phone lines and telephone exchanges across Alberta, to compete with (and often drive out) local phone services.

Weaver of Speech

Far from discouraging the desire of western Canadians to remain independently connected to the phone lines, Bell’s tactics seemed to carry the opposite effect. After Alberta became a province in 1905, the provincial government stepped into the fray, and in 1907, established Alberta Government Telephones (AGT). AGT was quick to set up telephone services in Alberta towns and cities at rates that undercut Bell’s.

In 1908, the Alberta government bought out Bell’s share of the telephone systems established up until then. Alberta Government Telephones had become the dominant service provider in Alberta, demonstrating the power of a public telephone system that was unique to western provinces.


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