Traditional Alberta history holds that in 1876 or 1877—sources
vary on this point—prior to the arrival of the railway, the
telegraph line to the province was built along the Canadian Pacific
Railway right of way from Winnipeg, Manitoba via Selkirk.
A telegraph station was opened at Hay Lakes, 48.2 kilometres
southeast of Edmonton. The line itself ended at a terminus 30
kilometres south of Edmonton, though three years later, telegraph
service was extended to the village with a population of 200—if St.
Alberta and Fort Saskatchewan were included.
This extension was accomplished through a mixture of corporate
and volunteer involvement. When Edmontonians petitioned the
government to bring the telegraph to the village, they raised $187
to assist in the construction. The contractor at Hays Lake offered
to provide the wire, and volunteers would erect the poles provided
by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
However, one local historian, writing in the Alberta Historical
Review took issue with some of those facts. In his 1970 article, The
Telegraph Line to Edmonton, Allen Ronaghan suggests that a terminus
near Leduc rather than the Hay Lakes Trail was the actual route
taken by the telegraph line to Edmonton.
"While the point may seem to be small," writes Ronaghan, "it
involves the great transcontinental project for railway and
telegraph communication, the history of Alberta’s capital city, and
of its neighbouring town of Leduc. The fact that the name of Leduc
was chosen in 1886, some five years before the building of the
Calgary & Edmonton Railway, makes it one of the earliest municipal
place-names on the line."
Other history is not contradicted. In 1879, James McKernan, the
Hays Lake station’s operator, left the job, and the contractor hired
Alex Taylor, who remained at the site until the end of that year. In
January 1880, Taylor, working for the Winnipeg-based Dominion
Telegraph Service, became Edmonton’s first telegrapher, a job he
held until 1893, at which point he was well into his second career
as a telephone pioneer with the incorporation of Edmonton’s first
telephone enterprise, the Edmonton District Telephone Company.
Between 1882 and 1883, the CPR occupied itself in the southern
part of the province with rail and telegraph construction through
Medicine Hat, Calgary and Banff, and another line running two years
later from a location near Medicine Hat to Lethbridge and then south
to the United States in 1890 to connect with the US railway system.
As communication tied with travel, the north-south corridor was
both wired and railed in 1891 by the completion of the Calgary &
Edmonton Railway (C&E) between Calgary and the town of Strathcona.
The C&E would become part of the CPR, and Strathcona later became
part of Edmonton.
Copyright © 2004
Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved