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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Telegraph Era - Alberta

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.

Telegraph office 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.

Telegraph office 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."

Telegraph office 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.


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