The first installations linked two points, such as the telegraph
office in Edmonton to H.W. McKenney’s store in St. Albert. In
Calgary, Major James Walker bought two telephones to link his city
office to his lumberyard about 3 kilometres (2 miles) away.
As more lines were requested, manual switchboards were installed
to let any caller reach any other subscriber in the system.
The operator made the connection by placing linked ring and tip
plugs in the appropriate jacks on the switchboard. The earliest
"drop boards" had a small hinged plate above each jack. The plate
was released to drop down when the caller signalled; later boards
had buzzing sounds and lamps to indicate that someone wanted to make
Automatic switching equipment speeded up service since callers
could dial without needing the operator. The first Alberta
installation was in Edmonton, in 1908.
Early systems used a grounded circuit. A single wire carried the
circuit in one direction, and the ground was used to relay the
return circuit. Grounded circuits were susceptible to electrical
interference from both man-made and natural sources such as power
lines and thunderstorms, which often led to poor signal quality.
The introduction of the metallic circuit greatly improved the
quality of the signal. This was achieved by adding another wire by
which to carry the return circuit. Although this process required
twice the amount of materials used in a grounded circuit, as well as
twice the labour to install them, telephone users knew that the
improved signal was well worth the added cost.
Alberta’s first common battery system was introduced in Red Deer
in 1904. This system gave better service and other networks were
also changed to common battery.
The change from three-wire to two-wire telephone networks
improved transmission even more.
Early telephone systems used wires on poles to carry the signal
from one building to another.
Cables composed of several hundred pairs of wires were strung on
poles with single pairs, or "drop wires," running to the
subscriber’s business or home.
Buried cable was adopted in city centres at an early date. In
Edmonton, the first underground cable was laid along Jasper Avenue
Networks grew outside towns and cities in response to local
demand. Ranchers co-operated to create a rural network in the
Medicine Hat area in the 1890s.
Long-distance service from Calgary to Edmonton was introduced in
1900, but the line ended in a drugstore and was not connected to the
Edmonton system. It could take an hour for the call to go through to
Edmonton from Calgary, and then perhaps another hour for a messenger
to locate the intended party and get him or her them to the
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