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Alberta Government Telephones (AGT)

Formed 1907 with the purchase of several independent telephone systems—such as the Alberta Telephone Company in the Crowsnest Pass, and the outlying lines of the Edmonton & District Telephone Company—AGT’s coup came on 1 April 1908 when Alberta bought out the Bell Telephone Company, for $675,000, following the lead by its next-door neighbour Manitoba, which also showed the company the door.

Listen! In 1909, the Liberal Government of Alberta, led by Premier Alexander Cameron Rutherford was facing another election. To sweeten their image in the eyes of potential voters, the government announced the formation of Alberta Government Telephones (AGT). AGT would soon carry out the work of connecting every community in Alberta by telephone. Listen as narrator Cheryl Croucher and Historian David Leonard introduce you to the birth of AGT. Listen!

As with much of the telephone history in Alberta, the provincial government’s move was in reaction to the often heavy-handed approach taken by Bell and its Montreal-based president Charles Fleetford Sise to provide service to Alberta communities. The company relied on its Dominion charter to bring the telephone to Canada from the Atlantic to the Rockies, and in the process either killed or scared off local telephone companies.

For its troubles, as Tony Cashman writes in Singing Wires, "the provincial system took over 595 miles [957.6 kilometres] of long-distance lines in Alberta, 18 toll offices, 19 exchanges, 2,270 subscribers—and 150 employees and agents."

As Carol Dean writes in her examination of Bell’s role in the West in Alberta in the 20th Century: The Birth of the Province 1900-1910, the purchase would mark the first time that Alberta would fall into debt. To pay for the purchase, as well as finance plans for expansion, the government of Premier Alexander Rutherford province issued a $2-million 30-year bond.

"And eight years later Charles Fleetford Sise would retire at age 80 as Bell Canada’s president," writes Dean. "By then he had firmly rooted his company in Ontario and Quebec. But in the prairie provinces Bell Canada had created such animosity that for the rest of the century telephones would remain a public utility."

In 1990, AGT itself would be privatized by the provincial government and would become known as TELUS Communications.

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