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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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H. W. McKenney

St. Albert storeowner H.W. McKenney and Edmonton telegrapher Alex Taylor shared Northern Alberta’s first "long-distance" telephone line, when the newly completed line between the two communities was tested on 3 January 1885.

Members of the first Alberta LegislatureDuring that first telephone call, Taylor spoke the following words to the Oblate missionary, Reverend Father Hippolyte Leduc: "We wish you all a very happy new year." McKenney’s business was located at his residence, and according to Linda Goyette’s book, Edmonton: In Our Own Words, listeners at Taylor’s telegraph office reportedly "were astonished to hear the sound of meat sizzling in a frying pan in McKenney’s kitchen 14 kilometres away." As well, the sound was so clear that the scratching of the pens of the operators at either end could be heard as they wrote down the messages.

By April, however, McKenney announced that he was replacing the telephone with a telegraph. On 11 April, rumours of a slaughter of residents in nearby Fort Saskatchewan had been sent via the telephone from the store in St. Albert. The rumours proved false, but by then, the Alberta Field Force was on its way from Calgary, and some Edmontonians had left their homes fearful that a similar fate awaited them outside the palisades of Fort Edmonton. Other residents had turned cattle loose, suffering a great financial loss. In her book, The Wired City: A History of the Telephone in Edmonton, Margaret Stinson suggests that McKenney felt partly responsible for the panic.

After McKenney retired from business in 1903, he was elected to the legislature as the member from Pembina.


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