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Alex Taylor (1853-1916)

This Ottawa-born entrepreneur and inventor was Edmonton’s first telegrapher, meteorologist, lightning manipulator and timekeeper. Mostly, though, he is known as the father of Edmonton’s telephone system.

In 1883, an Edmonton committee had asked the Bell Telephone Company to provide service. When the eastern-based company agreed only to install a few phones, but no telephone exchange, at what was considered an exorbitant cost, Alex Taylor proposed a better idea.

While working for the Winnipeg-based Dominion Telegraph and Signal Service, Taylor proposed running a telephone line from his Edmonton telegraph office to St. Albert, 14 kilometres away. He purchased two English-made telephones of Spanish mahogany and asked storeowner H.W. McKenney to be the keeper of the device at the St. Albert end of the connection.

On 3 January 1885, at 4:00 p.m., the pair tested Northern Alberta’s first telephone line. This "triumph of telephony" would be followed in 1887 by what is considered to be the first long-distance call in the province: a 15-minute call via telegraph wires to Battleford, 490 kilometres from Edmonton.

By 1891, Taylor’s entrepreneurial interests had grown to electricity, and he co-founded Edmonton’s first electric company, the Edmonton Electric Light Company. Two years later, he incorporated Edmonton’s first telephone company, securing a 10-year telephone franchise with the town of Edmonton.

From 1887 until 1904 when illness forced him to sell his company, Taylor amassed 400 subscribers. Edmonton was a town on the cusp of becoming a city, and in 1904 Taylor accepted the offer of $17,000 for his system. The new company, City Telephones—later, to be known as Edmonton Telephones—was taken over on 1 January 1905.

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