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Edmonton's First Telephone Company

The Edmonton area’s first telephones—two English-made sets made of Spanish mahogany—arrived in December 1884 and on 3 January 1885, Edmonton telegrapher Alex Taylor and St. Albert storeowner H.W. McKenney would test the newly completed line between the two communities.

Consolidated Telephone Unit During 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 McKenney’s store. 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.

Taylor continued with his telephone company, which over 17 years would grow to 400 customers. Illness forced him to sell his telephone company to Edmonton in 1904 for $17,000. The new company, City Telephones, was taken over on 1 January 1905.

Featured Audio

Telephones Come to Alberta (Part 1)

The Heritage Community Foundation is pleased to present this episode of the Heritage Trails radio series, courtesy of the CKUA Radio Network.

The first telephone lines appeared during the 1880’s and by the 1920’s the telephone was a common fixture in most homes across the province. Find out how the government became involved to ensure that all Albertans had access to telephone services. Listen

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