The coming of the telephone to the Canadian West was the result
of ambitious businessmen and civic leaders working with the new
generation of communications workers—the telegraph operators. In the
1870s, the railway and telegraph made their way West.
Entrepreneurial individuals were the first to see the opportunities
for the use of the new technology and, from the beginning, the
Edmonton/Calgary rivalry was evident.
Major James Walker of the North West Mounted police, in 1877,
was the first recipient of a telegraph message and would
subsequently leave the force to set up a lumber business in Calgary
and also suggest the incorporation of Calgary as a town in 1884.
While the telegraph "first" went to Calgary, the "first" with
respect to telephones came to Edmonton via Alexander Taylor. This
extraordinary individual, whose many accomplishments included being
a telegraph operator, amateur astronomer and the official weather
observer and lightning manipulator for Edmonton, ordered the first
two telephone sets from England. He was aided and abetted by H. W. McKenny, who came to Edmonton from Ontario in 1848 and served as
postmaster, police magistrate and chairman of the school board in
St. Albert. He built a combination store, telegraph office and
residence on the south side of the Sturgeon River Bridge in St.
The telephones arrived in Edmonton in December, 1884, and were
installed. The local communities were abuzz with excitement as McKenny's store and Taylor's telegraph office, nine miles apart,
were linked and the voices came across the wires. What was said
could be heard by not only the two people conversing but also
everyone else in the room. In January, 1885, the local newspaper,
the Bulletin noted:
Edmonton, 3 January, 1885. Reverend Father Leduc, St. Alberta.
We wish you all a very happy new year. Alex Taylor, St. Alberta, 3
January, 1885. Edmonton. The people of St. Albert congratulate the
people of Edmonton on telephone communication being established
between two places, and wish the clergy and people a happy new year.
Narcisse St. Jean, Chairman.
This section of the website includes:
History—the telephone and its role in the evolution of
the Province of Alberta are explored including the coming of the
telephone to communities throughout Alberta through commercial and
Technology—the evolution of the technology is presented
including the telephone, switchboards and networks from past to
Companies—the move from entrepreneurial
individuals to the setting up of companies is explored with the
competition between local suppliers and national companies such as
the Bell Telephone Company.
Policy and Legislation—the period of aggressive
competition is soon followed by government regulation, the setting
up of public utilities and, ultimately, at the end of the 20th
century in deregulation.
The People—the range of people involved in the business
are presented from pioneers to linesmen to telephone operators, an
important career option for women. The evolution of the work force
in the profession is explored through the massive technological
change from the 19th to the 20th century and to the new Millennium.
Copyright © 2004
Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved