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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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The First Networks

The first installations linked two points, such as the telegraph office in Edmonton to H.W. McKenney’s store in St. Albert. In Calgary, Major James Walker bought two telephones to link his city office to his lumberyard about 3 kilometres (2 miles) away.

As more lines were requested, manual switchboards were installed to let any caller reach any other subscriber in the system.

Drop board The operator made the connection by placing linked ring and tip plugs in the appropriate jacks on the switchboard. The earliest "drop boards" had a small hinged plate above each jack. The plate was released to drop down when the caller signalled; later boards had buzzing sounds and lamps to indicate that someone wanted to make a call.

Automatic switching equipment speeded up service since callers could dial without needing the operator. The first Alberta installation was in Edmonton, in 1908.

Switching equipmentEarly systems used a grounded circuit. A single wire carried the circuit in one direction, and the ground was used to relay the return circuit. Grounded circuits were susceptible to electrical interference from both man-made and natural sources such as power lines and thunderstorms, which often led to poor signal quality.

The introduction of the metallic circuit greatly improved the quality of the signal. This was achieved by adding another wire by which to carry the return circuit. Although this process required twice the amount of materials used in a grounded circuit, as well as twice the labour to install them, telephone users knew that the improved signal was well worth the added cost.

Alberta’s first common battery system was introduced in Red Deer in 1904. This system gave better service and other networks were also changed to common battery.

The change from three-wire to two-wire telephone networks improved transmission even more.

Early telephone systems used wires on poles to carry the signal from one building to another.

Cables composed of several hundred pairs of wires were strung on poles with single pairs, or "drop wires," running to the subscriber’s business or home.

Buried cable was adopted in city centres at an early date. In Edmonton, the first underground cable was laid along Jasper Avenue in 1904.

Networks grew outside towns and cities in response to local demand. Ranchers co-operated to create a rural network in the Medicine Hat area in the 1890s.

Long-distance service from Calgary to Edmonton was introduced in 1900, but the line ended in a drugstore and was not connected to the Edmonton system. It could take an hour for the call to go through to Edmonton from Calgary, and then perhaps another hour for a messenger to locate the intended party and get him or her them to the drugstore.

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