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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Arlene Simmons, telephone operator.Early operators did more than man the switchboard, connecting calls from one point to another. The most senior of them, working in smaller exchanges, would stay on at their posts through the night to patch emergency calls.

In large centres such as Edmonton and Calgary, where automatic dialing was introduced quite early, operators began filling a slightly different role.

They were involved with connecting long-distance calls, providing directory assistance, logging repair requests, and referring people to the appropriate emergency services.

Operators took on less weighty duties as well, in providing the time and even keeping lists of which gas stations were open on Sundays.

Listen! Information, Please! – Ms. Frieda Lauchrey
While Information operators were intended by telephone companies to be sources of telephone related information, such as particular telephone numbers, they were the answer to all questions in the eyes (and ears) of the public. From cooking to travel, the Information Operator was supposed to know it all, which made for some very interesting phone conversations. Former Operator Frieda Lauchrey explains. Listen!

Initially, telephone service was not available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When continuous service did become a reality, operators began working shifts with staggered starting times, so that more workers were on hand during peak hours.

Until the 1950s, the last women left the exchange at 11:00 p.m. because of safety concerns about her traveling home on the streetcar late at night. A male employee—usually a switchman—would cover the night shift until female operators came on in the early morning.

Listen! Child’s Call to Santa Claus – Ms. Isobel Peters
The Information Operator was often expected to give more information than just correct phone numbers. At Christmas, children would call in with various questions about Santa Claus. Former operator Isobel Peters recounts one such call. Listen!  

New operators were trained through an in-house orientation process. Courtesy was the first priority, being given more importance than speed.

Today’s operators are either in Directory Assistance or Repair. Most districts have a separate 911 service for emergencies, and perhaps another service offering the correct time.

Direct Distance Dialing allows people to make long-distance calls without an operator, but assistance is available if the caller has difficulty.

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