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
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
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.
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.
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
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Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved