|History of the Edmonton Telephone System|
The people of Edmonton, St. Albert, and Fort Saskatchewan drew up a petition in 1882-1883 requesting the connection of the 3 communities by telephone. They contacted the Bell Telephone agent in Winnipeg, who felt that Edmonton was not yet large enough to warrant an exchange. Edmontonians decided to try a alternate route. Alex Taylor proposed acquiring the instruments necessary to establish a private system. He planned to connect the instruments to the telegraph line, as the electronic principles were similar. In the fall of 1883, a proposal requesting the establishment of telephone communication between Edmonton and St. Albert was submitted to the Superintendent of the Dominion Telegraph and Signal Service. By the spring of 1884, Parliament approved the $675 necessary to build the Edmonton - St. Albert line. Poles were supplied by the people, and the shipping, labour, instruments, porcelain insulators, and wire were paid for with money from the government.
The setting of the poles along the St. Albert Trail was completed in early December 1884. The telephones were put to the test in January, 1885, when Alex Taylor shouted the first message from his new telegraph office to Narcisse St. Jean in McKenney's new store and residence in St. Albert. The cost of a telephone conversation was fifteen cents, while telegrams were relayed free of charge, and McKenney was guaranteed a 25% commission on all calls.
The Catholic Mission eventually took over the operation of St. Albert's telephone system. A second telephone line was run from Alex Taylor's telegraph office to the Hudson's Bay Company's office in Fort Edmonton.
By 1887, Alex Taylor was planning to establish his own telephone company. In January he presented a proposal to the Bell Telephone Company in Montreal in order to acquire estimates on equipment requirements and costs; by August he had ordered instruments for his first four customers: Norris and Carey, the Post Office, Matt McCauley, and the Ross Brothers. By mid-November the phones had been installed and two lines had been set up to accommodate them. Soon more customers arranged for telephones from Alex Taylor. By February 1888, 12 telephones were in use in Edmonton. Alex Taylor successfully completed the first long distance phone call from Edmonton to Battleford on 1 November, 1887.
As more people began to use the telephone, changes and improvements were made. New telephone poles were put up in 1888 to accommodate 5 more wires as the system expanded. In July 1889, people on the south side were hooked up with the telephone system.
By 1892, the telephone system required a switchboard to keep order among the growing number of telephone subscribers. Alex Taylor purchased a second-hand switchboard in April of that year. The first switchboard operator was 14 year old Jenny Lauder. Several months earlier, a central telephone office was opened next door to the Bulletin building. Eleven months later it was moved to the rear of Raymer's Jewellery Store. By the end of October 1894, the telephone exchange had outgrown this office and was moved across the street into a rear office over the post office.
In 1893, Taylor's company was incorporated under the name "The Edmonton District Telephone Company." Shortly after, Taylor signed a 10 year franchise with the Town of Edmonton.
In 1895, the Edmonton District Telephone Company put out a directory which listed 50 numbers, nearly all of them filled. At the bottom of the page there was a list of telegraph rates to other provinces and countries. Two new lines were put up between Edmonton and Strathcona in the spring of 1895, and in 1897, a second exchange was opened in Strathcona to service the people on the south side. The system was continuously expanding, requiring extra space. In December 1898, the telephone exchange was moved from the Post Office Block to the third floor of the Gariepy Block.
The first pay telephone in Edmonton was installed in March 1899 at MacKenzie's book store on Jasper Avenue. A telephone call cost five cents. It is doubtful that a connection existed between the money box and the telephone, so paying for the call depended on the honesty of the customer. Night and Sunday service came to Edmonton in 1900. By 1901, the system had a capacity of 200 telephones. That same year, three wires were in use between Edmonton and Strathcona, and connections had been hooked up to St. Albert, Morinville and Beaumont. In June of 1903, the Edmonton District Telephone Company had linked up with Fort Saskatchewan. In 1903, workmen began to string lead cable down Jasper Avenue. The use of these cables, which contained 50 single wires each, ultimately led to a less congested network of wires along the pole-lined streets.
In 1904, Bell Canada set up offices in Edmonton and Strathcona, linking these two communities with long distance Bell lines across Canada.
In 1904, the City purchased the system from Alex Taylor. In January, 1905, the system came under public ownership, with a new exchange constructed on 100 Street and 102 Avenue. In 1908, the automatic dial tone (at that time one of the first systems of its kind in Canada) was brought in.