Telephones Through the Decades was first developed and displayed by the museum in 2018. As we rotate exhibits we have decided to digitize this exhibit to allow everyone to access and view it. Keep reading below to learn more about the history of telephones in Manitoba.
The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell and received a patent for his invention on March 10, 1876. The first telephone was brought into Manitoba by Horace McDougall in March of 1878, Mr. McDougall at the time was a manager of the Northwest Telegraph Company in Winnipeg.
On March 1 1878 Mr. McDougall rented the first pair of telephones for his personal use. He strung wire from his home on 152 Garry Street, Winnipeg to the telegraph office located on the same property. Like any smart businessman he understood the demand and charged a stiff price of $60.00 per year to rent a telephone.
In the fall of 1880 Mr. McDougall sold his interests in Winnipeg to the newly formed Bell Telephone Company of Canada. He remained with the company for a year before parting ways and becoming a reservation agent for a railway company.
By 1881 Winnipeg had ten telephones on one line and 26 subscribers which led to the installion of a switch board on May 22 1881. It was housed on the top floor of the Caldwell building at the corner of McDermot and Main St. The switchboard was housed on the top floor to allow telephone wires to be run along the roof of the building. During those days expansion plans and city planning usually didn't include telephone poles, which forced wires to be strung from roof to roof and along fences. Poles were only used when they ran out of roofs and fences to string the wires on.
The first telephone operators were young boys sometimes as young as 12 years old, as telephone traffic was light during those days they would keep themselves occupied by pulling pranks upon each other and at time the subscribers.
It was this type of behaviour that led to the hiring of women, in aproximently late 1881 the first woman operator was hired. She was Ida Cates the forerunner of the "voice with a smile". At the time she was hired the third switchboard had been added to Winnipeg's first Exchange.
Like this online exhibit? Be sure to check out our other virtual exhibit titled Ted Xaras: Exploring his Works
Manitoba's first long distance telephone line ran from Winnipeg to Selkirk, a whooping twenty two mile stretch that was completed in 1887.
After the Canadian Bell Patent expired in 1893, anyone could make or deal in telephone equipment. Companies sprouted up all vying for a piece of the market. Competition was tough and so were the companies. Linemen from one company would knock down the lines of another company, at times they even sawed down poles.
Bell starts construction on its own two story building located on Thistle Street (pictured above, now known as Portage Ave). The new office becomes operational on November 1 1896, in 1900 a third story was added on. By 1905 the square footage had doubled in size.
As the destructive and dangerous behaviour by telephone companies continued, it provoked the Federal Government in 1905 to appoint a committee to investigate telephone conditions. Testimony was heard from executives from the companies as well as citizens from towns and cities across Canada,
The government was satisfied that Manitoba should have it's own telephone system and felt that the residents of Manitoba would back this decision. Between 1906 and 1908 the necessary legislation was enacted to set the stage for the establishment of a long distance telephone system covering the whole province as well as the management of local exchanges and rural lines.
Premier Roblin along with the Minister of Railways, Telephones and Telegraphs along with the President of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada set the stage for the signing of the agreement. This agreement made the Manitoba government responsible for telephone service in Manitoba. It was signed on December 30, 1907 and the system purchased for $3 300 000 from the Bell Telephone Company. Signed by Premier R.P Roblin the new system went into operation on January 15 1908.
Brandon was the first office in Manitoba to get dial phones in 1917 while the first automatic exchange in this city was cutover for service on April 10 1920. Six years later the conversion from manual to dial was complete, this gave Winnipeg the distinction of being the first large city in Canada to have complete automatic service.
In 1933 the Manitoba Act was enacted by the Legislature repealing the the Telephones and Telegraph Act and the Manitoba Telephones and Telegraphs Act. The new Act set up the "Manitoba Telephone System Commission" which was a corporate body. A alternative name was given: the Manitoba Telephone System commonly known as MTS.
Bell went on to purchase and successfully merge with MTS in 2017, it is now known as Bell MTS.
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