History of local telephone service

History of local telephone service

In 1959-1960, a new telephone exchange building was constructed on 51st St.

One of the most dramatic changes to day-today life in the past few years has been in the realm of telecommunications.

Not so long ago, people relied on landlines in their homes for personal phone service. Some had modern equipment with touch phones.

Others still had older-style rotary dial apparatuses. Either way, communication was pretty much limited to verbal conversations. If someone was out of the house and they wanted to make a phone call, they generally had seek out a pay phone where calls could be made after putting coins into the apparatus.

Today, people carry phones with them wherever they go.

Their devices can be used for all kinds of things in addition to making phone calls.

People in our community have enjoyed the ever expanding benefits of this technological revolution. However, even 115 years ago, residents of Red Deer were often part of the leading-edge technological advances in telecommunications.

In December 1902, a group of local investors created the Western Telephone Company.

However, before that locally-owned service could become operational, the Bell Telephone Company arrived in Red Deer. At first, it was long distance service to Calgary and Edmonton that was offered out of a telephone exchange on Ross Street. Shortly thereafter, Bell was offering local telephone connections to businesses and households.

The Western Telephone Company was reorganized as the Western General Electric Company which offered both electricity and phone service in Red Deer.

The new company quickly out-competed Bell.

The Western General used the first central energy telephone system in Alberta, which was technologically superior to Bell’s equipment. The locally-owned service was also cheaper.

By 1908, Bell withdrew from the Red Deer market.

Most long distance service was taken over by the newly-formed Alberta Government Telephones. However, the Western General also offered limited long distance service into adjacent rural areas.

Unfortunately, over the years, the Western General failed to make the investments necessary to keep basic service up. By 1919, a lot of the local equipment was antiquated or second-hand. Relays on the main switchboard were badly in need of repair.

Consequently, in 1920, AGT bought out the Western General, which by this time had become the last privately owned telephone company in Alberta. AGT built a modern new exchange building on Ross Street, north of City Hall Park. Red Deer had quality phone service again.

A major setback occurred in the 1930s during the Great Depression.

Many people could no longer afford to keep a phone. A huge blow came in April 1932 when a massive ice storm destroyed much of the telephone infrastructure across Alberta.

Consequently, AGT withdrew from most rural areas.

Phone service in those places was subsequently provided by locally-owned mutual telephone companies (cooperatives). Maintenance was usually provided by the mutual companies’ members.

A big change came in the boom years of the 1950s when AGT began a massive modernization and expansion program. In 1957, a microwave tower was built on the North Hill to provide improved long distance service.

That also allowed the provision of live broadcast feed for the new C.H.C.A. television station.

In 1959-1960, a huge new telephone exchange building was constructed on 51st St.

Subsequently, the first automated direct distance dialing service on the Canadian prairies was inaugurated in Red Deer.

Underground cable networks began to be installed. By the end of 1962, Telex connections were put into place to allow transmission of written messages, primarily for businesses.

More technological improvements followed, cementing Red Deer’s status as a major communications hub for Alberta for many years to come.