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Telephone and Radio

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Pages 50 - 51

The Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and other inventing greats of the late 19th century were competing vigorously to produce the components of the telephone, the machinery for switching calls and the means of transmitting them over distances. In 1880 the Federal Government of Canada issued a charter to the Bell Telephone Company of Canada to operate toll lines and exchanges across Canada. The telephone came to Alberta with the completion of the Edmonton-St. Albert line. Business commenced at 4:00 p.m. on January 3rd, 1885 with the message: "We wish you a Happy New Year" and the reply was "The people of St. Albert congratulate the people of Edmonton on telephone communication being established between the two places and wish to wish the clergy and people a Happy New Year". This private company was taken over by the Edmonton system. Lethbridge got a telephone system in 1891. The newly incorporated city lost no time in granting a franchise to the Bell Telephone Company; By-Law #1 set up a licensing system; By-Law #2 covered fire protection and By-Law #3 was for a telephone system. By-Law #3 passed on March 31, 1891. The town was fairly demanding about where the poles would go. Out of respect to the Lethbridge wind the poles were to be planted deep enough so they wouldn't blow down. The first true long distance line in the province was installed between Lethbridge and Cardston. Unfortunately, it spent most of its time being out of service.

Bell had carried out all its promises and made some praiseworthy efforts to give and improve services. But big interests were not popular in the West and there was evidence of a growing antagonism toward Bell Telephone. People were more in favor of public or cooperative ownership and there was a feeling that Bell was withholding the telephone from farmers. Rural service had been started by the Edmonton District Telephone Company in 1904 but it proved more of a headache than city service. It seems that some rural customers took quite a shine to the idea of listening in on other people's calls. Party-line eavesdroppers were known as "rubbernecks" and the act of listening was known as "rubbering-in". The telephone company took a dim view of the practice, but the only recorded case of the company catching up with anyone was that of an unhappy gentleman who owned the only cuckoo clock in the district and had the misfortune to have his cuckoo clock "cuckoo" when he just happened to be listening in on a call.

In 1906 the Alberta Government took a look at the telephone service in the province and decided that it was just too chaotic. The province offered to buy Bell out but Bell would not sell. When Ottawa declined to give the province the right to expropriate, Alberta approved the establishment of a government telephone system. The Lethbridge Herald said: "rhe government is not only providing telephones for the towns, cities and villages - but every farmer in Alberta will be in a position to possess a phone in his home." But it couldn't move fast enough to suit everybody. Some municipalities decided to build their own systems and some farmers set up systems of "barb-wire" telephones and the custom of neighbors "talking over the fence" took on a second meaning.

Bell was losing money and finally agreed to sell. The sale took place April lst, 1908. To raise money to acquire the Bell properties and extend the provincial telephone system under the Alberta Provincial Telephone (A.P.T.) the government of Alberta went into debt for the first time. In eight years Alberta built a telephone system and made it work. The telephone had been brought to 9,000 farm homes. Farmers were connected to the towns by 8,345 miles of line. There were 37,000 phones in the province, of which the city of Edmonton operated 9,000. Four thousand miles of long distance lines connected 550 communities. The system, now Alberta Government Telephones, was up and it was working every way but financially. The first full year of World War I, 1915, had a mixed effect on the telephone system in Alberta. The cities slumped and in Calgary 2,000 phones were taken out. But there was a record wheat crop that summer, prices were high and the demand for rural phones was so great that new rural subscribers cancelled the loss in the cities, However the rural construction dropped off in 1916 and 1917. Farm districts were encouraged to build their own lines. Standards for construction were lowered and the farm built lines were allowed to connect to long distance if they met A.G.T. standards. The idea was that as soon as the government had the money it would buy the cheap temporary systems and replace them with genuine A.G.T. construction. However, it would be half a century before the province would be that rich. In the great depression of the 1930's the province would be so poor it abandoned the rural lines entirely and left them to the Mutual Telephone Companies.

Lethbridge Herald, April 1, 1908

Alberta has bought the Bell Telephone system in the province,for $675,000.00.


Radio revolutionized communications and entertainment in the 1920's. Following the discovery of radio transmission by Marconi, radio enthusiasts began experimenting with radio equipment. Jock Palmer made his first radio transmission on Jan. 9, 1925, with Harold G. Long as announcer. Radio amateurs in city and country alike with crystal sets and earphones clamped to their heads, actually heard people talking. As earphones were passed from one family member to another, each in turn heard snatches of music which magically jumped the miles of empty air.

Radios were quickly perfected. A new miracle had come to entertain the family in their home with an exciting mix of music, comedy, drama, and news. The possibility of radio was recognized by some preachers by the mid '20's. As many can remember, Wm. Aberhart became a household name.

Palmer obtained a licence for radio station, CJOC in 1926, which quickly expanded and in 1928 moved to its new studios on top of the Marquis Hotel. Ernie Snowden remembers a battery operated radio, a "Kolster" set, being brought out to the farm and installed in 1928 or 29. He recalls listening to CJOC's sports announcer, Henry Viney.

Henry Viney was a frequent visitor to the penthouse station. He had his heart set on a career in sport broadcasting. To improve diction and pronunciation, the station manager made him read aloud from the dictionary for hours on end. Eventually he became sports announcer for CJOC, later moving to Calgary CFCN where he became Alberta's top sportscaster on both radio and later television.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup