A History of the Telephone in Manitoba
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1964-1965 Season
From the historic point of view March could almost be termed telephone month. For it was on 3 March 1847 that Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was born. He received the first patent for the magical instrument on 10 March 1876—and quite coincidentally two years later and again in the same month the first telephones were brought into Manitoba. With such a significant background—it is very likely the reason that our industry has marched ahead so successfully.
As we look back at the invention of Alexander Graham Bell, it is difficult to believe that it was thought by many to be an unworkable gimmick and by some to be a downright hoax on the public, nevertheless, this month it celebrates an 87th birthday in Manitoba.
Not yet a province and still a vast wilderness, the Red River country was an outpost in the minds of most Easterners during the 1870s ... it was in this period that Alexander Graham Bell worked on his speech transmission theory - which became the telephone. In Winnipeg the flavor was still of the frontier, the lure was of a land to be tamed.
Manitoba consisted of trading posts here and there and the Red River settlement of Assiniboia. This district covered roughly a circle of a fifty-mile radius around the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Garry at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine. Winnipeg was the name for a random collection of saloons and shacks down from the Fort. More respectable was the French-Canadian village of St. Boniface, across the river, its stone cathedral marking it a bishopric, and containing some 750 souls as against the soulless 250 of Winnipeg.
But progress was being made. A sure sign was the introduction of the telephone to Winnipeg in 1878.
This was the first glimpse of telephony in the entire west and it came in the form of two instruments which had been brought in by Horace McDougall, Manager of the Northwest Telegraph Company in Winnipeg.
McDougall, a telegraphic operator and electrician was the first person here to obtain the right to install or make use of the Bell patented phone. His territory as Telephone Agent included the three prairie provinces.
On 1 March 1878, Mr. McDougall rented the first two hand telephones for his own private use. He strung wire from his home at 152 Garry Street to the Telegraph Office located on the same property. Like all novelties he knew enough to set the value of his service at a stiff price. The rate was $60 a year and the few who could afford it obtained a new dignity in the community.
These early telephones were an awkward device. They were sometimes referred to as “Butter Stamps.” They resembled the receivers of modern desk telephones, but were used for talking as well as listening. Users had to shift the instrument from mouth to ear and back again. There was no way of signalling the person at the other end of the line, a caller had to tap on the mouthpiece with a pencil to attract attention.
Within six months the Custom House, the Manitoba Free Press and the Railway office were proud to have interconnecting telephones in their offices.
Three years later, the city boasted of having 10 telephones on one line, which was assuredly more than any other city at that time. In addition, Winnipeg had 26 subscribers.
By this time the public had stopped regarding the new instrument as a mere toy. Phones were being hooked up, but worked only in pairs. Something had to be done to make it possible to connect all these phones to each other. The answer was to have a telephone exchange hookup similar to those in operation in some cities in the United States.
Growth pointed out that something else was needed. If Bell’s marvelous talking machine was going to prove a success the need for someone to manage a telephone company was essential.
In the fall of 1880 Mr. McDougall, Manitoba’s first telephone man, had made the decision to sell his interests in Winnipeg to the newly formed Bell Telephone Company of Canada. McDougall remained with the new company for a year before becoming a reservation agent for a railway company.
A year after the changeover, the first switchboard arrived in Winnipeg. This was the board to service the city’s twenty-six subscribers, but the possibilities of telephone growth seemed unlimited, for the years 1880-1881 saw the beginning of a great land boom in Winnipeg. The city then contained about 1,000 residences, and had a population of nearly 8,000. Since Winnipeg was the gateway to the west, the channel of supply, the emporium of import and the market of land sites, the Winnipeg boom followed as an inevitable consequence. It drew colonists from all over the Empire, Scottish farmers from Midlothian, appalled at Manitoba methods, Cockneys who didn’t know ’Haw!’ from ’Gee!’, remittance men, and Oxford graduates with a little Latin still in use, found employment in the saloons around Portage and Main.
Winnipeg became a Babel of tongues, a clatter of hammers. The real estate man rode on the wind, the genius of the hour. Prices were high but it didn’t matter. There was work at high pay for everybody. Life on Main and Portage was a round of drinks, a roar of good fellowship, a merry-go-round of sudden fortune.
Under these conditions, began the second period in telephone history of Manitoba, when development was carried out by a privately-owned corporation, and exchange service was introduced. Even with a population of this size there was no such thing as a telephone building in the city.
The new switchboard was installed in 22 May 1881 in a small room in the Caldwell building at McDermot and Main Street. It was located on the top floor in order to run telephone wires on the roof of the building. In those days an expansion plan did not usually include telephone poles. Wires were strung from roof to roof top and along fences. Poles were used only when the phone people ran out of roofs.
Among the first subscribers to the new switchboard were such well known Manitoba pioneers as Hugh Sutherland and James H. Ashdown. The Exchange was operated only during business hours. It was manned by a strong-lunged boy who insisted on opening the windows so that customers could hear him through the air if not over the wires.
These early Winnipeg operators added a spark to the communications history. A spark that sometimes kindled to a fire. The first telephone operators were young boys who became “telephone men” at the mature age of twelve or fourteen.
It was the most natural thing in the world to use boy operators in the first telephone exchanges. Boys and young men had served as telegraph operators ever since Morse had ticked off his historic “what hath God wrought.” So why not put the boys at the telephone switchboards?
The male operators were very popular with young women subscribers who would wile away an idle evening in telephone conversation with the switchboard man. But the men unfortunately became very impatient with subscribers to whom they took a dislike—this never included the young ladies of course. The common phrase to a man at the end of the line, after a lot of yelling back and forth, was to come up and fight like a man.
In the moments of leisure between calls—for traffic was often light in those days—the “young men” often occupied themselves with amusements that approached boisterousness. They played pranks upon each other and, it must be admitted, upon their subscribers.
It was this type of behaviour that eventually led to the hiring of women. One year later, the first woman operator was hired. She was Ida Cates, the forerunner of the “voice with a smile” which has expanded to some 1,800 operators today. At the time Miss Cates was employed, the third switchboard had been added to Winnipeg’s first Exchange.
The women proved very satisfactory. Some subscribers refused to deal with any but their own operators, and sent them presents of candy and flowers at Christmas and on occasions when special services had been rendered, such as waking the subscribers up in the morning. These same operators before the days of radio, were counted on to supply all kinds of information - about the weather, the time, hockey scores, and news of any importance. The illness and death of Sir John A. Macdonald, for example, provoked a flood of anxious inquiries.
However boys continued in the switchboard business for ten years. Theirs was a hard job. They had to leap from switch to switch with the agility of a monkey; to sweep out the office and keep coal on the fire; to run errands and, now and then, collect bills, or go out to untangle a pair of slack wires which had become wrapped around each other in a high wind. When night service was introduced in the early 1890s, they became night operators as well and worked a ten-hour day.
Even now there are a few male operators in small, outlying offices of some telephone companies. The telephone switchboard at the Ninette Sanatorium is often answered by a male voice.
Placing a call took some doing 80 years ago. You gave the crank on the side of the telephone one long turn to call the central office. Then, taking the receiver from the hook, you listened to the operator’s request for the number you were calling. She connected you. You hung up the receiver and did your own ringing. After the call was completed you gave one brisk ring with the crank, indicating your call was through. Within a few years, the operator had a switchboard crank and did the ringing for you.
Telephone directories used by the operators in those days consisted of a single card. There were no telephone numbers; they weren’t necessary. Operators connected names of customers and associated the names with numbers on the switchboard. Listings in the early days gave the name of the company and its products. With growth, names soon gave way to numbers until today a direct distance dialing number in a distant city consists of eleven digits.
The first official telephone directory was printed in Winnipeg in 1881 and listed forty-two subscribers. A special note in the directory warned subscribers not to allow non-subscribers to use their telephones and the reasons were ... It impedes the service. It is an injustice to those who pay for their telephones. It is a violation of the contract between the subscriber and the company.
Telephone users were by now enjoying a magneto type wall telephone. The set consisted of three boxes mounted on a backboard. The top box had a switch hook on the left hand side on which the receiver rested when the telephone was not in use. The centre box was used to speak into, and the bottom box held the battery which supplied the talking current. A liquid battery was used which required a visit by a telephone man every few months to keep the liquid in the tank filled. Often acid dripped down to the carpet to the horror of the housewife.
The last link with the early period was severed on 1 November 1881, when Mr. Frank Walsh succeeded Mr. McDougall as local agent for the Bell Company. The following year, Mr. Walsh, who was developing the north-west telephone hook-up for the company, was instrumental in installing private line telephone service in Regina as well as a magneto telephone service in Brandon which had 50 subscribers and Portage la Prairie with 17 customers.
Besides Mr. Walsh, the staff consisted of two day-operators and one night-operator, a lineman and from six to ten construction men.
In January 1882, there were nearly 40 miles of wire in the city; by 9 September according to the Winnipeg Times daily, there were 235 instruments in use on 70 miles of wire. Fifty more miles were to be strung as soon as poles could be obtained. One line with a capacity of 100 wires was to be built along Main Street from the Assiniboine to the Canadian Pacific railway.
In 1885, came the North West Rebellion, and on 30 March, a note was issued to the managers of Bell’s Ontario and Winnipeg’s offices to continue sending salaries to employees who were engaged in battle.
The uprising created many problems, as telegraph and telephone lines were continually being cut down. Mail was delayed. And there were days when no news came from the fighting front. Open communications were needed immediately after the cease fire, and the building of telephone service within the next two years gained importance.
As the heat of the battle simmered down, Manitoba’s first long distance line was built, the twenty-two mile stretch connecting Winnipeg to Selkirk in 1887.
In the same period, service to Portage la Prairie and Brandon was on the upswing to provide better communications to rural areas.
On the faith of this growing popularity the telephone company in 1895 erected its own two-storey building on Thistle Street. Seven years later, Thistle Street was renamed Portage Avenue East. The site of the building then is the same location as one of our main telephone buildings today.
Upon completion of the new building a magneto multiple switchboard was installed. This enabled each operator to reach any line in Winnipeg by herself instead of passing on the call to another operator. Within five years, the two-storey structure on Portage Avenue East, due to telephone growth, had doubled in size.
At the turn of the century, the west began to boom once more and more development in long distance lines was carried out. Long distance links from Winnipeg tied into Portage la Prairie, Brandon, Carman, Neepawa and Carberry. There was 235 miles of long distance lines in 1900. Today there is over 1,160,000 miles of telephone lines in Manitoba. This is enough wire to circle the world 45 times.
Even with all their progressive efforts telephone companies throughout Canada and the United States were now receiving unfavorable mention. In many towns it became necessary for anyone who wanted to place telephone facilities to obtain a franchise. A franchise granted those applying the right to build and operate telephone facilities. This discouraged haphazard and dangerous construction. In some places telephone companies were still paying local residents for roof privileges. This meant free telephone service to customers in exchange for letting the company use their roof for stringing wire instead of using poles.
After the Canadian Bell patent expired in 1893, anyone could make or deal in telephone equipment. Companies sprouted across the Dominion. When one or more of them entered a town already having service, customers soon had to have as many phones as there were telephone companies.
Competition was tough and so were the companies. Linemen from one company often knocked down the lines of another—or even sawed off poles. This destructive and fruitless competition provoked agitation for government ownership; and in 1905 the Federal Government appointed a Select Committee to investigate telephone conditions. Testimony was heard from telephone executives from systems all over the world as well as private citizens from towns and cities throughout Canada.
In Winnipeg at that time there was a growing dissatisfaction with the high rates charged by the Bell Telephone Company. Along with inefficiency and high costs of the various municipal systems, telephone service was being undermined. When other private companies sought franchises in Winnipeg, a hue and cry strongly supported by the Manitoba Grain Growers Association arose for the creation of a publicly owned system.
In February 1905, the Manitoba Legislature denied the applications for incorporation of the Northwest and independent telephone companies. In this matter the Hon. Robert Rogers stated that there could be nothing to prevent the government from undertaking the ownership and operation of a telephone system of its own. The ministry would accept the responsibility and during the year would make a close examination of the advantages of a government-owned telephone system throughout the province.
The Government was satisfied that the province should have its own telephone system and was convinced that the feeling throughout the province was sufficiently strong in backing this view to warrant the Government taking the necessary action.
In 1906, 1907 and 1908, the necessary legislation was enacted to set the stage for the establishment of a long distance telephone system covering the whole province, and, to assume, the installation and management of local exchanges and rural lines.
This Legislation which took place over a period of time and several acts in the Legislature is in the Statutes of Manitoba - Orders and Proclamations of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council for the years 1906 to 1908.
The official name designated by Order-in-Council No. 12545, dated 15 January 1908, was Manitoba Government Telephones.
The development of the Manitoba Government Telephones, the first such system on the continent, was begun in response to a growing demand for the principle of public ownership of public utilities.
It is interesting to note, that playing an important part in the Government’s expansion at that particular time was the Hon. Redmond Roblin, grandfather of Premier Duff Roblin.
Within the next two years Premier Roblin along with the Minister of Railways, Telephones and Telegraphs and the President of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada had set the stage for the signing of the agreement. The agreement then made the Manitoba Government responsible for service in our province. It was signed on 30 December 1907 and the system purchased for $3,300,000 from the Bell Telephone Company. Signed by Premier R. P. Roblin, the new system officially went into operation on 15 January 1908.
A reporter of the Manitoba Free Press questioning Premier Rodmond Roblin asked: “Will you tell me why the Government purchased the Bell System instead of completing the public system already begun?”.
“We purchased the Bell System”, said the Premier, “for the purpose of avoiding the necessity of having a dual telephone system in the province, and in that way preventing the waste of several million dollars of capital as well as the extra cost to the telephone user. I believe, also, that it is a good commercial proposition and whatever profit there is in the operation of the telephone system from this time on will belong to the people of Manitoba rather than to a private company. I am also proud of the fact that we have been able to secure for the people of Manitoba, the first complete system of government-owned telephones on the continent of North America, and I am sure, from the information that has been secured, that the result, as years go by, will prove more and more beneficial to the people”.
A commission was appointed to operate the newly acquired provincial telephone system. A competent telephone man, F. C. Paterson was named first chairman. The Hon. J. H. Howden, Minister of Railways, Telephones and Telegraphs was at the head of the department. All the officials and employees of the Bell System (which numbered over 700) remained in the employ of the government.
One of the initial steps undertaken by the new commission was to proceed with the construction of long distance lines to give both rural and local users the advantage of telephone service. By the end of the first year of operation the number of subscribers had increased by 6,000 to reach a total of 20,000. Pointing out that the third generation of telephone management in its infancy was away to a good start.
And this was the beginning of the third phase of communications in our province—from a privately-owned corporation to a publicly-owned utility.
It was the last quarter of the 19th century—the era in which the telephone business was born, struggled for survival and became firmly established.
Among our souvenirs of that day are records, letters in Spencerian script, pictures of the first Manitoba Government Telephone men and women on the job and of the equipment which they worked, directories with fewer names than appear on a single page of today’s alphabetical listings.
In our age of jet transportation, space communications, computer technology and data transmission, the remembrances of the age in which the telephone took hold seems strange—like the tin-plated pictures in the family albums of yesteryear showing frock-coated grandfather, arms akimbo staring grimly at the camera.
It is in the records that we see the great advances made by the Manitoba Government Telephones in its youth—before the crawl became a walk.
During the first eleven and a half months of operation, there was an increase of 1,468 miles of long distance lines; and 408 miles of long distance poles had been placed. In addition there was an opening of twenty-nine new exchanges and agencies. Telephone subscribers had increased by 2,158.
In a very short time this infant, in the telephone business learned to walk, a new branch exchange at the Fort Garry building was opened for service in March 1909. The installation of a manual switchboard at this exchange marked further accomplishments in the province’s telephone history.
By 1912, five exchanges were completed in Winnipeg capable of handling over 40,000 subscribers.
All the telephone companies, municipal systems, and others in the province, who had been doing business independently of the Bell Company had been connected with the government system.
The annual revenue had increased by $81,231.00. The maintenance efficiency of the plant, equipment, long distance and rural lines had been kept in good order during the first eleven months of the takeover. Over $98,000.00 was spent to do the job.
What had changed the telephone from a gadget to an indispensable business partner was a never-ending chain of improvements.
Poles replaced rooftops as supports for wires. A system that bundled and protected hundreds of wires into one neat cable. Underground cables actually had their first appearance in Winnipeg in 1907. The overhead wires in New York and Montreal gave way to underground trenches as early as 1877. It became essential because the skies were being clouded by a maze of wires, splicing cable became a technique involving plumbers and tinsmiths until telephone men picked up the art.
Research in other directions was producing more effective instruments, equipment and methods. The Phantom Circuit, for example, as early as 1908 enabled two pairs of wires-two circuits-to carry three separate and uninterrupted conversations at the same time. This development alone increased by half the number of possible telephone paths without any increase in the number of long distance wire required to carry them.
The most dramatic evidence of the ever-improving efficiency of the Telephone was the introduction of dial service. Bringing it to light more than 75 years ago was a Kansas City undertaker. It seems he became dissatisfied with his telephone service. He thought, mistakenly as it turned out, that one of the local operators was always reporting his telephone busy. He felt he was being robbed and his competitor was getting his share. He didn’t mind his customers dropping off - but he couldn’t stand a drop in his business.
Almon B. Strowger decided to take matters into his own hands and find a way to switch local telephone calls without becoming involved with an operator.
Three years after he perfected his automatic dial system in 1889, it was installed at La Porte, Indiana. This was the first commercial automatic exchange in the world. The concepts which were incorporated into this first system formed the basis for the automatic exchanges which are in use around the world today.
By the way, all the blame heaped upon the innocent operators should have been hurled at a tin sign hanging over Strowger’s telephone. When the front door opened, drafts swung the sign, short-circuiting the instrument.
Brandon was the first office in Manitoba to get dial phones back in 1917 while the first automatic exchange in this city was cutover for service on 10 April 1920. Six years later, the complete conversion from manual to dial service was completed. Winnipeg then had the distinction of being the first large city in Canada to have complete automatic service.
During the 1920s the phone books directions for using the telephone were extensive and a bit more sophisticated than they had been in the pioneering years. The advent of the automatic switching equipment now installed in many central offices made it necessary to tell customers how to use their new dial telephones.
Instructions were minute—even to the description of the busy signal and the telephone ring itself. It was about this time that the Yellow Pages actually became yellow. They had previously been pink or white.
It seems the telephone industry had become color conscious for in 1928 the All Red Route, an important link in the Canadian Trans-Continental line was ceremoniously placed in service. This opened to the public a long distance line from Winnipeg to Montreal. This event had been largely fulfilled through the efforts of the third telephone commissioner in the province, Mr. J. E. Lowry. He had six years earlier, with the cooperation of the Saskatchewan and Alberta Telephone officials, put through an Edmonton to Port Arthur link.
Long distance had been regarded as a miracle of sorts, in much the same way that the phone itself had been originally regarded. To talk across the province, across the country and eventually around the world was indeed a marvel!
By 1923, the Telephone System had entered the field of radio broadcasting with the building of a 500-watt station. The transmitter and studio were both installed originally in an Exchange on Sherbrook Street. The transmitter was later moved to the then Agricultural College which is the University of Manitoba today. Seven years later a radio station went into operation at Brandon.
In 1932 a transmitter of 15,000 watts, the highest power in the Dominion, was put into operation at a site near the Headingley Jail. In that year the CKY studios, the most modern in the country, occupied the entire 3rd floor at 166 Portage Avenue East.
Confirming to Dominion Government policy, whereby provincial governments were required to withdraw from radio broadcasting, the sale of both stations was completed during 1948. CKX - Brandon went to a private company for $65,000.00. CKY Winnipeg was bought by the CBC for $200,000.00.
Returning now to the twenties the story was the same in Manitoba as it was throughout Canada. New lines replaced old. From almost any point in the province you could call throughout Canada and the United States and several over-seas points. But the stock market crash of 1929 and the depression of the thirties was around the corner. The telephone industry, like every business, was hard hit. Growth dwindled, then stopped, and the number of telephones decreased for a few years. Dial conversions came to a halt. For telephone employees the depression years meant reduced work-weeks in an effort to spread employment. Progress stumbled along until the late thirties which brought a resurgence to the economy.
Dial expansion resumed. The number of telephones began a steady upward climb all over the province.
The completion of the Trans-Canada and Intercontinental long distance lines in 1931, with facilities to the U.S., Canada, England, New Zealand and European centres, found Winnipeg equipped with a new 200 line capacity switchboard and 40 operator positions.
In 1932 the Trans-Canada Telephone System was officially opened. It provided long distance facilities through Canada whereas, previously, coast-to-coast calls had travelled on United States lines.
An Exchange Building at 166 Portage Avenue East, as mentioned before, was completed in 1932. A six-story structure, it occupied the former site of the original Main Exchange. This was one of the largest and most modern buildings in the city at the time. It housed the Administration offices and one down-town automatic exchange of 6,600 lines.
One year later, the Manitoba Act was enacted by the Legislature repealing the Telephone and Telegraph Act and the Manitoba Telephone and Telegraph Act. The new Act set up the “Manitoba Telephone System Commission” which was to be a body corporate. An alternative name was given to us if we wished to use it - the Manitoba Telephone System.
In repealing the Telephone and Telegraph Department Act, the Act of 1933 abolished the Department of Telephones and Telegraphs.
System customers continued to increase and by 1939 had reached over 70,000. We had over 1,000 employees on the payroll at that time.
The year also marked the formation of the Manitoba Telephone Pioneers of America, Chapter 50—joining the largest organization in the world of its kind. Today there are 450 Telephone Pioneers in Manitoba. These are telephone people who have over 20 years service in our industry.
World War II brought problems of its own—a tremendous demand for telephone service and shortages of manpower and materials. New installations were limited by the scarcity of basic raw materials—copper, nickel, zinc and tin, needed in the manufacturing of telephone equipment.
Subscribers were asked to limit their calls, especially long distance, to keep the lines open for defence work. This also gave servicemen an opportunity to make more calls.
A tremendous business boom followed the war. The System was entering a new era of service. An era in which the phrase “modern communications” fits perfectly.
It was during this period in early 1945 that Mr. Peter Millar was appointed Commissioner and General Manager. Mr. Millar had just returned from a special assignment to the Dominion Government where he was manager of a Crown Company in charge of communications from Ottawa to Newfoundland for the three armed services.
A significant step in the Manitoba Telephone System’s vast expansion occurred in 1948 and 1949 when the System opened radio terminals at Gimli, Norway House and The Pas. This provided radio telephone service to the northern communities and outposts in that part of the province.
During the past 15 years, the development of communications in the rural areas had been the most outstanding. Prior to 1949, Winnipeg and Brandon were the only centres in Manitoba to have dial service. That year, the first of what was to become a flood of smaller automatic dial offices was installed to serve Woodlands, Warren and Marquette, some 30 miles north-west of our city. The conversion from manual service to automatic dial has continued at a fast pace until today there are more than 90 dial offices in rural areas throughout the province. It is expected that all of Manitoba will be dial by 1970.
In 1950 the flooding of the Red River provided the great disaster of the half century mark. Telephone operators worked frantically in provincial areas to warn residents of approaching waters. Winnipeg operators kept to their posts and slept in exchanges for weeks before flood waters subsided. Telephone repair crews worked around the clock replacing telephone lines wherever possible and worked with the hundreds of volunteers in manning dykes.
The mid-fifties were years of swift change—one was the System taking its place in a continent-wide plan by installing operator toll dialing facilities in 1952 enabling operators to dial directly to distant telephones. This plan was put into effect step by step as individual telephone organizations throughout the continent acquired the necessary facilities. It provided speedier and more effective long distance service for Manitoba. It was also at this time that it became apparent that the already expanded long distance lines were now insufficient. The long distance requirements brought about the necessity of the Trans-Canada Microwave System, with the Winnipeg-to-the-east portion being opened in 1956. When completed from coast to coast in 1958, some 4,000 miles of microwave network, consisting of 178 towers, stretched zig-zaggedly across the entire nation. This 50 million dollar project was undertaken by the Trans-Canada Telephone System of which the Manitoba Telephone System is a member. It constitutes the longest, single microwave system in the world. The network now brings television to all homes across Canada.
On the heels of microwave completion our system constructed radio relay and scatter systems in northern Manitoba to provide up-to-date facilities for the development of this industrial area. The unique scatter system between Thompson and Snow Lake bounces voices off the troposphere nearly ten miles up and gently returns them to earth again as quickly as a twinkle.
Winnipeg reached another milestone in April, 1962 when its 300,000th telephone was installed. The installation of the 200,000th telephone took place in Brandon in 1955.
A new office building to bring all the Administrative staff under one roof, was completed early in 1963. The modern, T-shaped, six-storey structure at 489 Empress Street now houses more than 730 employees.
Last year more than 500 miles of telephone cable was buried throughout the province, with construction now underway on more facilities of this type. A revolutionary new underground cable-the first of its kind in Canada and perhaps North America-was installed last year along a 24 mile route between Morris and Dominion City. The new cable combines long distance and rural circuits. The major obstacle along the route was the Red River which was spanned three miles from Letellier.
Another “first” was the burying of the cable, by means of a plough, more than three feet below the silt at the bottom of the river.
The System has introduced new communication equipment for home, business and industry, including facilities for the high speed transmission of business data between machines in various centres across the nation. The variety of facilities are so vast that they are a story in themselves.
It is the space age era for our industry—with satellites playing a more major role each year. The day of push button telephones is nearly here. They are already in use in Montreal and Toronto’s international airports.
The industry has seen tremendous advances and our System now in its 57th year, has also seen remarkable growth. Last year with 3,900 employees and plant valued at $176 million dollars and assets at $198 million dollars; we continued to be the third largest telephone system in Canada. There are at present 340,000 telephones in Manitoba providing an average of one telephone for every three people in the province. This adds to the 6 million phones in Canada and the 171 million throughout the world.
The System is a completely independent Crown Corporation operated by a Board of Commissioners consisting of five members appointed by the Government of the Province of Manitoba.
The Terms of the Manitoba Telephone Act give complete overall authority to the Board of Commissioners to operate the System, and the only restriction to this authority, is of course, the supreme power of the Government to give an overall direction to the System with respect to Government policy including the control of capital expenditures.
When the Board of Commissioners was appointed in 1962—the name Manitoba Telephone System was accepted as the only name we would use at all times.
Mr. J. F. Mills is the system’s fifth Commissioner and General Manager, and has guided the organization’s growth since he assumed his present duties in 1954.
An Executive Committee consisting of the General Manager, J. F. Mills, who is also Chairman of the Board; the Assistant General Manager and Manager Operations and Engineering, J. Fenton and G. V. Williamson, Comptroller along with eight major departments handle all phases of System’s activities from research and planning of advanced facilities to the issuing of customer statements.
One of the most recent innovations in the telephone industry, is Direct Distance Dialing. It was successfully introduced in Winnipeg a little over a month ago.
Using DDD, a Winnipeg customer can now dial his own long distance calls to any one of more than 85 million telephones in Canada and the United States. DDD came into being as a result of a sharp climb during recent years both in the number of telephones in service and the volume of traffic. It marks the beginning of a new era in long distance communications in Manitoba. Calls across the continent can now be completed with little more effort than calls across the street.
What has evolved from Mr. Bell’s little wooden box in Winnipeg, as elsewhere, is startling when one considers the short amount of time the whole process has taken. The modern business man in Winnipeg can sit back in his comfortable chair, not even touching his telephone. In this case a speaker phone which includes a separate amplifier and speaker and he talks, hands free, to an associate in Rome. He is more than a world away and yet not a century from Bell’s first muffled words over the phone, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.”
Page revised: 5 May 2016