Switchboard system obsolete by late-60s

From our January 2013 issue

By John J. OystrykCanora, Sask.

In the 1880s, about a decade after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, Regina had a setup whereby voices were going by wire between offices such as the town, police, justice, and publisher.

The first telephone exchange was opened in a bookstore in 1887 and the first telephone operator was Emily Landers. In 1904, a switchboard was installed in Regina to handle the ever-increasing calls, and a year later there were about 2,000 telephones operating in the cities of Saskatchewan.

Bell Telephone Company extended long distance to connect Winnipeg with Regina in 1906. The following year, Saskatoon became one of the first Canadian cities to provide automatic exchange service.

In 1909, SaskTel built its first telephone exchanges in Hanley and Melville and also purchased a number of telephone exchanges, which included Bell Telephone Company.

The newly-acquired included 18 telephone exchanges and 53 long distance offices. Another three large systems in Saltcoats, Northwest, and Swift Current were acquired.

In the early 1950s, a new building was constructed by Hagbloom Construction of Saskatoon, at 401 Main Street in Canora, to house the five or six, two-operator switchboards to handle the calls for the area. By 1955, the two to five number system was implemented.

A larger building was built in the early ‘60s at 417 Main Street, Canora, to house the equipment for the introduction of the ‘All Numerical System’. ‘Direct Dialing’ was realized in 1967 and the switchboard system became obsolete.

Because SaskTel had a buyer for the building at 401 Main Street, the switchboards were moved by SaskTel to Yorkton and put into storage. Because systems changed with advanced technology, the CN Railway Station, built in 1904, was not being used for about two decades prior to 1997 in Canora.

A newsflash indicated the demolition of the station. Almost instantly a few of the community’s members got together and very quickly formed a “Society for Preservation” of the building, of which I am one.

By the end of 1997 and early 1998 we had the building cleaned, painted, and ready to open as a museum.

In about 1999 SaskTel asked if we would be interested in having one of the two-operator switchboards in the CN Station Museum in Canora, to which it was agreed. The building at 401 Main Street is now the office of the RM of Good Lake.

Former switchboard operators, Phyllis Parnetta and Evelyn Kuruliak (seated) at this six-foot long switchboard.