Cellphones, tablets spur new Canadian area codes

Canadians in several provinces will soon see unfamiliar numbers on their call display as the country introduces a handful of new area codes to meet growing demand.

Canadian agency overseeing area codes says additions will bring the total to 29 nationwide

The Canadian Numbering Administrator says new area codes will be rolled out in select provinces nationwide over the next few months, brought on by an increase in cellphones and tablets. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

Canadians in several provinces will soon see unfamiliar numbers on their call display as the country introduces a handful of new area codes to meet growing demand.

History of area codes

Canada's first area codes were introduced as part of the North American Numbering Plan in 1947 in a move allowing people to make long-distance calls directly instead of requiring assistance from an operator. 

As part of the plan developed by AT&T, Ontario and Quebec were each assigned two area codes and the remaining provinces a single code. Yukon and the Northwest Territories were connected over a decade later in 1960 splitting part of Alberta's 403 codes.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced last year that Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, which have been splitting the 902 code for more than 65 years, would see the introduction of the 782 code in 2014.

With the total for area codes now reaching 29 nationwide, Ontario will have 11 and Quebec seven. 

From the CBC digital archives: Listen here as a Bell spokesman describes the introduction of area codes and direct long-distance dialing to CBC Radio's Assignment.

Sources: Canadian Numbering Administrator, North American Numbering Plan Administration

Toronto will add 437 to its existing 416 and 647 at the end of next month, while 365 will join 905 and 289 in serving a region that stretches from just outside the city to the Golden Horseshoe area that stretches down to Niagara Falls.

The new codes will come into effect on March 25, pushing the country's tally to 29, up from the original nine established in 1947, said a spokesman for the agency that oversees Canada's phone numbers.

That total is expected to rise to 35 in the next few years, driven by population growth as well as the boom in wireless technology, said Glenn Pilley, director of the Canadian Numbering Administrator.

"You get more people and they get more cellphones and they have multiple numbers, it's definitely going to add to it," he said Wednesday.

Saskatchewan will be the next province to branch out, followed by British Columbia, Alberta and other parts of southwestern Ontario, he said.

Manitoba already gained a new prefix last November when it made the switch to 10-digit dialling.

Apps using up numbers

He said the new codes are needed to accommodate the surge in cellphones and tablets, many of which take up more than one phone number.

That's because some apps — including those meant to bypass charges for texting or long-distance calling, or to communicate with other machines — are assigned their own phone number, he said.

"Generally, nobody ever sees them, including the people that have the number because it's done automatically," he said.

Dense urban areas such as Toronto are quicker to use up the roughly 7.5 million unique phone numbers contained in each code, Pilley said.

He said it's likely few people will notice the change, however — at least until they get a new phone or receive a call from a strange number.

"It's going to be for most people a non-event in that it won't affect them because their phone number stays the same, their long-distance calling area stays the same and they already dial 10 digits."