Fredericton's lonely phone booth

It appears Fredericton is getting close to its last phone booth.

A shattered booth is a 'last dinosaur' of sorts, according to city officials

It seems a single phone booth remains standing. The broken box sits near the top of Regent Street, with a phone that's missing its receiver. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

It appears Fredericton is down to its last phone booths.

The communications staple of yesteryear is all but extinct in the city, although a single broken booth remains near the top of Regent Street and there is a smattering of others around the city, including some that work.

But the Bell Aliant booth on Regent is almost poignant, standing with its doors pushed slightly open by invading snowbanks.

There are no footprints in that snow. 

It's meaningful, I think. It stands there, and it reminds us. It's history.- Chasrles Wang

The receiver is ripped out, with bare wires blowing in the winter air that comes through the shattered windows. 

The missing phonebook has been replaced by graffiti. 

But the booth itself still kind of works. 

"The lights, they still turn on at night," said Xu Ma, a University of New Brunswick student who has lived next to the booth for the past year.
What appears to be the last phone booth in the capital city is filled with snow. People living nearby say they can't recall seeing anyone use it. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

His neighbour has lived with the phone booth on his front lawn for three years. Charles Wang said he's never used it, never needed to and doesn't know anyone who has.

"No, I don't think so," Wang said. "Nowadays, everybody owns a smart phone or something." 

But despite worldwide communication being just a pocket away these days, Wang said the blue box in the snowbank is a relic that still has value. 

Charles Wang, who has lived with the phone booth in his front yard for three years but never used it, says it should be valued for its 'history.' (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"It's meaningful, I think," Wang said. "It stands there, and it reminds us. It's history." 

Several retired booths in Fredericton are resting in a graveyard of sorts. They're disconnected and decaying, corralled by a chain-link fence behind the Bell Aliant building in the industrial park.

Standing at angles in the snow with brush and alders growing up between them, some still contain phonebooks rotting away inside and covered in moss.  

The branding that has fallen off some Bell Aliant pay phones and phone booths reveal the old NBTel logo underneath. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Some of the Bell Aliant branding has fallen away, revealing the NBTel logo underneath. 

That company was sold in 2002, which indicates the repurposed and retired booths are likely more than two decades old. 

Bell Aliant won't say how many phone booths remain in Fredericton. 

Xu Ma, a university student who lives next to the booth, says the phone may not work but the booth itself lights up at night. (Shane Fowler)

"Bell has more than 45,000 pay phones across Canada," Isabelle Boulet, a spokesperson for Bell Aliant, wrote in an email. "Details including usage and number of phones by location are not disclosed." 

There are still phone booths throughout New Brunswick, especially in rural communities, and even a working phone booth on the outer edge of Fredericton near Lincoln and booths in a few other city spots.

But the Regent Street box is a "last dinosaur" of sorts, according to city officials.

Behind the Bell Aliant building in the city's industrial park there are several old phone booths with both Bell Aliant and NBTel branding. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The Regent Street box is a "last dinosaur" of sorts, according to city officials.

Pay phones are still found at gas stations and malls, but they won't be found on city-owned properties, including parks.

"There are no pay phones in any city facilities," said Wayne Knorr, communications manager for the City of Fredericton. "No more booths."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the phone booth on Regent Street appeared to be the last one in Fredericton. In fact, it is only one of the last, and the sprinkling of others on both sides of the St. John River includes a working phone booth on the Lincoln Road.
    Feb 23, 2018 1:43 PM AT

About the Author

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.