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Telephones become a necessity, not a luxury

The Story


Couples court, businessmen deal, and firefighters help -- all by telephone. Nearly all aspects of Canadian life have changed since the telephone took hold. Even before the start of the Second World War Canadians made more phone calls per capita than citizens of any other country. Now, as the war draws to a close in 1945, CBC Radio host John Fisher predicts "the very words of victory shall be spread by telephone." Fisher is saluting the 65th anniversary of Bell Canada, the largest of the country's 4,000 telephone companies. In 1914, he notes, the telephone had been a luxury in Canadian homes. But now there's one phone for every five people, and Canada supplies phone equipment to many other countries. Because of its speed of communication and the way it has shaped users' lives, the telephone is a necessity for everyday life. 

Medium: Radio
Program: John Fisher Reports
Broadcast Date: April 29, 1945
Announcer: Frank Herbert
Host: John Fisher
Duration: 13:52
Photo: Harry Rowed/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque/National Archives of Canada

Did You know?


• Bell Canada was established in 1880 by Charles Fleetford Sise, a former sea captain who was an agent of the Bell Telephone Company in the United States. He negotiated with telegraph firms for their interest in small municipal telephone companies to form one big Bell. Sise also wrote Bell Canada's first mandate.

• The statement read: "This Company has endeavoured to give the public the best service at the lowest rate compatible with the interests of its shareholders."

• By the end of 1880, Bell operated telephone exchanges in 14 cities in Ontario and Quebec, serving 2,000 subscribers.

• Bell also held licences to provide service in all other provinces but British Columbia. Between 1885 and 1909 it sold those interests to smaller companies and provincial governments.

• British Columbia had about 45 small telephone companies around the turn of the century. In 1923 the Vernon and Nelson Telephone Company became the British Columbia Telephone Company, and was later renamed BC TEL before merging with Alberta's TELUS in 1999.

• Until 1924, all telephone calls in Canada had to go through an operator. Picking up the receiver would bring the operator on the line, and callers would give the number so the operator could make the connection.

• The introduction of the dial telephone meant the operator was no longer needed for local calls. A series of pulses activated by the sequence of numbers dialed would automatically connect one caller to another.

• The Great Depression marked the first time that more existing phones were disconnected than new ones connected. In 1933 the net loss was over 40,000.

• During the Second World War Bell was compelled to save energy by installing only essential telephones. By 1945 the backlog was 100,000 unfilled orders.

• Bell Canada has always operated in Canada's two largest provinces, Quebec and Ontario. Many of the early local telephone companies were absorbed by Bell.

• Many independent telephone companies are still operating. Canada's largest is TBayTel of Thunder Bay, Ont. which began in 1902.

• Manitoba and Saskatchewan each have their own provincial telephone companies; Saskatchewan's is publicly owned. The four Atlantic provinces are partners in Aliant and all three territories are served by NorthWesTel.


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Canada Says Hello: The First Century of the Telephone more