North

Will and Kate send royal tweet with Yukon telegraph

'Well, I guess it's the old way and the new way joining hands,' said former Yukon Commissioner - and telegraph operator - Doug Bell.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge first to use new 'telegraph to tweet' technology at Whitehorse museum

"It's crossing the generations and the technology and joining them together for a neat way to say hello." (Canadian Press/Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Former Yukon Commissioner Doug Bell was delighted to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Whitehorse Wednesday morning, and to help launch a new made-in-Yukon technology created for the MacBride Museum — a 100-year-old telegraph key that can now send messages to Twitter.

In the log Telegraph House, a building dating back to the turn of the last century, Will and Kate dictated a message transcribed by 90-year-old Bell into Morse code. It appeared instantly on twitter. 

"Well I guess it's the old way and the new way joining hands," said Bell, who came north to the Yukon in the 1940s as a radio operator.

"It's crossing the generations and the technology and joining them together for a neat way to say hello." 

Showcasing Yukon technology

The "telegraph to tweet" technology was created by Make IT Solutions' software developer Seamus Venasse, who said he was honoured the Duke and Duchess were the first to use his technology.

"I was asked if it's possible to hook a telegraph key to a computer, and I said 'of course,'" he said. 

But learning the mechanics of Morse code proved a little challenging. 

Although it's rooted in Yukon history, for Venasse, showcasing this new product during the royal visit was a way to show what is possible in the North.

"I would say it's highlighting our tech sector and this is our future."

'Hands on, and interactive' 

The royal sent the first telegraph tweet, but now any museum visitor can send their own message. The technology will live at MacBride Museum of Yukon History as an exhibition.

"In all of our exhibitions, we try to build things for the public that are hands on and interactive," said museum executive director Patricia Cunning. 

"The way that a telegraph worked — for the most part, they were fairly expensive to send — everyone sent a really short message, a really truncated message, 'arrived safely all good.'

"Tweets are similar to that. A short message getting your content out to the world. So, it's almost like a full circle in terms of how people are communicating."

For Cunning, the history of the telegraph and Morse code is an integral part of the Yukon story. She says one of the reasons Yukon is famous is because the Klondike gold rush occurred in the communications era.

"Everybody knew about it because we had telegraph communication," she said.

Cunning says about two years after the gold rush, when the telegraph office — now part of the museum — was built for Commissioner William Ogilvie, one of his first messages to Ottawa was: "time and space are annihilated. We are of the world now."

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