M996.21.1 | Telephone Poles Along the Road

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Telephone Poles Along the Road
About 1890, 19th century
Ink on paper
5.6 x 8.1 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Guelph Museums
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Keys to History

The Telephone in Rural Areas

Until the late 1940s, there were several hundred small telephone companies operating in Canada. For example, in Quebec alone, there were 284 telephone systems in 1943. Outside of the big cities of central Canada, people also wanted the telephone. Thanks to a few brave entrepreneurs, small communities and remote regions did eventually obtain telephone service. In rural areas, doctors often had lines installed between their offices, the pharmacy and their patients. Rural co-operatives, municipal systems and provincial public utilities were set up to cater to communities not served by the big companies like Bell.

Due to a shortage of materials or capital to build the system, many phone companies offered party lines. They were especially common in rural areas with a low population density. The basic idea is simple: several subscribers share the same line. In the country, the use of party lines gave rise to the hobby of listening in on other people's conversations. Only one call could be made at a time, and confidential conversations were to be avoided!

  • What

    This drawing shows that telephone poles had become as much a part of the countryside as tree and fields.

  • Where

    Because of their low population density, rural areas were expensive to service. In 1900 each new telephone connected to the system required an investment of about $150.

  • When

    In 1956 many Canadian households were still on party lines. Over 42 percent of all phone lines were shared. Our grandparents all have party-line stories to tell!

  • Who

    A number of co-operatives and public utilities were set up to serve remote areas.