Operator. May I help you?: Bell Canada's 125 Years

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I-11529.1 II-72261.1 BELL-3ANG MP-0000.2101.3 BELL-6124 BELL-1ANG BELL-2784 BELL-34090 M991X.5.120
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Telephone crew places cable underground at the corner of Ste-Catherine Street and Union Avenue, Montreal, QC, 1930
Millar Studio
1930, 20th century
Bell Canada Historical Collection
This artefact belongs to: © Bell Canada
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Keys to History

Company Employees

Behind Bell's management team are thousands of technicians building the network. They put up telephone poles, string wires, lay cable, make repairs, put in phones for new subscribers, and install and maintain exchange equipment. This crew consists mainly, if not entirely, of men.

In the telephone industry, there is a very clear division of labour between men and women. Technical work is done by men, and almost all operators are women. During the Second World War, because of the shortage of manpower, women for the first time became technicians at some telephone exchanges.

  • What

    A crew of technicians is burying telephone cables under Ste. Catherine Street in downtown Montreal. The cables are run underground for aesthetic and safety reasons.

  • Where

    The photograph shows a crew working on Ste. Catherine Street at the corner of Union, in Montreal. On the left, you can see the storefront of Birks jewellers and in the rear on the right, Eaton's department store.

  • When

    Bell Canada began laying cable in its own system of underground conduits as early as 1891.

  • Who

    Technical crews work mainly outdoors, and their work is highly demanding. In 1917 the standard workweek was 54 hours.