The Telephone and its History in Almonte




Almonte Gazette July 30, 1970 


Walrus moustaches and hair slicked with oil, high stiff collars and bowler hats characterized the young gallant of the middle eighties when the first telephone exchange was established in Almonte. Set up in the rear of M. Patterson’s drug store, the tiny, primitive switchboard created a minor sensation in those horse and buggy days.

It was not until August 1887, that the first list of Almonte subscribers was published in a small, pocket-size directory containing the names of practically everyone in Eastern Ontario and Quebec who had a telephone. Under Almonte the names of 29 subscribers were listed which reveals the progressiveness of the local residents of that time, for in these days this new means of communication was regarded in many quarters as little more than a silly fad.

In 1886 Almonte became an important long distance centre in the rapidly-growing wire network which the Bell Telephone Co. had begun to erect throughout Ontario and Quebec. That year an 82-mile pole line to Pembroke was completed, which meant that local subscribers could telephone many intermediate points.

At first voice transmission was limited to 20 miles. But Bell engineers and scientists steadily devised methods of improving the first crude instruments. Galvanized iron lines were replaced by copper and the loading coil, which boosts voice impulses, was invented. This invention was later followed by the vacuum tube repeater which, as its name implies, amplifies the voice currents  at intervals along the circuit and makes it possible to talk across the continent.

With only 29 telephones in Almonte in 1887, subscribers were called by name, not by number. A notice in bold type in the directory advised subscribers that “The name of the party wanted should be spoken with especial distinctness to prevent mistakes.” Another footnote warned: “Do not attempt to use the telephone on the approach or during a thunderstorm.”

The initial list of Almonte subscribers recalls the names of prominent residents and businesses establishments in the community at that time: Almonte Knitting Company; Almonte Gazette; McLeod & McEwan; Almonte House; T. W. Raines; Bank of Montreal; Burns, Robert, M.D., surgery; Canadian Pacific Railway, Station; C.P.R. Telegraph Office; T. W. McDermott; Davis House; John Gemmill; Dowdall & Fraser, Barristers; Lawson, Walter, livery stable; Linch, D. P. , M.D., surgery; Macdonald & Skinner, Barristers, etc.; Mississippi Iron Works; Young Bros.; Munro, J. M.; Patterson, M., drug store; Rosamond Woolen Co., office; Rosamond, Jas., Jr., residence; Robertson, James, merchant; Robinson & Shaw; Shearn, C. H.; Windsor House; F. Reilly; Wylie, J. B. , merchant.

It is interesting to note that of the 29 telephones in service here in 1887, 23 were in business establishments.

With the title of “Agent”, M. Patterson supervised the local affairs of the Bell telephone Company whose switchboard and associated equipment occupied part of the premises of Mr. Patterson’s drug store on Mill Street.

Mr. Patterson continued as local manager until succeeded shortly after the turn of the century by the late “Tom” Armstrong, who, with headquarters at Carleton Place, served as local manager for more than 15 years.

In 1920, a territorial reorganization placed Almonte under the management of John J. Gardiner, whose headquarters were in Smiths Falls. Mr. Gardiner retired in 1937 following over 37 years’ Bell service.

As early as 1900 Almonte had more than 50 telephones. By 1911 the number passed the 100 mark. The 200th instrument was installed in 1920.

In 1947, when the exchange had almost 500 customers, the old hand crank type of telephone was replaced by a much more streamlined set. Common battery telephones enabled subscribers to contact the operator by simply lifting the receiver.

It was a great help to the operator too, because, as an editorial in the ALMONTE GAZETTE of Nov. 20, 1947, pointed out, “When the receiver is removed from the hook a light flashes on in front of the operator; when she makes the connection it goes out and when the receiver is replaced it comes on again, indicating that the conversation is terminated. She breaks the circuit.”

Under the old system, the editorial continued – “people neglected to ring off … the only way ‘central’ could determine whether the parties were through with the line was to listen in.”

Since that major renovation in the telephone system, the Bell has attempted to provide Almonte subscribers with up-to-date telephone service to meet their ever expanding needs. As the town has grown, the demand for service has grown with it, and the company has had to keep abreast and even a step ahead of local development to meet demands without delay.

The change to dial in March, 1966, and the introduction of direct distance dialing gives Almonte a communications system second to none. Subscribers here will be served by the same type of telephone switching equipment that now serve Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. They will also have direct dialing access to the same number of long distance telephones as residents of the larger metropolitan areas.


Lanark County Genealogical Society Website

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News


About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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