Tag Archives: telephones

The Local ‘Gabblers’ on the Party Lines! 1950s

The Local ‘Gabblers’ on the Party Lines! 1950s

The second photo (also found at almonte .com) is labelled as the “Telephone Central Office”. Switchboards were still in use in the 40s. Where was this office located? In that Mill Street space? The second photo may be older than the first, and the office was relocated to Mill Street later? The windows are hard to place in the second photo, but perhaps the building was rebuilt since then… Anyone have other details? Can confirm locations of the “central office”?The two women in the second photo are switchboard operators – manually connecting calls with cord pairs. If you zoom in, you can see these cords quite clearly #Almonte#EarlyTelecommunications#HelloOperatorDowntown AlmonteUnexpected Almonte

Almonte Gazette- 1951

District complaints have come, recently, regarding the shortening of telephone circuits as carried out by the Bell Company. Before the Bell took over the Lanark & Carleton Counties Telephone Co., these circuits were quite large in most instances and it was possible for a person on one of them to call a great many more patrons, without going through the central exchange board, here, than is now the case. Those who do not like the breaking up of these large—sociable— loops, say the Bell Co. is going right on with its policy and they complain, as stated above, that where they used to be able to call a friend many miles distant without ringing central, they must now go through the local exchange.

The only argument they use against this is that it causes them some inconvenience, and, for good measure they criticize the service given at the central switchboard here. Most reasonable people admit there are some very good operators in Almonte—and to put it delicately—some who are not so good. But even the operators who are accused of being a little slow or careless do not create half as much inconvenience as the gabblers on the rural lines. They are the real nuisances and their long visits may be discouraged by shortening the circuits so they will have to go through central to get a connection. If they camp on the line too long and someone else wants it for an important message, the local operator will have a definite knowledge of who is doing the visiting.

This photo is interesting not just because of the snowstorm & the two good-natured gents, one with a broom, sweeping the snow. Also in this picture is a hanging sign that states “Business Office” and has the old/original Bell Canada bell logo on it. This photo is from 1947.–Unexpected Almonte

Complaints are heard from many sections about well known bores on the rural lines. There are mammas who call up their daughters every morning and talk for half-an-hour on any subject from the best method of emptying a certain bedroom utensil to what subject is going to be discussed at the next meeting of the Ladies’ Aid. There are, also, the problems of pickles, preserves, picking apples, the state of the barn yard, the state of the garden, the state of the neighborhood, the state of the township and the state of the nation. There is the question of quilting quilts and many other topics too numerous to mention.

The gripe that many rural people have about these gossips is that they monopolize the lines and make them useless for the transmission of sensible messages or transaction of business. One method of getting these magnetic talking machines off the line used by quick tempered men is to damn whoever is holding up that line—damn her with great big words of disapprobation. If the adjectives are hot enough the receivers click up and a startled voice generally gasps: “Well, I never! How ignorant can some folks be?”

The people who camp on the rural lines generally make a habit of it, do it around the same time, and are well known to the exasperated neighbors and more distant patrons who would like to get a word in edgeways. As stated before, the shortening of the rural circuits by the Bell Co. may be a blessing in disguise because these people who have nothing to do but monopolize the service with their silly chatter will not have the face to go through central, every morning or afternoon, and keep everybody from using the line for the next hour or so.

In the above it is admitted that most of those who are opposed to shortening of telephone circuits are not influenced by the desire to monopolize the lines. They simply feel it is an inconvenience to call central in town to get someone whom they used to call on the longer circuit by giving a signal on their own phone. But, as pointed out to these and other people, the policy of the Bell may in the end have its compensations. It has on other rural systems because- people who use them have attested to th at fact. One real cause for complaint though, is the constant changing of rural numbers of people paying for business telephones.

Karen Dorman sent this photo in..The top photo is the girls at the Bell telephone circa 1953. Starting with the far left standing are Audrey MacDougall, Joan McKim Whalen, Thelma Dowdall, Louise Kerr, Margaret Kingston Billings, Shirley Nesbitt Sadler, Janet Arbuckle, ?(chief operator), Helen Smith, At switchboard Joyce Stanzel Saunders, Joan Ferguson, Velma Bryce, Rose McKittrick Seated Norma McKim, Phylis MacPherson, ? HorrickNumber Please? Carleton Place



The Devil’s Telephone? The Ouija Board

Smiths Falls in 1955–3,031 Telephones!!

Telephone Tales from 569 South Street

For the Love of a Telephone Table

The Day the Balderson Telephone Co Disappeared

The Telephone and its History in Almonte

But I Can’t Spend my Telephone Money!

Number Please? Carleton Place

Where Did the 257 Telephone Exchange Come From in Carleton Place?

Jenny, Jenny, Who Can I Turn To?

The Telephone and its History in Almonte

Mary Cook and her Telephone Pin

Did You Know This About Perth?

Did You Know This About Perth?

In November of 1939 a new telephone system was inaugurated in Perth and district at seven o’clock in the morning, when the crank system went into the discard and in its place the flashing of a small electric lamp at central informs the operate a call is being placed.


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Perth Remembered —Picture of the backside of the Perth Hotel looking from North Street down Gore Street. This was picture taken before the fire at the hotel showing the third floor. The building in the foreground once housed the Bell Canada switching office where all the switchboard operators worked



The actual cutover which took less than a minute, did not inconvenience the public.  To Perth, one of the oldest towns in Eastern Ontario, belongs the honour of having the second telephone that ever was in use. Professor Bell, inventor of the telephone, sent to his friend. Dr. J. F. Kennedy, a dentist of Perth, a pair of telephones and the doctor stretched a wine front his office on Foster street to his residence on D’Arcy Street and was able to communicate between the two places. The first exchange established here was in 1888.




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Perth Remembered photo

That all changed September 15th, 1963 when Perth would have one of the most modern dial exchanges in Canada. There were 2,375 phones in Perth at the time. George Thompson, regional Bell Telephone manager provided the following suggestion about the use of the dial telephone: “The most important step is to be certain you have the right number and if you are in doubt consult your new telephone directory. If the number is not listed dial 411 to reach an information operator. Once you are sure of the number pick up the receiver and hold it to your ear. Listen for the dial tone, a steady humming sound. Now you are ready to dial. Place your index finger firmly in the dial opening through which the first figure of the number desired appears. Pull the dial steadily around to the finger stop. Then remove your finger and allow the dial to spin back by itself. Do not try to hurry it for doing so can result in a wrong number. If you finger slips replace the receiver and start over. After you have dialed the figures of the number listen for the signals. A soft intermittent bur-r-r signifies that the called telephone is ringing and a buzz-buzz-buzz means that it is busy.”

If you had a party line as many of you would remember you would dial the number, hear the busy signal and they you would hang up then both your own and the called party’s bell would ring. When the ringing would stop that would mean that the called party has answered and you would pick up and answer. We are still on a party line at the cottage at Otty Lake.

When this picture was taken in 1951 there were over 1,600 telephones in service in Perth. The picture shows the operators at their switchboard. Included in the group were operators, Primrose Lindop, Helen Dodds, Constance Horan, Joyce Code and Rhona Huddleston with chief operator Nettie Burke. In 1935 the telephone exchange was located in the Meighen block on Foster street and then moved the building attached to and behind the Perth Hotel at the corner of Gore and North Street.– Perth Remembered



Perth Courier, August 3, 1934

Early Telephones

Forty seven years ago this month in August of 1877 the first list of Perth subscribers to telephone service in a small pocket sized directory that contained the names and addresses of all telephone users in eastern Ontario and Quebec was put out.  At that time there were 19 telephones here.

The limited number of instruments in Perth in 1887 excluded the need for telephone numbers.  Subscribers were then called by name.  A notice prominently displayed in bold type at the bottom of various pages throughout the book advises persons calling that he name of the party wanted should be “spoken with especial distinction to prevent mistakes”.  Another foot note frequently encountered throughout the directory was “do not attempt to use the telephone on the approach of or during a thunderstorm”.  Recalling a feature of the old time telephone appliances the in use in homes and places of business there appeared another note to the effect that “should the transmitter be out of order it is possible to speak through the hand telephone (receiver)”.

The following subscriber lists of August, 1877 recalls the names of prominent citizens and business establishments of many years ago:

Allan House, Gore Street

Allan, J.A., barrister, Gore Street

Bank of Montreal, Gore Street

Canadian Pacific Railway, depot

Court House

Electric Light Company, Gore Street

Elliott and Rogers, barristers, Foster Street

Farmer’s Hotel, Foster Street

Fraser, Dr. H.D., Foster Street

Hale, F.A., barrister, Foster Street

Hicks House, Gore Street

Inland Revenue Office, Gore Street

Kennedy, J.F., dentist, D’Arcy Street

Kellock, Dr. J.D., D’Arcy and Gore Streets

Kellock, J.F., druggist, Gore Street

Malloch, E.G., barrister, Foster Street

Meighen Brothers, merchants, Gore and Foster Streets

Radenhurst, W.H., barrister, Gore Street

It is interesting to note that there were no home or residence telephone here at that time and of the 19 instruments in service in offices and other business establishments, there were five located in law offices.  The late Dr. J.F. Kennedy operated with the title of “agent” in charge of the Bell Telephone Company’s Central office containing the switchboard apparatus and associated equipment located on D’Arcy Street on the same premises occupied by his dentistry parlors.



Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.



The Day the Balderson Telephone Co Disappeared


The Devil’s Telephone? The Ouija Board

Telephone Tales from 569 South Street

Telephone Tales from 569 South Street


November 1944- with Julienne Audette, Madeleine Phaneuf, Fay Richardson, Simone Grueenwood,E.L. Green, Madeleine Dover, Theresa Cody and Marthe Dandenault.Sue Bowles Hunter—191 Main Street Cowansville 1926 Photo-Ville de Cowansville with thanks to (Susan Bowles Hunter)

The phrase “Number please” will never be heard again from a telephone switchboard operator when making a phone call. At least that is what my Grandmother would tell me over and over again as she sat in her rocking chair on Friday nights. Every Friday night we would both sit inside the screened porch and watch the folks coming out of the South Street Liquor Store and Varin’s Pharmacy in Cowansville, Quebec.

Friday night used to be the time you cashed your weekly paycheck, did your groceries, and talked about the weather to anyone you bumped into. I would have rather talked about Ricky Nelson and Paul Anka, but the topics of conversation on that vernadah was always about something everyone loved, but had just disappeared. It seems the day the switchboard telephone operator vanished was something that should never have happened in my Grandmother’s mind, but in reality; it was probably because she never had the opportunity to have made the final decision.

I remember the day my phone number 1386 disappeared like it was yesterday. One morning I got up and was ready to tell the operator to call 32 which was my Grandmother’s number and all I heard was a dial tone. I guess I too was not happy that I had not made the decision either, as I immediately missed their kind and reassuring voices.

One Friday night a former telephone operator chatted with us how the town of Cowansville was going to regret getting the dial tone. This lady who shall remain nameless was carrying a recent purchase from the Liquor store and asked my Grandmother for a glass. I knew right then and there we were in for a long and vivid conversation.

Not only were these operators responsible for getting your call through but they also looked after telephone bill payments. Sometimes they even had to multitask and recognize the sound of coins being dropped outside in the pay phone booth. According to our guest she could hear a nickle being dropped a mile away and she still remembered who was always late paying their bills in town.

The volume of her voice went up a few octaves in anger as she said if had not been for the operators more places would have burned down when fire emergencies were occurring in Cowansville.  I really wanted to interject at that point of the conversation that maybe the gals shouldn’t have given out random emergency information when every “Tom, Dick and Jean Guy” called asking what was happening. In my opinion these gals should have left their phone cords dangling with a “nevermind”.

But when those calls came in these telephone operators were actually the first responders calling the firemen and making sure they were on their way. Medical and family emergencies were high on the operators list too and they would have to track down the local doctor or any person needed in an emergency.

Of course at that point my Grandmother interjected with a story I had heard a 100 times and everyone had repeated this story since it had been published in The Granby Leader Mail in 1936. Each time I heard it something new was thrown in, or something was left out and it became the story that kept on giving.

The sun rose and shone on Cowansville’s Dr. Cotton and he could do no wrong even though his wife was thrown under the bus a few times by other women in conversation. I just think these local women viewed him as some sort of a rock star, and when my Grandmother mentioned his name our visitor put her bottle on the floor, wiped her forehead and let out a big sigh.

Dr. Cotton was one of the first local users of the telephone as when he was out of the office he needed to be located for emergencies. The story as far as I have pieced together was: one day an elderly woman came into his office and Dr. Cotton’s wife said he was out but would “ring him up”. Of course the elderly woman was not familiar with the telephone and immediately left in fright as fast as her feet would carry her.

Not knowing how to handle the situation the woman ran to her nearest friend’s home and said Mrs. Cotton’s mind was gone as she had been acting odd. She told her friend about the doctor’s wife who had a wild look on her face speaking into a wooden box that had noises like sleigh bells. Not only that, the doctor’s wife must be able to read her husband’s mind, as she had responded to the woman that “he would be right over”. Something needed to be done right away about Mrs. Cotton’s condition she insisted before she hurt poor Dr. Cotton.



Switchboard, Bell Telephone, rue Principale –26 Janvier 1920-Photo-Ville de Cowansville 

What the woman did not know was that when you cranked the side of the telephone and lifted the receiver the signal went into the switchboard and the line would buzz. A plug would be then inserted into the line and a familiar voice would say “number please”.

Near the end of the story my Grandmother’s visitor would interject whatever she could in the loudest voice you have ever heard. My Grandmother told me later the woman had “a strong voice” as that had been her profession for years.  You see nothing was done with a faint voice at the telephone company, and they often had to yell to make themselves heard.

Soon after the story ended the woman left quickly as heat lightening began to appear in the night sky. She admitted to us both that electrical storms rattled her.  I can remember as a child hearing the crackles and pops on the other end of the telephone line and sometimes those poor operators would not only get those noises, but also get a blast in the ear from the thunder and lightening.

Sitting on the verandah Friday nights was one of the best times of my childhood with the many visitors who sat a spell and shared stories.  I loved when an over-exuberant or perhaps an inebriated customer from the Liquor store would give my Grandmother an unsolicited lesson in profanity or worse. She would run outside and shoo them away with her hanky– but always politely with a personal touch.

Life now might be more efficient with cell phones and other time saving devices, but everything now seems to have lost its personal touch.  Things are changing so quickly that soon charging your phone will become something you did last century, and one only wonders what new invention will become our new impersonal lifelines to the world. Dust in the wind…..



Robin D.Tyler-My Grandmother (Ruth Rexford Tyler ) was the Night Operator at the Bell switch Board in Ayer’s Cliff. When My family would come to visit. I would get up VERY Early in the Morning and go to the Switch Board. She taught me how to Answer the Board and direct a call to the right Person. I would man that station when she left the room from time to time. At the end of here shift we would walk home and she would make Breakfast for me. Nanny Died the summer of 65. Many years have passed But I have these fond Memories of being a Young Lad with My Nanny !

Bob Cathcart– In 1959 my dad; a Bell Canada foreman was transferred to Cookshire, to change the phone above, to the “new” dial system. Our number was 123. When change over was nearly complete one of dads crew called my mom to advise they would be “blowing out the lines” and she should cover the receiver in plastic. When dad arrived home she had placed a bread bag over it. Best prank ever.

David Hosking– My mom did this for a while in Bishopton

Bonnie Rolleston– My mom, Joan French, was an operator in Cookshire – I think 1955ish – have a great pic of her at the switchboard

Pauline Stone Bampton– I was an operator in North Hatley in the late 1940’s.Hazel Cinnamon was our supervisor.Rachelle? also worked there at that time. The office was above the Bank

Jean MacDonald– It was up at Tricotex Company Ltd in the old army camp on Drummond Road in Sherbrooke. It was PBX on the corner of the board. I don’t really know what it spells…in those days I suppose I was not interested in details of equipment. It was fun to use. I did when the person was not there at the desk.

Muriel Chute-Shaughnessy– I remember going to the Bell Office in Waterville with Mary Kydd I was just a little girl..wonderful memory

William Middleton— Had a sister who worked at the office in Rock Island.

Kerry L. Buzzell —My Mom, Roma Bonnallie worked in Sherbrooke, Quebec at a Bell Telephone centre when she was a young woman. My Uncle had a switchboard like the one above in his pharmacy in Oil Springs, Ontario in the early years of telephones.



Sitting from right to left, Patsy Taylor, pelagius bombardier, Merlyn Dougall, all of the main office and Jeannine Roy, one of our operators, employed to record the points of the team from the office. The cheering section. Waiting their turn to bowl, right to left, Patsy Taylor, fur bomber, Merlyn Dougall, all of the main office, and Jeannine Roy, one of our telephone operators– (Photo-Ville de Cowansville with thanks to (Susan Bowles Hunter)

Over the years, the relatively small “Farnam Telephone Line Co.” in Dunham had expanded several times; first in 1906 when Ernest Turner, who had become partner in the company, took it over and more so in 1909 after Oscar C. Selby became partner. Since the Farnams were not connected with the company any more, the name of the company was changed to Citizen’ Telephone Company, a name which was available after the liquidation of the earlier company with the same name in Waterloo. Under the leadership of Oscar C. Selby, the new company was so successful it was able to purchase in 1911 the Bell Telephone systems in Dunham, Cowansville and Frelighsburg. In order to accommodate the steady growing business, the Citizen’ Telephone Co. constructed in 1916 a new central office in Dunham giving service to their clients around the clock with 3 operators in duty. Brome County Historical Society-Telephone (Vol. 3, p. 166)-Ville de Cowansville 


147- Employées du Bell Téléphone – shower de Pauline Loiselle.
De g. à d., 1ère rangée : Micheline Longtin, Madeleine Daigneault, Gisèle Renaud, Angéline Désormier.–Photo-Ville de Cowansville

2e rangée : Katherine Paquette, Lise Patenaude, Jeanne D’Arc Longchamps, Pauline Loiselle, Thérèse Laflamme, Gaétane Brouillard, Yolaine Paradis.

3e rangée : Marge Sturtevant, Simone Grueenwood, Valérie Ashton, Luthgarde Belle, Marie-Lise Maurice, Liliane Collin, Jeanne D’Arc Thibodeau

(La Voix de l’Est, 3 juin 1958)


Bell Telephone Office, 191 Principale, Octobre 1936-Ville de Cowansville Solange Bisaillon, Mrs. Call, Carmen Call, E.L. Green, Jim Seguin, Simone Marchand, Archie Burnet and Annie Vail.

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun

Related reading

For the Love of a Telephone Table

The Day the Balderson Telephone Co Disappeared

The Telephone and its History in Almonte

But I Can’t Spend my Telephone Money!

Number Please? Carleton Place

Where Did the 257 Telephone Exchange Come From in Carleton Place?

Jenny, Jenny, Who Can I Turn To?



But I Can’t Spend my Telephone Money!





Ad in the Carleton Place Canadian circa 195os- from the files of the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

One of the ironies of modern life is that everyone is glued to their phones, but does anyone really use them as a telephone anymore?  Have our phones just become fancy two-way pagers with keyboards?

The land line phone served a purpose when there were no alternatives. I spent many hours on it with my friends when I was a teen. But that still doesn’t mean it’s superior to a cellphone, any more than a horse and buggy was superior to an automobile. Awww, too bad, landlines were a drag, right? Well batteries and charging are even worse.

The telephone network of the 1970s and 1980s sounded far superior on local calls than that achieved by the still-awful HDVoice cell phone companies have started to implement. The smart phone has won, because we have adopted it in overwhelming numbers, and abandoned the limited, old, clumsy land line.

We do not care that cell phone conversations are inferior to land line conversations, nor are we rummaging through our pockets for change anymore for the payphone.  Is it because phone conversations are no longer that important, given the many other ways we communicate?

Smart phones still suffer from a bit of what I call “Swiss Army Knife Syndrome.” The old red pocket knife is not the world’s best knife, or corkscrew, or nail file. But it’s the best single item combining all those functions when asynchronous, textual media like email or WhatsApp allow you to intricately craft every exchange.

Surely you jest you say? You can’t mean the ‘crafting” of ungrammatical, misspelled, poorly constructed, illogical collections of non-sentences that are all too common in written communication today? Or, are we just annoyed that the kids invented a more efficient way of typing words phonetically?

Today I salute those people from 1985 who managed to go without cellphones and still not die: those were the real heroes!





What is a Payphone? In Memory of Former Telecommunications


Written in 2013

It is pouring rain in Lanark County, and as I walk out of a gas station payphone I spy a teenager walking in the drenching rain sheltering his cellphone as he texts.

Why, I ask myself?

Since my sons gave me my iPhone on Mother’s Day I have treated the phone like the black sheep of any family. I try and ignore it, but it will not let me, and I feel like I am never alone. Granted it was my choice to get rid of the landline and finally move into the 21st century like everyone else. But what happens to the memory of what once was?

Texting was easy as I already had several weeks of repetitive training/cajoling on my iPad– but my brain no longer wants to attempt any mental feats of strength that are not needed. Instead of texting back, most times I answer the text on my laptop with an email. Friends have told me I will get used to it and end up loving it, so am I secretly sabotaging myself? I have not set up voice mail because others have told me they cannot retrieve messages so I use that as an excuse.


This morning I watched my oldest son use both his thumbs to text as I have seen many times. I marvel at the precision and speed he uses and think of my texts this week with misspelled words that even spellcheck could not pick up. I remember the 4 year-old-girl on the Apple commercials and how she whizzed through feats of technology without help and how I wish I could be smarter.

I have in my hands a fabulous piece of communication that I am shunning like the Amish. It attempts to entice me daily to use it like a prosthetic for the rest of my life. I refuse to let it become the bearer of my vital signs and continued activity in my brain. Is there a middle ground? Has cellphone dependency resulted in compulsive communicating? Or will I eventually turn into a Ninja when someone touches my phone?


In memory of landlines and the payphones in Carleton Place I once used:

Mr. Gas

Outside the IDA

Mac’s on Lake Ave West

Mac’s at the four corners

Art’s on Townline

Esso Station on Hwy 7


My telephone booth inside my house that was one of the original phone booths from the Ottawa General Hospital.
Darlene Gerbino Pistocchi from Screamin Mamas from Florida said: Getting rid of payphones is a huge mistake… I mean how are we supposed to change into superheroes now????