“Halifax Calling Vancouver”

The all-Canadian Coast to Coast telephone service, soon to be inaugurated, is a triumph of engineering and co-operation

LESLIE ROBERTS January 1 1932

“Halifax Calling Vancouver”

The all-Canadian Coast to Coast telephone service, soon to be inaugurated, is a triumph of engineering and co-operation

LESLIE ROBERTS January 1 1932

“Halifax Calling Vancouver”



The all-Canadian Coast to Coast telephone service, soon to be inaugurated, is a triumph of engineering and co-operation

A FEW weeks hence—some time in February, they say—a wandering gentleman from British Columbia will lift a telephone receiver from its cradle in Nova Scotia and request communication with a number more than four thousand pole miles away on the Pacific seaboard.

Whereupon a capable young woman will say, "Hold the line a moment, please,” and will make arrangements to speed the sound of her client’s voice over 4,200 miles of copper wire, every inch of which will stretch over Canadian territory.

Across the continent a bell will clatter in a quiet B. C. living room.

An operator sitting at a switchboard in Nova Scotia will say: “Mr. Brown? On your call to New Westminster, we are ready with Mrs. Brown. Go ahead, please.”

A man’s voice will ask: “Is that you, Mary?” A woman’s voice will answer"Yes, dear.” And trans-Canadian telephony will have become an accomplished fact. It won’t be long now.

Joint Operation by Seven Companies

"pIFTY-SIX summers have drifted into autumn since the first long-distance call was |made in Canada, when Alexander Graham Bell talked to Paris, Ontario, from Brantford—a matter of eight miles. A year later successful two-way conversation was held between Quebec and Montreal. Forty years later saw the inauguration of the Montreal-Vancouver service, but that service was not, and never has been, even half Canadian, for its sound waves left our borders at Windsor, Ontario, and did not return to the Dominion until they were carried up the Pacific Coast from Seattle for delivery in the Western metropolis.

But now comes the Trans-Canada Telephone System, a partnership to be operated by four private phone companies and three provincial government systems, tc mark

our entry into a new era of Dominion-wide conversation.

As a layman, perhaps I was inclined to shrug a blasé shoulder when I heard of trans-Dominion telephones and exclaim, “Pouf! That’s easy! They have telephones galore in the east, on the prairies and out on the coast. As soon

as someone bridges the blind spot north of Lake Superior the job is done!” Laymanlike, I was in error.

Thi9 has been no patchwork job of writing a paper of agreement between the Maritime Telegraph and Telephone Company in Nova Scotia, the New Brunswick Telephone Company, the Bell Company in Quebec and Ontario, the three prairie governments, and the British Columbia Telephone Cotnpany.

It cost $8,000,(XX) to bring the trans-Canada trunk line into being. First, seven operating companies had to discover a working basis. Agreement reached, engineers had to be put to work to co-ordinate and standardize the equipment of the seven systems. Equipment had to be decided on, ordered, manufactured, shipped, delivered and erected. Endless miles of wires had to be slung across virgin country. Twenty-two repeater stations, to re-energize faltering voice waves, had to be built along the line or refurbished. A new road of wire had to be cut through the once impregnable Rockies. An organization of men and women, trained to maintain hair-trigger activity along 4,000 miles of telephone highway, had to be impressed into service. These were some of the items requiring attention when gentlemen of commerce decided to prove by a new method that the old theory which says “Never the twain shall meet” belongs in the dustbins of fallacy.

The Trans-Canada Telephone System, in fine, brings into the realm of fact an allCanadian, coast to coast telephone trunk line equipped with the latest devices in voice transport, and guarantees conversations between Halifax and Vancouver that will be almost as sharply etched as those which now take place between Toronto and Montreal.

Here, then, is achievement. Here is the setting down of a new chapter in the story of Canadian progress. How was it made jx>ssible? Why was it not done before? Let us glance into the record.

Preliminary Work

THE trans-Canada idea enjoyed its first public airing at the annual meeting of the Telephone Association of Canada in 1921. The conversation consisted principally of vague theorizing, inasmuch as nope of the delegates knew quite what could be done. When they broke off and went out to play golf, a special committee was named to look into the commercial feasibility of the suggestion.

The first committee reported in 1922. Business conditions and a weighing of possible traffic in certain key sections of the country would not warrant the exj>ense of construction, they believed. So the matter was tabled.

In 1924 a new committee was named. It came Ijack to the 1925 convention with a haze of evasion in its collective mind and with the suggestion that the time was not yet ripe. So the status quo remained, and no one tried to disturb it until another year had rolled along when it again came up for discussion.

Then came the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, and with it the birth of an ambitious plan for an all-Canadian transcontinental broadcast of the celebration that was to take place in Ottawa. In order to organize this mammoth flight of speech and song, engineers and executives from telephone and telegraph companies were enlisted, and onez

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of their number. J. !.. Clarke, chief transmission engineer of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, became chairman of the sub-committee of technical experts responsible for the mechanical success of the venture. The broadcast proved to be eminently pleasing, and Clarke and his associate experts returned to their posts fired with enthusiasm for the trans-Canada idea.

As a result, the 1928 convention of the Telephone Association met in a spirit of action rather than in a pensive mood of theory. When it disbanded, the Beil Telephone Company had agreed to proceed with engineering plans and determine the facilities required. Construction under the seven-way partnership began in 1929, and as this is written is complete except for a last minute sweeping of the floor before the doors are opened for business.

During the years of conferences and reports, the Bell Company, the Manitoba Government and the Municipal Telephone System of Fort William had collaborated in fashioning a central link of the chain by fastening Toronto to Winnipeg with an allCanadian line which skirted the north shore of Lake Superior, riding high on extra crossarms above C. P. R. telegraph wires along the right-of-way. And the line made good. Between Sudbury and Fort William it stretched across virgin country in which no subscriber’s voice could be heard. But Winnipeg-Toronto traffic carried it, and one of the great concerns of the promoters of the transcontinental idea was seen to disappear.

Meanwhile, in the East, the Maritime Telegraph and Telephone Company, the New Brunswick Telephone Company, and the Bell Company had commenced construction of the extreme Eastern link and were joining Halifax to Montreal in direct Canadian service. Simultaneously in the West, the B. C. Telephone Company was co-operating with the three prairie governments to provide equipment which would connect Vancouver and Winnipeg over an all-Canadian route. In the light of the broader continent-wide plan, much of this equipment has since been replaced.

What remained to be done when the final seven-cornered agreement was reached was to drive a direct line from Montreal to Winnipeg and bridge the central gap between the all-Dominion services in the East and those in the West, to erect new carrying lines across the prairies from Winnipeg to Calgary, and to blaze a new trail of copper wire through the mountains to Vancouver. These tasks, coupled with complete standardization of equipment throughout the seven systems, haveoccupied the attention of the partner companies since dotted lines were scratched by fountain pens in 1929.

What will happen, then, when Halifax calls Vancouver over the new all-red route across tire Dominion? How is it pcssible for words uttered beside the Northwest Arm to be heard on the shores of Burrard Inlet with all the strength and tonal quality in which they left their Eastern terminus?

The answer lies principally in the erection of twenty-two repeater stations to catch and revive tiring words and speed them on their way with renewed vigor. Four times before they reach Montreal—at Amherst. Saint John, Edmundston and Quebec westbound voice waves must pass through vacuum tubes and be re-energized. In Montreal the process is repeated again. To the west other stations have been erected at De Beaujeu, Smiths Falls, Oshawa — where the line swings north after meeting the branch line from TorontoNorth Bay, Chapleau, White River, Fort William, Dryden in Ontario; Winnipeg. Virden, in Manitoba; Regina and Swift Current in Saskatchewan; Medicine Hat. Calgary and Blairmore in Alberta; and Nelson and Princeton in British Columbia. These rejieater stations are non-stop ports of call,

though the term is a contradiction. Words, it seems, can take their nourishment while they run.

And what of engineering difficulties? What of hard going out on the line? Principally these problems have been encountered in the Rockies, where it was deemed necessary to drive a new highway of copper wire through the Crow’s Nest Pass, the Kettle and Coquihalla Valleys, on to Okanagan and down to the Pacific.

It was tricky construction work, entailing the stringing of wires and the erection of poles along the banks of roaring torrents, down mountain passes and along the fringes of gorges and precipices. Linemen risked their necks, day in and out, stringing wire from pole to pole on precipitous mountain sides, along which narrow avenues had been cut through primitive forest to permit the line to go through. Pluck was expended mightily in blazing this new trail across the crags, so that the Trans-Canadian Telephone might be. But that comes under the heading of the day’s work in the pioneering industry.

A Notable Event

AS TO Trans-Canada’s corporate entity. The new system is a partnership of companies, and the principal asset of the partners consists of 4,209 miles of copper wire strung on poles and equipped with twenty-two repeater stations. Of all these miles, 624 stretch across the territory of the British Columbia Telephone Company. The Alberta Government is responsible for construction, maintenance and operation of 419 miles. Saskatchewan’s telephone department has 453. Manitoba’s mileage, also under Government control, tallies 242. In Ontario and Quebec the Bell System will operate 1,945 miles. New Brunswick’s quota is 384, and Nova Scotia brings the count to its total with 142 miles of line stretching across the seaboard province. Each partner accepts full responsibility for operations within its own bailiwick.

The system will ojierate a clearing-house in Montreal through which all its interpartner accounts will be cleared and settled. Thus, when a subscriber in Manitoba places a call to Saint John he will be billed for it on his regular phone account at home. The Manitoba Government will deduct a small “originating” commission and forward the balance of the cash it receives to the clearinghouse. There, operating costs, interest charges and depreciation allowancesin brief, the costs of running the system—will be deducted, and profits will be divided seven ways according to the mileage operated by each of the partners in the system. Deficits, if they occur, will be arranged for on a similar basis. That is the working plan of the Trans-Canada Telephone System.

As a novel feat in the realm of sound transmission, its inauguration will be one of the outstanding events of the incoming year. As an example of the co-operation possible between private capital and government ownership it is equally worthy of note, for the lion and the lamb have become bedfellows and neither tries to steal the blankets. But to the layman the opening of the Trans-Canada Telephone System is a notable event, first and foremost because it places Canadians in a position where we are no longer beholden to our neighbors when we want to call each other on the phone.

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