Story of the Telephone in Carleton Place District
Carleton Place Herald, 18 October, 1962
By Howard M. Brown
Within the lifetimes of our present elder citizens, telephones first came into public use in Carleton Place and nearby Ontario communities in 1885.
Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in this province in 1874 at Brantford was followed by convincing proofs of its commercial usefulness within two years in Ontario and Massachusetts. In Lanark County, only one year later, “one of Prof. Bell’s telephones” appeared in 1877. It was obtained by Mr. F. A. Kennedy, Perth dentist. With the sensational new devise he talked between his office and his house in Perth.
At Ottawa the possibilities of the telephone were demonstrated by electrical pioneer Thomas Ahearn (1855-1938) in a talk in 18778 over telegraph wires with the Montreal Telegraph Company’s agent at Pembroke. The Bell Telephone Company of Canada, of which Mr. Ahearn was a director until his death, was formed in 1880.
The company’s lines spread rapidly through southern Ontario and Quebec. The Carleton Place Herald early in 1885 reported that Mr. S. S. Merrick of Carleton Place was “obtaining 3,300 first class poles for the 106 mile contract” awarded to him for the Ottawa Valley telephone line then being built, that would connect Ottawa and Brockville, Perth, Smiths Falls, Carleton Place and points northward. The new telephone service in this district was proposed to be placed in operation with a musical programme by telephone, according to Mr. W. W. Cliff of the Carleton Place Central Canadian. Listing the subscribers and intending subscribers of Perth, Smiths Falls and Carleton Place, he wrote in June:
“Mr. Marshall has been pushing the business of the Bell Telephone Company in this County with much success. When all connections have been made Mr. Marshall intends to carry out a musical programme in Almonte and have the Hall connected with the system, so that subscribers in any of the places mentioned may sit in their offices and houses and be a part of the audience as enjoyably as if present in body.”
An Instant Success
With or without the musical overture, the district lines went into use in November, 1885. The revolutionary convenience and speed of communicating by telephone conversation was an instant popular success for business purposes. William H. Allen in his Carleton Place Herald nine months later reported:
“When first introduced here last November there were only ten names on the local exchange. Towards spring the ten line switch was replaced by a twenty. Now, as all these lines have been taken and more are in demand, a fifty line switch is to be placed in the central as soon as it can be manufactured.”
The company’s first published telephone directory for Lanark County subscribers was that for “Ottawa and Connections, June 1886.” Local and long distance calls were made by name instead of by telephone number. It listed seventeen Carleton Place telephones, all at business premises excepting the residence of the McLaren sawmill manager, and similar numbers of telephones at Almonte, Perth and Smiths Falls. Pakenham had ten telephones.
Trunk Line Business
The first Carleton Place exchange was located in the McDiarmid block, Bridge Street, in the jewelry store of Mr. R. J. E. Scott. This office was said in 1887 to be “owing to its central location, transacting next to the largest trunk line business in the Ottawa Valley.” The Canadian company at the beginning of that year had a total of twelve thousand telephone subscribers.
Mr. W. J. Warwick, a year or so later succeeded Mr. Scott in the same location as a jeweler and as holder of the Bell Telephone Company’s local agency. An early private exchange in the town was that installed in 1890 by the H. Brown & Sons firm between its flour, feed and cereal mills and the offices and residences of its two senior partners (with the modern colour feature provided by receivers which were solidly ringed in gay colours).
After six years of daytime public service a Carleton Place day and night telephone service appears to have been started early in 1892. An effort was put forth then “to add a few more subscribers to the telephone exchange to make fitty, when the company have promised us a night operator, giving us continuous service night and day.” Within a few weeks it was reported that Mr. Warwick had succeeded so admirably in impressing the usefulness of the telephone upon our citizens that nearly sixty will be in operation this week. A feature of the increase is the number of private dwellings that have secured it.”
Trial By Fire
When fire in 1897 destroyed a Carleton Place business section from the old frame McDiarmid block at the corner of Bridge and Franklin Streets south to and including the Keyes building, the Bell Telepone Company with a loss reported at $2,000 was one of the lesser victims of the destruction. Editor W. W. Cliff’s rhetorical news report in December 1897 said in part:
“Mr. Moss of the Central Telephone was brought into instantaneous action, and his first thought was to wing a message to Mr. McFadden at the Fire Hall, who was up and at the engine in a few minutes and, all alone, pushed the monster out upon the platform and applied the torch. The Chief and several others were aroused by Mr. Ross and the electrical alarm, which worked well. In a little while two streams were playing.
As the Chief saw the fire was in a nest of wooden buildings, he had Mr. Brown’s splendid equipment brought out into the action, with five hundred feet of hose from the Gillies factory, hitherto unsoiled. While all this was proceeding, the occupants of the doomed buildings were getting out what they and the crowds could lay violent hands on.
The firemen fought the flames with undying vigour. The hook and ladder was on the spot in five minutes, thanks to the speed of Mr. McGonigle, whose alarm went off early and who had a team hitched up and away in the twinkling of an eye. This apparatus was of inestimable value and one of the most agile and fearless in the contest was Mr. Mort. Brown, ‘the best fireman in Canada’, says Mr. Graham, who risked his life in climbing ladders and hurling the hooks.
The firemen were soon coated with ice, and in this awkward condition worked with tireless energy, the branchmen especially doing brave and effective service. Towards daylight all danger of further inroads was over, but streams were poured steadily into the debris until noon. The engineer and Mr. Virtue stood steadily at their freezing posts on the river from three o’clock until noon, the noble engine old Sir John, not once stopped his powerful motion all that time.
There were several narrow escapes. The most thrilling was that of Mr. Galloway, a Presbyterian clergyman who had preached the night before in the Methodist church and who was sleeping at Mr. McGregor’s. He is a cripple, and helpless in such a crisis. Mr. Howe, jeweler, and Mr. Hartley, book-keeper at the Shops, heard of his condition and rushed up after him. They grabbed him and carried him out, the roof falling in just as they left his room.
The Bell Telephone showed their quick resource. Burned out at three, everything swept but the books and a box with two new switchboards, at ten in the evening they were going almost as usual. General Manager McFarlane, of Montreal, and Mr. Winters, Superintendant of Construction, arrived within a few hours. The present abode is temporary. The old Mechanics’ Institute flat has been rented, and the plant will be installed there in two weeks.”
Continuous Service On Sundays
Telephones had been in use in Carleton Place for some thirteen years before continuous service including Sundays became available. This newspaper in March of 1899 reported:
“The Bell Telephone Company announces in this issue a continuous service on Sundays the same as on week days. This is due to the very rapid growth of their business and its persistent success. Carleton Place is the central point between Pembroke, Ottawa and Brockville, and stoppage here means the holding up of this entire system.”
The Bell Telephone Company’s present Carleton Place office, when twenty-nine years of ‘continuous service on Sundays’ had passed, was opened in its new building at the corner of Beckwith and Albert streets in January, 1929. The lot on which the building stands had been vacant since the great fire of May 1910, which swept this section of the town, destroying in its path the McNab home which is said to have stood at the precise site of the present building. There were some eight hundred town and rural telephones in direct connection with the exchange in 1928 when it was moved to its present location, and six operators.