Looking Back


What Number Were You Calling?


The impetus for today's topic was twofold: documents donated by the Sheila and John Petrie family relating to telephone services in the Onoway area, and from that, the fact that a person or business phone number changed numerous times over the years.

Early rural phone service (anyone living outside the village of Onoway) was via party lines linked to a central switchboard for long distance calls. Each member had a unique "ring" on the hand-cranked phone. Subscriber of Onoway-Heatherdown Mutual Telephone Co. Andrew Truckey, phone number R509, listened for 4 short 1 long to know that someone was calling.

The next phone number consisted simply of digits, no letter prefix, in about 1951.

AGT completed dial installation in 1964 and the number changed to 932 +four digits. Later that changed to 967 + four digits.

As the number of subscribers increased through the province, an area code was added. Onoway area residents now had numbers beginning with (403) 967–xxxx. Later this changed to today's version of (780) 967-xxxx.

The importance of having a business telephone number became obvious. Before 1950, business documents such as invoices, receipts, calendars usually showed the business name and postal address. Then the phone number was added; this number changed as years went by. Stop by the Onoway Museum; go down Main Street and take a look at the business calendars - watch the number change over time.

Camplin 1951

Druggist Camplin

In December 1951 the Onoway Community
Association bought some cigars at
Camplin's (phone 14), possibly for a
New Year's Eve Dance.

Onoway Telephone Area

In 1960? 61?, customers at Sid Mills Solo Store received a free poster/directory of local telephone numbers.
Of the 300 names listed, about ⅔ were rural
with numbers beginning with R or X.
Examples: Len Hickman's number was R608 (rural)
whereas John Demchuk's number was 39 (village).
This free poster must have been great for business!

A notice sent to Onoway-Heatherdown Mutual Telephone Co. to subscribers (about 1964) gave instructions on how to use a dial phone party line. It began with "Lift the receiver. If the line is free, press the "Call" button". Further along were some rules re party lines:

2. Subscribers must not "listen in" to telephone conversations that are not intended for them.

3. The use of obscene, profane, or abusive language over the Department's lines is absolutely prohibited.

4. Do not use the telephone during a thunderstorm.

5. Local conversations should not exceed five minutes duration.

Farmers Notebook

Farmers Pocket Notebook

Between the 97th and 98th editions (1963-64 and 1964-65),
the phone number changed totally.

Onoway Locker Plant

An ad in January 1969 in the Stony Plain Reporter
shows Onoway Locker Plant with the
seven-digit 932- phone number.

Village Glass
John Deere


By 1971 the number had changed to from 932-xxxx to 967-xxxx

Village Glass

In 1984 this business shows the street address, postal address and 403 area code.

John Deere

Can you spot the error in this telephone-less calendar?


Telephone tales – there must be many of them out there! During this time of social distancing and many digital means of communicating, think back to the time when party lines were the source of gossip and help!

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Last updated: May 10, 2020