donation of a telephone switchboard to the Onoway
Museum caused members of the Historical Guild to
think back to the days when having a telephone in
your home was quite a privilege, and hearing the
phone ring was drop-everything-and-answer-the-phone
event. Depending on whether you were on a party line
or in town, receiving that call could mean that
there was an operator sitting at a switchboard and
plugging the right cable into the right slot.
A far cry from today’s
ubiquitous, inescapable smart phone or iPhone.
first phones in the area were wooden longbox phones
that were attached to the wall. The wooden box hid
the transmitter and batteries. Later wall phones
were more compact when batteries were no longer
needed, a dial replaced the operator, and the
handset combined both the receiver and transmitter.
Desk phones made of
Bakelite plastic made their appearance in the 1930s
but didn’t reach rural Alberta until the late 1950s.
These phones had a rotary dial, and soon were
available in many colours. Touchtone phones were the
next step forward.
Onoway was “Central” so to make a
call, you picked up the receiver with one hand,
turned the crank with the other hand to ring
“Central”. When the operator answered, you asked for
the number you wanted, then waited while she put the
right plug in the right hole, then rang that number
and waited until there was a response. Rural phone
companies were usually party lines but they still
had to call “Central” to make a long distance call.
Onoway Museum is looking for more
information about the early phone systems and
switchboard operators. Who were they? What did the
office look like? It was a 24-hour service, so what
were the shifts? Any photos of the operators at
work? If you have any stories or information about
Onoway’s phone system, leave a message at
780.967.1015. We’ll get back to you (by phone) asap.
We look forward to learning more about this part of