Edmonton Telephone Historical Centre
In 1891, a small group of frontier entrepreneurs got together with the idea of building an electrical power plant and bringing electric lights to the small town of Edmonton. Many names that remain familiar to Edmontonians today appeared in an Edmonton Bulletin article about the utility on October 8, 1891. Donald Ross owned the Edmonton Hotel. Frank Oliver operated The Edmonton Bulletin. Daniel R. Fraser was the proprietor of a flourmill as well as a sawmill. John Walter, operator of a ferry, sawmill, and coal mine, may have supplied his own coal to the power plant. John A. McDougall was elected president of the Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company Limited, and remained in that position until 1902. Alex Taylor, a well-known business owner, was the company's managing director.
But electricity wasn't Alex Taylor's only contribution to Edmonton. When the Dominion Telegraph Service line was extended from Hay Lakes to Edmonton in 1879, Alex Taylor came with it as its first operator. He set up an office in John Walter's old log house across the river from Fort Edmonton. That winter, he arranged for weekly news bulletins to be wired to him from Winnipeg. He wrote out these bulletins and left them in Frank Oliver's store, where customers eagerly read them. This, Edmonton's first newspaper, evolved into Frank Oliver's Edmonton Bulletin.
Alex Taylor's telegraph operation also led to the telephone business. In 1884, only eight years after Alexander Graham Bell's historic call from Brantford to Paris, Ontario, Alex Taylor encouraged the Dominion Telegraph Service to build a telephone link between his telegraph office and St. Albert, a community a short distance north of Edmonton. This, Alberta's first telephone line, began operation in January 1885. Soon after, Alex established telephone connections between his office and Fort Edmonton, then to various businesses around the community. Edmonton's first telephone system was launched. Alex sold his operation to the City in 1904, and it became the Edmonton District Telephone Company.
Over the years the Edmonton District Telephone Company became the City Telephone System, later rebranded as "edmonton telephones" (or Ed Tel for short)in 1967, and finally in 1995 Ed Tel was purchased from the City by TELUS Corporation, thus bringing to an end to public telephone service in Alberta.
In 1987 a group of Ed Tel employees decided that the history of telephones in Edmonton needed to be preserved, and they formed the Edmonton Telephones Historical Centre Information Foundation, initially with a small museum in a former telephone exchange on 83rd Avenue in Old Strathcona, later moving to the Prince of Wales Armoury near the Royal Alex Hospital. Sadly, the museum was unable to sustain itself and was forced to close its doors on May 8, 2019.
Recognizing the loss to the community by simply warehousing all the artifacts & appreciating the hard work that had gone into preserving the history of telephones, the Edmonton Power Historical Foundation offered to house some of their exhibits, and the Telephone Historical Centre graciously offered us a few treasured objects from their collection, including a 1937 Stromberg-Carlson telephone switchboard, a Step-by-Step PABX (private automatic branch exchange), plus other interactive exhibits that allow visitors to learn about electricity, sound, and magnetism.
After 128 years, descendants of the Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company and the Edmonton District Telephone Company are back together, now sharing a space at the Edmonton Power Historical Foundation Museum in Leduc County.