When it was announced, in 1881, that the Canadian Pacific Railway would be passing by the site of Fort Calgary, interest in land around the Fort, which was east of the Elbow River, began to grow. By the time the railway was approaching, a community had sprung up outside the Fort. As land prices were consequently high, the CPR decided to skirt the existing community and acquire cheaper land to the west of the Elbow on which to erect its station. An exodus of people from east of the Elbow soon followed. A few earlier residents stayed however, including Major James Walker of the North-West Mounted Police, Major John Stewart, also of the NWMP, and William Pearce of the federal Department of the Interior. Walker’s home, called Inglewood, would later give its name to this community, and it was from his house that the first crude telephone system was installed in Calgary, when, in 1885, Walker ran a line from it to his lumber mill, two miles away.
Walker’s telephone system eventually had several other subscribers, but it was scrapped shortly after 1887, when Calgary Town Council invited the Bell Telephone Company to erect a system in the rapidly growing town. By the turn of the 20th century, Bell had a complete network throughout the City, operating from a central exchange. The City however was not pleased by the monopoly enjoyed by Bell, a feeling reflected by the new provincial government which came into being in 1905. By this time, Bell had set up systems in both Calgary and Edmonton, and in most towns in Alberta, but it would not extend costly services to most rural areas. As a result, the government bought out Bell’s interests in the province and set up a Crown corporation called Alberta Government Telephones. Soon, telephone services were moving to the rural areas, while those in the larger centers were improved.
In Calgary, which reached a population of 29,265 by 1909, the manual exchange system was proving woefully inadequate, and so AGT decided to install an automated one. This was a red brick structure at 1311-9th Avenue East, which was designed by Alberta’s Provincial Architect, A. M. Jeffers who designed most of the first major government buildings in the province. The new Calgary telephone building, which was opened in 1909, served as a sub-station to the main exchange on 7th Avenue. It was equipped by the Automatic Electric Company to handle 300 telephone lines, but, as this soon proved inadequate, the building was enlarged the following year to enable it to handle 1,000 lines.
Before long, other exchanges became operational as, by 1921, most homes and businesses in Calgary were equipped with telephones. What became known as the East End Telephone Exchange continued to serve the southeast end of the City until 1957, when it was closed down in favor of newer and more modern facilities. The building was then leased to various other interests and served different purposes, including a nursery and a shoe repair store.
In 1972, the building was sold by AGT to the Inglewood Community Association and began to serve as the Silverthreads Community Center. In 1981, it was declared a Registered Historic Resource by the Alberta Minister of Culture, and, in April 2009, it was designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Its historical significance lies both in its representation of the introduction of an automated telephone system to Calgary in 1909, and the establishment of Alberta Government Telephones, the province’s first Crown Corporation, the year before. It is important too as a structural representative of the rapid urban development of Calgary prior to World War I, and as a landmark in the Inglewood district.
Written by: David Leonard, Historian
Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Inglewood Telephone Exchange. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Inglewood Telephone Exchange.