In 1907, the government of Alberta purchased the Alberta interest of Bell Canada and set up the Alberta Government Telephone Company, a Crown Corporation which was the precursor to AGT. The following year, a telephone line was extended from Edmonton as far east as Mannville, Alberta. The following year, telephone installation was begun in this small community on the Canadian Northern Railway. A telephone office was set up in S. K. Smith’s Drug Store, with various employees of the store operating the Kellog switchboard. In 1912, the Telephone Company extended the service to the rural areas surrounding Mannville.
In October 1915, a new telephone exchange was opened in Mannville with a northern electric switchboard. On 1 December 1917, the exchange was moved into a newly constructed telephone office on Main Street, built by Neil MacKinnon, who became mayor one year later. MacKinnon had also constructed the original Mannville School and the McQueen Memorial Church. The Telephone Agent was Ellen Ewing. She was assisted by Mrs. Alice Rutherford, who would take over as Agent in 1920 and continue in this role until 1965, while herself residing in the AGT building.
During the 1930’s, AGT found the cost of maintaining rural telephone lines increasingly expensive, as fewer and fewer people were subscribing to the system due to the Depression. In parts of the province, including the Mannville district, the telephone system was disconnected. Some of the rural areas formed mutual telephone companies. Around Mannville, six separate companies were formed, but, before long, they were amalgamated into one company, centred in Mannville. The old Telephone Exchange thus found renewed use.
Shortly after World War II, AGT returned to the area, buying out the Mannville Mutual Telephone Company, and securing direct connections with Edmonton and elsewhere. On 1 May 1965, automatic dialing was introduced to the Village and its hinterland with the use of one of the first underground cable systems to be installed in the province. As a result, the Mannville Telephone Exchange was closed. The building served for a while as the community library and has continued as a prominent historical feature of Main Street Mannville ever since.
In October 2009, the Manville Telephone Exchange was designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Its historical significance lies primarily in its provision of structural evidence of telecommunications in early Alberta. It is one of the oldest telephone exchange buildings in the province, at least of those buildings dedicated exclusively to telephone service. It is also a reminder of the early development of downtown Mannville, a major farming community in east central Alberta.
Written by: David Leonard, Historian
Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Alberta Government Telephones Exchange Building in Mannville. 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 AGT Exchange Building.