“You’re never alone when you have a phone,” claimed an early newspaper advertisement. Isolated on their farms, rural families in Saskatchewan during the 1920s relied on telegraph and telephone, postal and newspaper services to connect them to the world outside their farm gate.
The Telephone Exchange and Post Office in the Village offers Museum visitors a chance to sample a taste of rural life in the 1920s. A vintage telephone in a replica telephone booth presents a wonderful opportunity for museum visitors to experience.
By picking up the earpiece and speaking into the mouthpiece, visitors can be connected to the Co-Op Store or the John Deere dealership. Or the operator at the switchboard can direct the call to the merchant’s home on the other side of the village. The distant, hollow sounding transmission gives visitors a first-hand impression of what making a phone call would have sounded like in the 1920s. The operator plugging the dangling cords into the correct jacks shows at a glance how the telephone connection is made.
The first phone call in Saskatchewan dates to 1882, only six years after Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for his invention. By 1905, Saskatchewan had about 2000 telephones. Several subscribers shared a telephone line. These were known as party lines. If the line was in use, you had to wait your turn.
Early service in Saskatchewan was provided by privately-owned companies until the Department of Telephones was set up in 1908. Under government regulations, the government could provide service to urban communities including trunk lines for long distance services. In rural areas, provision was made for telephone districts with boards to be elected by the residents of the communities. At their peak, between 1922 and 1927, there were 1,214 rural telephone companies in Saskatchewan. As late as 1933, there were 1,169 cooperative telephone companies in existence in Saskatchewan. The last company, the East Borden Rural Telephone Company, was assimilated by SaskTel in 1989.
The North Battleford Telephone Office relied on the cooperation of many people. Telephone lines were installed by SaskTel. WDM volunteer Charlie Baker, a lineman for the Richard rural telephone company during his career years, played a lead role in developing the new exchange. He cleaned and refurbished the switchboard, donated items from his own collection, and assisted Museum staff to arrange and prepare the new office. Another WDM volunteer, Ed Risling, constructed the telephone booth. SaskTel Pioneers contributed knowledge, advice and support. The effort and cooperation of all combined and resulted in an exciting place for Museum visitors.