the communications revolution in the Drummond area… tell the story by André Pelchat – Vingt55

The electric telegraph, invented in the 1830s and perfected by Samuel Morse, was the first way to overcome distance. The first tracks basically followed the railroad tracks and were installed by the railroads, initially to facilitate the maintenance of railroad equipment. In our region, the first line was laid on the Richmond-Lévis Grand Trunk line in 1855, before being extended to other regional centers. In 1863, a resident of Arthabaska wrote that news took less time to arrive from France than it did from Montreal fifteen years earlier!

However, his system was not perfect: there were numerous service failures, notably during strong winds, damage to cables or instruments by lightning and even, in 1859, major damage following a solar storm and the spectacular aurora borealis that blew up electrical circuits!

Either way, the cost of sending private messages is prohibitive for most citizens. We pay per word (hence the “telegraph” style) and therefore we stick to the essentials for messages reserved for serious matters: business messages, obituaries, etc.

The telephone was created by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 (actually an Italian-American named Antonio Meuci had developed this concept before but didn’t have the 10 dollars needed to apply for a patent…) and this one created the company Phone Bell next year. The company’s Canadian subsidiary established itself as a major supplier around 1880 and the Grand Trunk Company promised to connect its train station and offices with this new means of communication. The system is fully manual: all calls go through the central unit and the operator establishes communication between users. This new technology is especially attractive to businesses because an annual subscription costs $15, which is out of reach for most of the population.

However, in order to expand beyond the railway stations, entrepreneurs often have to invest their time and money. In 1884, in Victoriaville, Achille Gagnon built the first telephone pole at his own expense. Two merchants, Paul Tourigny and WC Houle, laid the line between Victoriaville and Warwick. Gradually, the Bell company would buy up most of the local telephone companies in the 1890s. Bell owned the network while Durham was still independent! The private network is not integrated into the larger network. Telephones are still commonly found in stations, shops, post offices and other places of business. Only the elite have devices at home, especially in cities because the countryside is often underserved. Calls still have to go through the center: it’s impossible to call someone directly. The device is equipped with a crank. Turning it triggers a ring tone that alerts the operator to the answer. He is then given the name and address of the person to contact and this person establishes contact. Also, it’s worth calling during the center’s business hours: they often don’t have night staff. Therefore, it is not possible to make an urgent call at midnight or one in the morning if the local switchboard is closed.

Telephone numbers reported by roller dial did not become widespread until 1930. To use them, an automated center was needed. In Drummondville, there will be one in 1937, the first in the area. Over the next decade, telephone companies will gradually upgrade their technology. It will take longer in the countryside. The Township of Warwick would only join the new facility in 1958.

Then it became possible for everyone to call a relative or friend for news… or to give some!

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