Victoria Telegraph Office

Typical landline telegraph office around 1910. (Jack Bowerman Collection)

Landline Telegraph

   The photo above is likely the Canadian Pacific Railway's landline telegraph office at Victoria, British Columbia in the period 1905-15. Note the telegraph 'sounders' in the elevated boxes next to the heads of the two telegraphers on the left. The railroad's rails never did make it to Victoria but the CPR services certainly did in the form of the trans-Pacific Empress steamers, coastal steamers, the Empress Hotel in Victoria and of course, the telegraph system. A customer could walk into a C.P.R. prairie whistle stop station and purchase a ticket to any place the transportation company went: get on the train in Moose Jaw and eventually disembark from an Empress liner in Hong Kong, all on the same ticket!

   The landline code consisted not of beeps or tones as with a wireless/radio, but the spaces between clicks as the circuit was opened and closed by the operator at a remote station using Morse Code to key the circuit. The on again, off again current flowed through a coil of wire in the sounder box creating a fairly weak magnetic field which pulled at a spring loaded soft iron clapper. Thus there would be a click each time the remote telegrapher tapped his key. The sounder was mounted in an elevated box firstly to bring it nearer the operator's ear, and secondly to make the clicks more pronounced in a noisy room.

   In the right background are three telegram runners. No doubt their bicycles are outside and waiting to take the boys and telegrams to the recipients. They were the equivalent to today's bicycle couriers. In those days telephone systems were in their infancy and served only the local community. Convenient long distance calling was an option some years into the future. Canada had been spanned with telegraph wire when the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in the 1880's. Undersea cables connected the continents together. Thus telegrams were a vital and quick communication tool for messaging between towns and countries.

The First Five Stations

   In the opening years of the 20th Century the Dominion Government began a construction program of coastal wireless stations. The technology was new, less than 10 years old, and was still experimental to some point. For instance the ideal location for a transmitter site was at best a guess, the coverage range was a guess, and the operation of the simple receivers was a critical talent.
   On the west coast the Dominion Government was getting concerned about the loss of life and materials and in 1906 embarked on a program of radio station construction, the building of a life saving trail along the south coast of Vancouver Island and the creation of a couple of manned lifeboat stations in the same area. The wireless stations at Victoria, Pachena, and Estevan covered the west coast of Vancouver Island, while Point Grey (Vancouver) and Cape Lazo managed the inside waters between the island and the mainland. Google Earth link here.

   Previous to any radio activity out on this coast, the Marconi Company had installed a number of coastal stations on the Atlantic coast. The capital cost, operation and maintenance were all born by the Company. At the time Marconi had an irritating policy of communicating only with Marconi fitted vessels or stations. Thus a vessel fitted with a Telefunken transmitter would not be answered by a Marconi shore station. The Government wisely felt this Marconi policy would not be in the best interests of the shipping concerns on the west coast and so installed equipment manufactured by others. Marconi huffed and puffed, waving what they thought was an iron clad contract giving them a monopoly to supply and man Government stations. (Marconi eventually changed their policy. Imagine if a cell phone on the Bell system couldn't call a cell phone on the Telus system!) A news item in October of 1926 reports Marconi is still operating the eastern stations.

   Select a station from the menu above the banner photo.

   Table below is from Statistics Canada's web site and is labeled "Wireless and radio stations in operation in Canada, March 31, 1924 to 1927. (I've only listed the items that pertain to Rough Radio's area of interest.)


1924
1925
1926
1927

Coast Stations (Gov't Owned)
31
34
26
27
Radio Telephone Stations (Gov't Owned)
5
5
4
5
Ship Stations (Gov't & Private)
232
239
252
272

   The Canadian government's auditor reported revenues of $ 46,129.87 for the west coast wireless stations in the fiscal year 1924/25.

   This clipping (clickable) from the November 1907 Colonist reports the new station's locations. The co-ordinates are a bit out when compared to today's maps but that can be attributed to map datum used, then and now. Note the call signs end in the letter "D", possibly for Dominion, or government station.

   Nations soon realized some international agreement would be required, else the airwaves would descend in chaos. Stations made up their own call-signs, station operating times were not standardized, traffic handling, message tolls, operating frequencies were not standardized, and the like. In 1912 an international conference was held in London to sort all these details out. The resulting document (bi-lingual)is available here.

The Next Six Stations

   View these additional stations here.

    The first five stations were so successful the Dominion Government decided to expand coverage northwards along the coast to Prince Rupert. The new station at Triangle Island at the north tip of Vancouver Island provided coverage to the southern central coastal waters. Ikeda station on the west side of Moresby Island provided similar coverage to the northern central coast. Digby Island (Prince Rupert) provided communications to the northern waters. These stations provided weather and vessel sighting reports to the local newspapers.

   A wireless fitted vessel could now sail the coast knowing the weather conditions ahead, receive messages from their agents to pick up cargo or passengers, send a message to have supplies awaiting, receive weather reports and if anything did go wrong, call for help immediately. Passengers could send and receive telegrams and thus not be out of contact with their families or companies. Turned out that passengers and cargo shippers in those early days would prefer to purchase a ticket on a vessel fitted with wireless over a vessel not fitted. Steamship companies responded accordingly and within a span of about 10 years all major coastal vessels were fitted with wireless.

   These new locations did not last too long. Triangle Island and Ikeda were remote and hard to staff and so were abandoned after a dozen years. Triangle shut down and a replacement station was built at Bull Harbour, on Hope Island, a place just as remote, but more accessible. Ikeda met the same fate and was relocated up to Dead Tree Point on Graham Island. North eastern Vancouver Island's in-land waters were served by a new station at the community of Alert Bay.</>

   View these additional stations here.

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