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Glengarry Telephone Co. Ltd.

A Souvenir of the

Glengarry Telephone Co. Ltd.

 

Presented to the Glengarry Historical Society by Basil McCormick March 1999

 

Acknowledgments

This is a collection of other people’s stories, so my debt to those who took the time and effort to reflect on and record their memories of working for Glengarry Telephone is unbounded. 1 must record the universal enthusiasm I encountered as I spoke to and usually visited all the people whose stories are recorded here.

Many also made a signal contribution which may not be so obvious ? identifying and locating former operators for my list. Without a comprehensive list of names, addresses and telephone numbers the project would have been stillborn. I was also helped by a few people who had no formal connection with Glengarry Telephone, other than to make some phone calls from time to time. I refrain from naming all the people who helped; this list is long, and an inadvertent omission would be unpardonable. Be assured you all have my gratitude.

I must acknowledge support from two other sources, Noble Villeneuve, the local M.P.P., was very supportive when I accidentally had the opportunity to describe my project to him, and his Special Assistant, Glenda Eden, found time in her very busy schedule to locate and direct me to sources which would complement my project. Lorraine Croxen of Bell Canada’s Historical Services found some very interesting and useful items in Bell’s archives. I am particularly grateful because it is no longer Bell’s policy to serve casual inquiries like mine from their archives. The reader will note in the Introduction that full development of this historical dimension to the Glengarry Telephone story is being reserved for a later date.

It was my preference to represent both the inside work (at the switchboard) and the outside work (on the lines) relating to the functioning of a telephone company. You will see that the inside work is over?represented. This is not surprising, given the (then) casual nature of outside work. In my memory there were only two semi?permanent linemen employed by Glengarry Telephone. They were Rhéal Fournier (included) and Aldema “Big” Sauvé. Big Sauvé broke his neck when he fell off the roof working on Peter Archie Roy MacMillan’s house. I still have a vivid memory of Big Sauvé lying on the ground waiting for the ambulance. He died shortly after.

It was my policy to do a minimum amount of editing in transcribing submitted texts for this compendium (although some respondents may disagree). I should add that no?one had the chance to review anyone else’s story. Thus close readers may uncover some very minor inconsistencies. In TV dramas, and in real life, there are inconsistent versions of much more current events.

I must acknowledge my personal interest in this project. My father, John J. McCormick, was manager of Glengarry Telephone from 1942 until it ceased operations in 1966. My mother, Janet McCormick, was secretary for the last half?dozen years of the company’s operations, following the retirement of Jack Morris. My grand?uncles, Michael Morris, Peter Morris and Jack Morris, had major roles to play in the company for much of its life. Peter Chisholm, one of the principal founders, lived diagonally across from the homestead of my father and grandfather.

In collecting stories from former employees I dated the start of my search period in 1942, when my family moved into central. This is the limit of the personal experience on which I could draw, and there is the matter of life expectancy. Willie MacKinnon was manager of Glengarry Telephone during the preceding period, 1915 to 1942, and he and his family lived in the house we moved into. There is an excellent account of that period by Mrs. MacKinnon in Elsie MacMillan’s book, Butternuts and Maple Sugar, page 324 et seq.

There is a short chapter on the history of Glengarry Telephone. This is almost entirely a transcription of notes I found in my mother’s handwriting. The reader will note, under “Acknowledgments” the leads, guidance and assistance given to me by Lorraine Croxen of Bell Canada’s Historical Services and by Glenda Eden, Special Assistant to Noble Villeneuve, M.P.P. I have not yet had the opportunity to investigate these sources. As this collection is primarily a presentation of the stories of former employees, an expanded history chapter can follow at a later date.

In addition, there is an interesting array of photos provided to me on loan by several operators, and the appendices which are self?explanatory.

Basil McCormick

Ottawa, Ont.

March 1999

Glengarry Telephone: A Brief History

(transcribed from notes by Janet McCormick)

On July 1, 1966 ownership of the plant and fixtures of the Glengarry Telephone Company Limited passed to The Bell Telephone Company of Canada. One of the first companies to be formed in Glengarry disappeared after more than fifty?nine years of service.

The inaugural meeting of the shareholders of the Glengarry Telephone Cooperative Association Limited was held in the Town Hall, Alexandria, on Tuesday June 4. 1907. The constitution was adopted and three trustees were named: Peter Chisholm, Lochiel, Dr. K.A. MacLennan, Alexandria, and J.J. McMillan, McCrimmon. Mr. Chisholm was named president of the Association and M.J. Morris, secretary?treasurer and manager. The committee immediately got to work to secure telephone connection with the town and outside points, and to begin construction. One gang was engaged to erect poles and another gang to put up wire. By October of that year there were two toll lines with a total of 19 phones. The first central office was in the Morris Bros. store and M.J. Morris remained secretary?treasurer and manager until 1913; at that time Robert Hay was named secretary?treasurer and manager. The operating hours were 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on weekdays and on Sundays, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

A dividend of 7% was paid in 1910. Financial statements were prepared with a copy being sent to each shareholder along with the dividend cheque.

At the fifth annual meeting of the Glengarry Telephone Co?operative Association on Feb. 9. 1912 Peter Chisholm, the president, told the meeting that during  1911 seventeen miles of pole lines were constructed and 75 new phones installed at an outlay of $3,500.

W.J. MacKinnon was appointed secretary?treasurer, manager, repairman and switchboard supervisor in 1915, He took on the job early in the year and worked faithfully and conscientiously until 1942. In 1915 continuous telephone service was begun, although night calls were reserved for emergencies.

M.J. Morris was president in 1916.

The year 1917 marked the incorporation of the Glengarry Telephone Co?operative Association as the Glengarry Telephone Company Limited. The capital stock of the company was $20,000, divided into 2,000 shares at $10.00 each. The head office was situated in the township of Lochiel with the postal address in Alexandria, The provisional directors of the company were M.J. Morris, J.J. Morris, John Angus MacMillan, Francis Costello and Angus McDonald. At the first annual meeting of the Glengarry Telephone Co. Ltd. M.J. Morris was named president, and the next year J.A. McCrimmon succeeded him. In 1920 Peter Chisholm was president again.

There was a steady growth of telephone lines in all directions from Lochiel. Some subscribers paid for their stock/shares by providing poles and/or labour. By 1921 there was a connection to Vankleek Hill. One of the subscribers, Wm Newton, paid $5.00 a year for pole rent. More poles were needed so the directors authorized W.J. MacKinnon to buy 20 poles @ $1.50 each ? 25 ‘ long and 6″ at the bottom. In 1923 N.D. MacLeod was named president. In 1930 Glengarry Telephone joined the Independent Telephone Association.

In 1934 Mr. MacKinnon was advised he could buy a car to help him with his work. Before that horse and buggy or horse and sleigh had been his only means of conveyance. The telephone rental charge was increased from $12.00 to $14.00 per year. The old brick veneered part of central was taken down and a new addition built.

In 1938 the Board had a meeting with representatives of The Bell Telephone Company concerning toll charges and commissions. In 1940 the Company bought a trailer from J.W. MacRae for $10.00. Later that year they bought a Fargo light delivery truck from Sarto Leger for $400.

The year 1942 marked the end of Willie MacKinnon’s honourable service when he asked to be relieved of duties. J.J. McCormick was named in his place as manager, repairman and in charge of the switchboard. At the annual meeting in April 1942 Peter Chisholm resigned as president and was made Honorary President. J.A. McCrimmon took his place as president. Dr. Munroe was put in as director to replace J.W. McLeod who resigned, and Malcolm Grant replaced N.D. McLeod who also resigned. The end of 1942 brought the horrific ice/sleet storm. On Jan. 6, 1943 there was just one subscriber, J.W. MacRae who had the store next door to central, who was able to call central. All the lines were flattened. It was a real holiday for the operators but not so for the repairmen. That winter was exceptionally cold. It was week after week of pulling wires out of the ice?covered snow and manoeuvering poles into an upright position in order to restore service; all this in severely sub?freezing temperatures. War?time shortages made it almost impossible to obtain new replacement wire. It is noteworthy to say that Glengarry Telephone had its lines in order before some of the surrounding telephone companies.

In 1945 service was installed on the Eigg Road. A delegation from Breadalbane attended the annual meeting asking that service be extended to that area and after a short time this was attended to.

In 1947 a line was constructed east of Alexandria on the Glen Robertson Road. Lloyd MacMillan was appointed director to replace James Lewis Macmillan who resigned.

A Fargo truck was purchased in 1949 to replace the old reliable Fargo. The price was $2054.75 with an allowance of $500 for the old truck. That year, owing to ill health, J.A. McCrimmon resigned as president after ten years of service in that position and 48 years on the board. Lloyd MacMillan was named as president in his place and Ian Irvine was appointed to the board of directors.

In 1956 the first cable was bought and installed for three miles north of Lochiel. The next year cable was installed from Lochiel to Fassifern, and the following year from Lochiel to Lome. That year also Archibald MacDonald joined the board of directors.

In 1959 the service territory was extended back to St. Bernardin when Glengarry Telephone obtained the rights to that part of the area which had been served by the Riceville exchange. In 1961 Bell introduced dial service to Vankleek Hill and eight Glengarry Telephone subscribers in the immediate area were connected to that exchange. Two dial positions were installed at the Lochiel switchboard in order to ring Vankleek Hill.

In 1962 J.J. Morris resigned as secretary?treasurer and Janet McCormick was appointed in his place. A 25 pair cable was installed along Highway 34. Bell was also approached that year about buying the company but they were not interested at that time.

Dr. Munroe resigned as director in 1964, due to ill health, and was replaced by Benton McCrimmon. The major project that year was moving the line between Fassifern and Lome as a development road was being built. This was an expensive undertaking which put the company in financial difficulties. All the cable had to be replaced. (There is a notation in J.J. McCormick’s handwriting that the work was commissioned by the Township of Lochiel, but the township never did fulfill its part of the agreement.) There was another construction job of greater interest to at least a few people ? a bathroom was installed in the central building.

In Sept. 1964 the company lost one of its valuable directors when Ian Irvine died suddenly. He was replaced by J.K. Munroe. The following year both M.J. Morris and J.J. Morris died. Both men had given greatly to the company in time, energy and talent from its earliest years. J.J. Morris had retired as secretary?treasurer only a few years previously.

The subject came up again about selling to Bell. In the near future it would be necessary to convert to dial and the cost of such a project would present financial difficulty. Bell’s conditions meant dividing the company’s territory into three parts, with

the northern sector being attached to the Vankleek Hill exchange while the remaining area being divided between the Alexandria and Glen Robertson exchanges. This was not acceptable as too much of the traffic within the community would become subject to long distance toll charges. The shareholders were contacted and it was decided to offer the company for sale on the condition that the territory not be split up. Bell accepted the offer and they took over the territory of the company on July 1, 1966 but it is to be left as it is until the system is converted to dial in 1968.

At the time of sale Glengarry Telephone had 644 telephones. (A table showing the growth in number of telephones is given in an appendix, as is a table showing some other statistics.)

Some subscribers are pleased to join Bell but many are very satisfied with the present arrangement and are not happy with the prospect of change. The Glengarry Telephone Company has always had a friendly relationship with Bell and it is hoped that this agreeable relationship will continue for Glengarry Telephone subscribers when they become Bell customers.

The executive of the Glengarry Telephone Company Limited at its sale were: President ? Malcolm Grant; Directors ? Archibald MacDonald, Benton McCrimmon, J.K. Munroe, and P.J. Morris; Manager ? J.J. McCormick; Secretary?treasurer ? Janet McCormick.

 

***  An Inside Job: Stories from the Operators ***

*** An Outside Job: A Lineman’s Story ***

NOTE: It was indicated in the Introduction that a revised history will be prepared when some additional source documents are located. If any reader has any contribution, including comments or anecdotes, to make to this project the author would be truly grateful.

Appendix I

 

List of Identified Glengarry Telephone Employees

  • Jeannine (Beauchamp) Séguin
  • Yolande (Belair) Séguin
  • Sarah Brodie (deceased)
  • Frances (Chisholm) Olsen
  • Claire (Crevier) McGee (deceased)
  • Rhéal Fournier
  • Thelma (Gelineau) McDonald
  • Agathe (Girard) Ouimet (deceased)
  • Lillian (Hay) MacDonald
  • Mary (Kennedy) MacCormick
  • Margaret (Lacroix) Deschamps
  • Shirley (MacDonald) Campbell
  • Jessie MacGillivray (deceased)
  • Charlotte MacKinnon (deceased)
  • Marjorie (MacLeod) McCaskill
  • Jean (MacMillan) Walker
  • Christena (McCormick) MacSweyn
  • May (McCrimmon) McCallum
  • Florence (McDonald) Phillips (deceased)
  • Helen (McDonald) MacDonell
  • Helen (McDonald) McCormick
  • Donalda (McDonell) O’Brien (deceased)
  • Isabel (McMeekin) Fraser
  • Georgette Paiment
  • Dolores (Sabourin) Cuerrier
  • Muriel (Smith) McCallum
  • Agathe (St. Denis) Lepage
  • Claudette (St. Denis) Quesnel
  • Hèléne (St. Denis) Shennett
  • Denise Titley

Appendix II

 

(Letter sent to operators)

2081 Maywood Street Ottawa, Ont. K1G 1E8

tel. (613) 731?3958

(date)

(operator’s name and address)

 

Dear (operator):

Visible evidence of the existence of The Glengarry Telephone Company Limited has almost completely disappeared. There remains only memories in the minds of people served by the company, and with the people who worked for the company. The archives committee of the Glengarry Historical Society is trying to locate and preserve the records of the company. Such records, if they can be located, would at best provide only a dry skeleton of the life and times of Glengarry Telephone.

Most people would agree that the establishment of a successful local telephone company to serve the needs of the residents of the (former) township of Lochiel and parts of adjacent townships some ninety years ago was a remarkable achievement. Recognition of the importance of instant and easy communication is commonplace these days, but this was not so obvious a century ago. There should be some recognition of the foresight of our forefathers before the evidence is lost completely.

What is really at risk is the history of Glengarry Telephone that exists only in the memories of the people who were involved with the company on a day?to?day basis. In the oral tradition of our ancestors these events would be preserved as stories to be passed on from generation to generation. Nowadays anything that is not written down and filed soon gets lost forever. It is in this context that I am undertaking to contact as many of the former operators as I can locate and inviting them to recall and record the stories and anecdotes that give some sense of the “life and times” of the daily operation of a small connecting telephone company.

If you agree to write out your recollections I will type them up, and give you a copy for your review. Further, everyone who replies will get a copy of all the submissions I receive. A complete set will go to The Glengarry Historical Society.

I must confess that I have no preconceived idea as to the structure or content of your “memoirs”. As a start I have in mind the following topics:

? dates you worked for Glengarry Telephone

? what you were paid ? hours you worked, what were your shifts, and how shifts were rotated between operators

? what were the housekeeping arrangements

? who were the other operators you worked with. This of course should be fleshed out with your memories of dealing with the public, and with the telephone company, that were gratifying, frustrating or whatever. This should be the most interesting part. By way of a trivial illustration, I had a conversation recently with Hugh P. MacMillan. He and Muriel were having a get?together of some sort. One of the invitees didn’t know how to get there and called Hugh P. for directions. Everyone was out on the front lawn and didn’t hear the telephone. Just when the caller was about to give up the operator told him that someone had just gone into the house and would soon answer the phone. The caller was amazed at this level of service.

Working with Glengarry Telephone meant working with my father. (I don’t plan to contact anyone who worked for the company before 1942, when my father took over!) My father is a hero to me, but I am well aware that he has his foibles and character traits. You should not feel constrained to “sanitize” your memories for fear of giving offence.

Also if you have any photographs relating to your stay at Glengarry Telephone I would consider paying to have copies made. They should be dated and labelled as best you can.

You may know that the two switchboards used at Lochiel are now on display at the Museum of Science and Technology here in Ottawa. I was surprised to find that they were identified as coming from Lochiel. I wonder how many visitors know where Lochiel is, especially now that it has been absorbed into North Glengarry.

There is no fixed timetable for this project, but I would like to have it well in hand by the fall of this year, 1998.

If this project interests you I will try to make it as convenient for you as possible. We can discuss how best to achieve this.

I am well aware that this project would have been easier, and with a much better result, if I had started it twenty or thirty years ago, but it is already too late to start it even last year.

I thank you in advance for any contribution you may be able to make.

 

Yours truly,

Basil McCormick

 

Click here to see original documents and photos