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Canadian Pacific Telegraph


(Telegraph: Greek; tele "far" graphein "to write")

The original charter of the CPR granted in 1881 provided for the right to create a telegraph and telephone service including charging for it. W.C.Van Horne decided from the very beginning that the CPR would retain as much revenue from its various operations as it could rather than letting others grab it. This translated into keeping express, telegraph, sleeping car and other lines of business for themselves creating separate departments or companies as necessary. This was necessary for a number of reasons first, the fledgling railway would need all the income it could get and second, he saw some of these ancillary operations such as express and telegraph as being quite profitable. Others such as sleeping and dining cars were kept in order to provide better control over the quality of service being provided to passengers. Hotels were likewise crucial to the CPR's growth by attracting travellers. The telephone had barely been invented but telegraph was well established as a means of communicating quickly across great distances.

Most famous telegram sent upon completion of the CPR.
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The Montreal Telegraph Company began in 1847 followed quickly by The Great North Western Telegraph Company of Canada which later came under control of Western Union in the US. The Dominion Telegraph Company started a price war in 1868.

Being allowed to sell this service meant the railway could offset the costs of constructing and maintaining a pole line along its tracks across vast distances for its own purposes which were largely for dispatching trains. It began doing so in 1882 as the separate Telegraph Department which provided and maintained the telegraph lines for both commercial and railway purposes. On September 1, 1886 commercial messages were sent for the first time from the Atlantic to the Pacific by an all-Canadian route. Prior to the CPR line being strung messages to the west could only be sent via the United States. Later, when the government owned Pacific Cable was completed in 1902 between Bamfield, British Columbia (on the west coast of Vancouver Island) and Australia communication crossed the Pacific Ocean. In 1917, the British government established its own cable service across the Atlantic and leased CPR facilities from Halifax, Nova Scotia and Bamfield, VI to create an "All Red" route to link the vast reaches of the British Empire.

Galvanized iron wire was used at first however; beginning in 1898 the greatly increased efficiency of copper wire saw its adoption for use on important lines although iron would remain in use for many more years.

Paid for by the word, a telegram was an expensive way to send messages but, vital to businesses. An individual receiving a personal telegram was seen as being someone important except for those that transmitted sorrow in the form of death notices. Messengers on bicycles delivered telegrams and picked up a reply in cities. In smaller locations the local railway station agent would handle this on a commission basis. To speed things, at the local end messages would first be telephoned.

Originally, only full-rate day messages sent quickly and night messages sent at discount when the wires were less used were provided. Later, a wide range of rates were established for differing commercial services.

Automatic printing telegraph apparatus was introduced in 1912 and these printers eventually handled a large percentage of messages.

Early telephone calls were limited to a distance of approximately 1,500 miles until the Audion vacuum tube for radio was invented to amplify very weak currents. It was later adapted for telephones in 1915 and that distance limitation was removed.

Next came the Carrier system whereby telegraph and telephone wires were made to carry thirty-six separate messages or a number of conversations on a single pair of wires. This is accomplished by transmitting numerous alternating currents of different frequencies from approximately 3700 to 11,000 cycles per second (later, 30,000 and then, 64,000). The first Carrier telegraph system was begun in 1928 between Montreal and Toronto. It quickly spread all across the System bringing with it a big improvement in the quality of messages.

In 1931 it became the Communications Department in recognition of the expanding services provided which included telephones lines, news wire, ticker quotations for the stock market and eventually teletype machines. All were faster than mail and very important to business and the public alike for many decades before cell phones and computers came along.

Ticker quotations service was begun in 1930 following agreement with the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. The Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver stock exchanges were soon added requiring several hundred tickers and an extensive network of circuits to provide the service.

Canadian Dow Jones Limited launched a program of news ticker service May 1, 1937 to all points served by Canadian Pacific which was distributed by fast page printers printing at the rate of 75 words per minute and practically silent in its operation.

Radio news service provided brief news from the Canadian Press in Toronto sent out by tickers three times a day to broadcasting stations all across Canada. Now, it's all news all day long!

A radio broadcast transmission service was also provided whereby a broadcast network was created linking radio stations across vast distances. This required superior transmissions involving specially designed repeaters to provide the high quality service demanded. It soon became quite profitable and was quickly extended throughout the System. When the Canadian Radio Commission was established in 1932, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian National Railways jointly entered into a contract to provide the national wire network facilities required by the Commission. In the United States such service was only available from telephone companies.

Long distance telephone service was provided not only for the Company's own business but also for telephone companies in places where separate lines were impractical. In 1931, the first trans-Canada long distance telephone service was established when various telephone companies co-ordinated their lines creating the Trans-Canada Telephone System with Canadian Pacific providing lines to bridge gaps between Sudbury and Winnipeg and along sections of the Kettle Valley Railway in the Kootenay. The CPR also provided public long distance telephone service in summer resort areas in the Rocky Mountains and on Manitoulin Island in Ontario as well as the mining area of Rouyn- Noranda of Northern Quebec.

Another important service provided by telegraph was the transmission of money orders issued by Canadian Pacific Express Company to all parts of the world. This was especially important in the days before credit cards.

The coaxial cable was another improvement that came along in the 1940's. It comprised a conductor enclosed within a tube (which acts as the second conductor) transmitting frequencies from 60,000 cycles per second to about a million cycles. One such cable could provide 120 telephone conversations any one of which could be substituted for 12 telegraph channels.

Wideband, broadband, teletype machines, Telex; using telephone-like rotary dialling were all things that sped up the transmission of messages. Microwave, a wireless system, was eventually used in remote and difficult areas such as mountainous regions.

It was the coming of newer technologies especially cellular telephones, e-mail and the internet that eventually resulted in the demise of these services even after formation in 1967 of CN-CP Telecommunications in an effort to affect efficiencies through consolidation rather than competition. Commercial telegraph service officially ended in 1974. In 1988 CP acquired CN's share and in 1989 CN-CP Telecommunications became Unitel Communications Inc. owned 60% by Canadian Pacific Ltd. and 32% by Rogers Communications Inc. In June of 1992 the right to compete in long distance telephone calls was secured from the CRTC in Ottawa. It opened the flood gates and soon even local telephone service was open to competition for the first time. This deregulation and the touhg competition brought about the sale of remaining services and facilities which by now included fibre optic cables. CP and Rogers sold Unitel to minority shareholder AT&T Canada whereby CP exited the field entirely.

Telegrams over the years.

Invention of the telegraph and telephone.


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