Bird on a Wire – Telephones in Rochester

I didn’t know what a dial phone was until we moved to Harrow in 1967. When I was kid in Ruscomb we still had crank phones.

Here’s the routine: You pick up the phone and ask “Using?” (which is rather silly and formal since the only other people who would have been “using” were the Simons and we knew them so could have just asked “hey, are you on the line?” Or just listened for their voice.)

Once we determine that they were not indeed “Using”, we pressed the button on the side and turned the crank to get the operator (unless we were calling the Simons and then we didn’t push the button. We just turned the crank. Usually very unevenly, that’s how I could tell it was my best friend Kimberley Simon trying to get ahold of me. The Simons were 26 ring 2. The Fenners were 26 ring 5. Why do I remember these things? I don’t know …)

When the operator answers (in Woodslee), we would then say “28 ring 3 please”. (I think that was Grandma and Grandpa Fenner). Always please. And then she would put through the call.

All this comes to mind because I just got finished typing out the part in Grandma’s Rochester History about when the telephone came to town. Sayeth she:

In 1880 telephones were first installed in the county. In 1882, Windsor could talk to Belle River. In 1885 there were resident phones in St. Joachim. Until 1908 Bell had only phones in hotels. In 1905 C.E. (Dr.) Knister built a line from Staples to Comber (ed: so his patients could reach him quickly). He sold it to Rochester and other municipalities in 1911. There were 260 private phones. In 1907 H.B. Knister had a private line. The township bought it in 1907 for $250.

Rochester TOwnship was the first township in Ontario to establish municipal telephones. In 1907 the number of phones on the lines were: Ruscomb line: 14; Malden Road, 10; South Woodslee, 5; Belle River Road, 12; Belle River, 18. The committee consisted of Reeve Dewhirst, Clerk Mousseau, Treasurer Ladouceur and O.J. Wilcox.

In 1968 the municipal phone was sold to Bell Telephone Company for $700,000. The takeover was July 1st, 1970. At that point the dial system came into effect

(ed. comment) … and the age of modernity was finally upon us in our little hamlet ..


Posted on December 4, 2011, in A History of Rochester Township 1853-1978 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. In the late 30s and into the 40s my grandmother, Helen Vetor (nee Bauer), was a telephone operator in Woodslee. From the stories she told, none of them very specific, we gathered that there was no privacy for phone users. The operators listened in and, no doubt, participated in many conversations. She loved that job!

  2. That’s funny … there were many times when I came in to Grandma Fenner’s kitchen when she was on the phone but not saying anything. Privacy?? What’s that? (PS – Ella Bauer used to cut our hair. Was she related to your grandmother? My dad has a funny story about how her German Shepherd chased a guy up onto the cab of his pickup truck once. Her dog didn’t like men, so the story goes)

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