Sunday, 21 October 2012

Happy 10 Digit Dialing Day, though we've had worse

 The Nor'West Farmer, April 1922 (source)

Starting today it's mandatory ten digit dialing for Manitoba ! Personally, I am going to miss the numerous mild scoldings that I received each day before my number was connected. 

Though much was made about the conversion when it was announced last year, it's certainly not the first time that we've had to change our dialing habits and, compared to some of those changes, this is a piece of cake.

 Winnipeg Telephone Book  Untitled
 Winnipeg Telephone Book 1920

The greatest change came to Manitoba in 1918 with the introduction of the first automatic telephone exchange in Brandon. After years of simply picking up and jiggling the receiver to get an operator to connect you to the three digit number you wanted, you now needed a whole new telephone machine and had to do the work yourself !

Automatic exchanges came to Winnipeg in 1920 but it took six years to convert the entire city, which must have made calling thoroughly confusing during the transition. Some rural areas, such as Oak Bank, did not get automatic dialing until the late 1960s.

The length of numbers grew from three digits to five, then to two letters + four digits then two letters + five digits. These letter prefixes became official in the mid 1950s and included WH (for Whitehall) which covered the downtown and GR (for Grosvenor) that covered much of River Heights. (You can see a list of all prefixes here by entering Winnipeg in the search box.)

As the number of telephone exchanges grew and direct long distance dialing was introduced, North American phone companies found it difficult to find unused letter combinations that could be made into a word - what could you do with YQ, for instance ?!

Winnipeg Free Press, February 1, 1962

In 1960 MTS announced that it would follow suit with other North American phone companies and phase out the two letter prefix in favour of seven digit "all number" dialing. The conversion happened in reverse, with rural exchanges converting first and in 1962 Winnipeg's WH became 94 and GR became 47.

For those frustrated with ten digit dialing, hey, it could be worse !

For a history of telephony in the City of Brandon, check out my West End Dumplings post.


Anonymous said...

Can't remember all the exchanges, but WH was Whitehall, SP was Spruce, CA was Castle, ED was Edison, and GR was Grosvenor.

mrchristian said...

Yes, check the link in the pot. It leads to a list of all of the old exchange prefixes.

Anonymous said...


Stephan said...

This was a blast from the past! I grew up in Steinbach, and remember dialing DA(vis) + 5 digits for our phone number. Does that age me? If so, let it be.

As for the Q, you were right. It could not be used anyway, since Q and Z were not associated with any number, from the old dial pad. I can think of another combination that would have no use, such as YX. The numbers 0 and 1 could probably not be used at the beginning of an exchange, for technical reasons. That is my guess.

Noni Mausa said...

When I first came to Winnipeg, circa 1974, you could still get a party line outside of town. We lived out Hwy 200 near St. Adolphe, and were poorer than church mice (mice don't have to pay for the heat) and so that's what we had. Darned if I know what the number was, but it didn't have a lettered prefix.

mrchristian said...

I've heard that up until the 80s some places still had party lines but the latest I could find reference to online is the late 60s !

Paul Clerkin said...

My wife remembers party lines in Oakbank until the early 80s.

Erin said...

There were party lines around Elkhorn until at least the early 90s.
The switchover caused me some grief, and is going to cost me a service call, because of a now confused (unused) home alarm system!

One Man Committee said...

Further to this party line thread of discussion, I can confirm that my relatives in the northern Interlake also had party lines until about 1990, give or take.

Telecom has changed quickly... I remember about 10 years ago or so reading about an American ballplayer who had to go to the hospital on a road trip in Montreal, and he remarked on how he couldn't believe that his room had a dial telephone in it. It didn't occur to me at the time that dial telephones were such relics given that I had relatives who were still using them!