In 1914 a single telegraph line as far north as Fort St. John served as communications for much of the Peace River.
The first organized service was started in the early 1930’s when a switchboard was installed in a building north of the Cooperative. The Government Telephone and Telegraph System operated the office. Fire and an explosion destroyed the building in 1943. A new office was built on the site of the Palace Hotel but in 1948 service was moved to the basement of the Co-op Building.
In 1955 and 1956, in an effort to have the telephone service improved in Dawson Creek, the local Chamber of Commerce wrote to the Federal authorities to find out when promised improvement would take place. The local telephone manager was then K.C. Wilson. Word was received from F.G. Nixon, Controller of Communications, Department of Transport in February 1956, that a new dial telephone system for Dawson Creek would be delayed until near the end of the year, as a new building to house it would have to be built.
In June, 1956, an announcement was made that the Federal Government’s telephone system in the B.C. section of the Peace River area was being purchased by the North-west Telephone Company, an associate of the B.C. Telephone Company. The telephone company was to take over plant and equipment in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Pouce Coupe, and adjoining areas on July 1. The Company stated that a new building in Dawson Creek would be built in 1956 to house the automatic system which the Government had already ordered, and that the system would go into operation as early as possible in 1957. In the meantime the company undertook to add to the existing switchboard to improve service and to provide for additional telephones.
It was also announced that the Company would have in operation in 1957 the automatic system which the Government had ordered for Pouce Coupe, and would install any additional facilities required in Fort St. John. In addition, construction was to begin immediately on a radio-telephone link between Dawson Creek and Prince George where it would join long distance facilities already extending from Prince George to Vancouver. New relay stations would be located on Tabor Mountain, east of Prince George, and Little Prairie, west of Dawson Creek. Long distance calls from the Peace River area to other parts of B.C. would then go by way of this new route instead of around by Edmonton, as heretofore.
Two new positions of switchboard for Dawson Creek were installed in August 1956. Work began on the new automatic telephone building, located on 102nd Avenue, between 12th Street and 12A Street, in August 1956.
Mr. Carl Swabey was appointed to the position of temporary special assistant to Mr. Charles O’Connor, district plant manager of Prince George in September 1956. His job was to assist in the planning and preparation for the automatic conversion of Dawson Creek.
An announcement was made in January 1957, that owing to delay in delivery of automatic equipment for the Dawson Creek telephone system, a new modern manual switchboard (common battery) would be placed in service about March 15th, and the old switchboard would be completely removed. The new board would consist of six local positions and two positions for the use of long distance operators. The new date for the installation of the automatic service was given as September 1957.
In March 1957 Dawson Creek and Vancouver were linked by direct long distance radiotelephone circuit, which eliminated the need for calls between the Peace River and the coast to be switched through at Prince George.
In July 1957, the automatic equipment, costing more than $164,000, was being installed in the new telephone building at 1212-102nd Avenue. In addition, a complete renovation of all outside distribution cable and wire was being undertaken at a cost exceeding $217,000. At the same time automatic telephones were being installed in homes and business premises.
In August, an announcement was made that when the conversion to automatic was made in September, all telephone numbers would be changed to two-letter five-figure numbering, with the prefix for Dawson Creek being Sterling 2. A feature of the dial system would be the introduction of fully selective ringing.
The Dawson Creek cut over took place at 12:01 a.m. Monday, September 30, 1957. There were approximately 2,000 telephones at the time of cut over.
Mobile radiotelephone service was made available, providing coverage along the Alaska Highway between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John and within a 30-mile radius of both places, in the first half of 1958.
Effective July 1, 1958, Dawson Creek and Pouce Coupe telephone rates were revised upward slightly as the two exchanges were reclassified as Group 5.
In February, 1959, it was stated that over $2,000,000 had been spent on the overall expansion of telecommunications throughout Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Pouce Coupe and surrounding areas, since the company took over operations of the telephones in these communities in July, 1956. During this period the total number of telephones had risen from 1,751 to over 4,800 in the total area, Dawson Creek’s comparable totals being 1,377 and 3,166 respectively.
Operator distance dialing by Dawson Creek operators was started in April 1959.
New rates went into effect in Dawson Creek on January 1, 1960. Unprecedented growth put severe demands on telephone service during these years. In March 1960, Dawson Creek became the Toll Centre for the entire B.C. section of the Peace River country.
On January 1 1961, the North-west Telephone Company merged with the B.C. Telephone Company and the two together became a single system operating in over 90 percent of the province of B.C.
A new long distance switchboard of 12 positions was placed in service in Dawson Creek at midnight March 20, 1961, replacing a 10-position switchboard. This was done as a preliminary step in the conversion of Fort St. John exchange to dial service on April 9, 1961, as the Dawson Creek operators would be giving operator service to Fort St. John as well as Dawson Creek itself, Pouce Coupe and Chetwynd.
On August 1, 1961 toll rates were reduced along the Alaska Highway in B.C. and the Yukon. This resulted in a marked increase in traffic through the Dawson Creek office.
A full-time marketing representative, Colin Patterson, was based in Dawson Creek for the first time in early 1962. C.J. Finch, formerly district manager at Terrace, was transferred to the same position at Dawson Creek in March 1962.
Gradual introduction of ANC (all number calling) began in Dawson Creek on May 1, 1962. This was in line with the B.C. Telephone Company’s plans to convert its entire system to all-figure numbering. With the advent of dial telephone service in Portage on May 6, 1962, and in Hudson’s Hope on June 17, 1962 operator service for the two offices was provided from Dawson Creek.
An $80,000 extension to the Dawson Creek building was started in September 1962. This was a 58 x 73-foot addition to provide a power and battery room, extended garage, addition of a standby power unit, a lunch room and assembly area as well as an operator training room. It also was planned to contain radio and toll rooms.
In September 1962, Mrs. Roberta F. Furdy, who had been chief operator in Dawson Creek since 1959, resigned from the company, and was succeeded as Chief Operator by Mrs. Florence Hall.
An announcement was made in January 1965, of a $1,600,000 microwave radio system to be constructed between Prince George and Dawson Creek by December 1965. The new system would extend the existing large capacity microwave system between Vancouver and Prince George and provide additional communication facilities for rapid growth in the Peace River and northern areas of the province. It would also be capable of expansion for television requirements. Three new radio equipment sites for the new system would be built at Firth, Morfee, and Bowlder, and existing sites would be used at Chetwynd, Bear Mountain, Dawson Creek and Prince George.
On October 29, 1965 the B.C. Telephone Company will begin work in about a week’s time to install repeater stations which will bring television to people in Hudson’s Hope and the Portage Mountain dam site. Approximately $158,000 spent on a project to bring automatic dial telephone service to the rural areas of Arras, Sunrise, Bessborough and Fellers Heights.
On July 15, 1966 the second phase of rural dial telephone extension program to the Doe River area was completed. The conversion to a larger system at Rolla and the provision of dial telephone service north of Doe River should be completed by the end of the year. In addition, B.C. Tel planned to start the first phase of the dial extension program to Tomslake, Gundy and Tupper by the end of August, to serve 162 farmers in the three farming communities between Pouce Coupe and the B.C. – Alberta border. This project cost $192,000.
Total Number of Telephones in Dawson Creek:
September 1, 1956 1,388
September 1, 1961 4,335
September 1, 1966 5,610
In September 1966, a progress story on B.C.Tel’s $1.7 million microwave system between Prince George and Dawson Creek stated that upon its completion, customers in the northern areas of the province would have additional communications facilities. The new system would extend the existing large capacity microwave system between Vancouver and Prince George and provide for the rapid growth in the Peace River area. Three new radio equipment sites would be built through the Pine Pass with access roads from the John Hart highway, the first being at Firth Lake, the second at Morfee, and the third at Bowlder.
On October 1, 1967, R.H. (Bob) Stevens became district manager of the Peace River district.
In January 1968, multi-party dial telephone service was extended to residents of Progress, Sunset Prairie, and Willow Valley. Also in 1968, an 11-mile cable-ploughing job brought service to customers in the Flatrock-Clayhurst area near the Alberta border on the north side of the Peace River.
In 1969 expansion of long distance facilities added to the existing systems from Prince George to Fort St. John and Dawson Creek. In addition, during that year the company spent some $4.5 million to continue construction of a major new microwave system for interprovincial transmission. This $8 million northern interprovincial transmission system from Vancouver through the Pemberton Valley to Kamloops, Prince George, Dawson Creek and into Alberta, was begun in 1968 and scheduled for completion in 1970.
In 1970, announcement was made of a $1.8 million expansion program planned by B.C. Tel to meet the growing telephone requirements in the Peace River region. This money went to expansion and improvement of long distance and local service throughout the region with major emphasis on transmission facilities linking Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. Extensive cable additions were also undertaken in these two communities, with an automatic office being established at Flatrock. By March 1971, 60 channels were added to the transmission system between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. This provided additional circuits from the latter into the toll centre at Dawson Creek through which the area is connected with the provincial and national long distance transmission networks. These new circuits were provided through a new two-hop radio system constructed between Fort St. John and the Bear Mountain Radio Site west of Dawson Creek. The intermediate repeater was built at Mile 30 on the Alaska Highway. Total cost exceeded $390,000. In addition, facilities between Taylor and Dawson Creek were also expanded at a cost of $36,000 and in the North and South Peace areas $340,000 was spent on new and improved service. This included placing of aerial and underground cable and the addition of switching equipment to the Fort St. John central office.
In 1971 the B.C. Tel Co. planned on spending $3.1 million in the Peace country on expansion of its network serving the region. Bob Johnston, manager of the district, said that during the year more than $600,000 would go into long distance transmission, switching and related equipment, which would enable the introduction during 1972 of Direct Distance Dialing for the Peace River region. Some $200,000 would be spent on facilities, which in 1972 would provide exchange offices for the nearby communities of Willowbrook and Rolla.
In July 1972, W. Ronquist was named District Manager for Peace River, replacing Bob Johnston who was appointed General Customer Service Manager in Vancouver.