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The 'Talking Box'
Port Perry's First Telephones

Port Perry's interest in the telephone developed shorty after Alexander Graham Bell had invented his "talking box", as it was often called in its infancy.

The first working mode of the telephone was produced in 1876 and records indicate that the next year, a Port Perry resident, P.S. Jenkins, applied for the local agency. However it had already been granted to a Bowmanville man, W. McSpadden, for the entire county.


Another Port Perry man, J.S. Hoitt, seems to have been intrigued by the early telephone and he too applied for the job of handling the leasing of telephones in this district.

Despite the early interest shown, it apparently was not until 1884 that telephone service was started here. That year, long distance lines were built from Port Perry to Toronto and from Port Perry to Whitby through Uxbridge, Goodwood, Stouffville, Markham and Brooklin.


S.E. Allison was the telephone agent in Port Perry at this time and he set up the only Port Perry telephone in his drug store on Queen St. It was more than a year before other telephones were installed and a switchboard was put in to provide for the inter-connection of these sets.

By the end of 1885, residents of Port Perry who less than two years before didnÕt even have a telephone in the community, could talk via the telephone to people as far west as Windsor and as far east as Quebec City. By this time, nine people had telephones in their homes or offices.

Two years later, another long distance line was constructed linking Uxbridge with Lindsay and giving Port Perry a more direct route to Lindsay, Peterborough, Belleville and other points. The first telephone directory including Port Perry subscribers was published in 1885 and showed the following listings: Allison, S.E. Druggist, Queen St., Ontario Bank, Queen St., Ross, A. & Sons, General Store, Trounce, W.J., & Co. Flour Mills.

Another interesting aspect of early telephone service in Port Perry was that the first subscribers could only use their telephones when the exchange was open with an operator on duty to complete their calls. Following are the hours of the Port Perry exchange in 1887: Office Hours Weekdays 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Holidays 10 a.m. to 12 noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

By the year 1891, Port Perry's population had reached 2,000 and the entire community was being served by only 13 telephones. The directory for 1897, for the first time showed, that local telephone customers had numbers assigned to them. Until that time, the operator completed calls by using names, rather than numbers.


Five years after the turn of the century, the Bell Telephone Co. purchased some 87 miles of line and 54 telephones from three local doctors; David Archer, Edgar L. Proctor and Samuel J. Mellow, who each owned a small telephone business. The purchases increased substantially the the company's presence in the community and the number of Bell subscribers in Port Perry increased to 72.

Telephone expansion continued in the area and by 1911, new and larger quarters were needed to house the switchboards and telephone offices. Accommodation was supplied by Wm. H. McCaw who had been Port Perry's telephone agent since 1887 when he succeeded Mr. Allison. In the next few years, the increase in the number of telephones in Port Perry was nothing short of phenomenal - leaping ahead by about 100 sets per year. In 1910, there were 113 phones. By 1916 this number had reach 637.

Expansion slowed following these years of rapid grow and by 1929 the number of sets stood at 856. The depression made its presence felt on the telephone business here and by 1933 the number of telephones in service in Port Perry had fallen to 592. The long awaited announcement of the coming dial service was made in 1957 and the necessary construct-ion and installation work to prepare for the cut-over was carried out in the community by Northern Electric and Bell Telephone crews.

The first operators employed by the telephone companies were boys. However, it didn't take very long to discover that their general rudeness and complete lack of tact and patience virtually ruled out their suitability as operators. Subsequently the job became one for girls.


Archer's Port Perry
Independent Phone System


Drs. David and Robert Archer, two well-respected Port Perry physicians were instrumental in having the first telephone system installed in the village and district.Telephone service through Bell Telephone was not readily available in the village until about 1896, and during the first few years there were few subscribers.

It was at this time, the public-spirited Drs. Archer installed their own telephone system so they could be reached more quickly for medical emergencies. The wires were strung on small poles, on fences and in trees, and were in constant need of repair. As a teenager, Dr. Robt. Archer's son, Harold, was the busy linesman.

The switchboard was in the doctors' clinic, and relay stations were, for the most part located in the general stores of the communities the telephone serviced.

One telephone line went from Port Perry to the Scugog Island store and back. Another went to Seagrave, then on to Saintfield, Greenbank, Epsom, Utica, Ashburn, Myrtle, Raglan, Purple Hill, Cadmus, Blackstock and back to Port Perry.

For several years, this private telephone system provided a great service in the township, not only for medical emergencies, but also for the quick transmission of important family messages.

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