Posted by: Manager / Associate Curator | December 10, 2016

Bell Operators – Cornwall

Telegraph came to Cornwall in 1847 and in 1880 Cornwall saw its first telephones serving the Montreal Telegraph Company, the Grand  Trunk Railway station, the American House and some local factories. By late 1881 the New Windsor Hotel as well as N. Turner & Sons had service and soon the Toronto Paper Company would also be connected. The first long distance call (from Montreal) arrived in Cornwall in 1882. By 1887 the telephone was standard equipment for Cornwall businesses and part of everyday life.


This photo from the Standard-Freeholder was taken on June 18, 1954. Pictured is Chief Operator Rose Corcoran. Others included Blanche Bonneville, Peggy McDonald and students Colleen MacIntosh, Elaine Steele, Emma Prieur, Merle Nixon and Jacqueline Beauchamps. New long distance equipment was being installed which enabled Cornwall operators to ring long distance numbers from their own switchboards.

On June 5, 1960 direct distance dialing was introduced. An “Automated clerk” employing paper tapes tracked calls for billing purposes.


Operator Blanche Deebank placed the last operated-assisted call in Cornwall on May 9, 1985 before retiring the 31 year-old system in favour of the new computerized system.

Late 1996 saw Bell’s 9th & Marlborough property as well as the one at 45 2nd St. W. go up for sale.

In 1999 Bell closed its operator service in Cornwall during a consolidation project that rolled out between July of 1999 and April of 2001. More than 50 Cornwall operators lost their jobs, about half of Bell’s Cornwall staff at the time.

In June of 2006, Cornwall joined the 10-digit direct dialing scheme.


  1. Really enjoying the pics from the Bell operators, as my mother and I were operators..I am interested in getting copies of pics, how do go about getting them?

    • Hi Lisa. Thank you for the feedback. High resolution copies are indeed available through the Museum. Message sent to you. 🙂

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