Published In The Great North Arrow, April 2020: Landlines & Cell Service

 - jim Young

"Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you." - Alexander Graham Bell

I don’t remember my first telephone number but it was something like 3R2 (Three-ring-two).

Dialing it consisted of holding a button on the left side of the phone while turning the crank on the right side.

We could hear the phone ring for all our neighbours that were on our party line and would recognize our ring by the number and sequence of long and short rings. We could also answer the phone for everyone else on the party line or listen in on their conversations if we chose to but this was never an issue as it was a forbidden rule of etiquette that most everyone respected.

Our phone company was the Stroud Telephone Company that operated from 1910 to 1964.

Painswick, just 3 miles away, was serviced by Bell. When we moved to Painswick we were required to switch to Bell service which covered the Barrie area even though Painswick had not yet been annexed by Barrie. 

As my father was the Deputy Chief of the Innisfil Fire Department, we were granted special permission to have a telephone from both Bell and Stroud installed in our Painswick home.

Fire calls for the Innisfil Fire Department were handled by the operator of the Stroud Telephone Company who would ring one long ring and then repeat the location of the fire over and over until she had given all members of the fire department (and any nosey residents) the opportunity to learn the location of the fire.

I was about 8 when we moved to Painswick and I do remember our phone number there. It was Parkway 8-3354 or 728-3354 as the PA from Parkway represented the 7 and 2 on our new phone that had dialing capabilities.

The area code and first 2 digits were only required when making long distance calls so we could be reached locally by dialing just 8-3354. Long distance phone calls to or from Stroud however, required operator assistance since they were not using the dial system.

As long distance charges were applied to anyone making a phone call from Stroud to Barrie, we were in the unique position of having the opportunity to place a call to either area without incurring the long distance charge simply by using the appropriate phone.

We’ve come a long way since then. Cell phone technology had been around for over 15 years by the time the Stroud Telephone Company was acquired by Bell. Stroud relinquished the last of their crank dial telephones in the 1960s but it would be another 20 years before cell phones would be available to the public. The cost of cell phones in the 80s was about $4,000 (US), the equivalent of about $10,000 today.

The cell phone of 1983 weighed in at 1 kg (about the size and weight of a Costco sized bottle of French’s Ketchup) and could be used for about ½ hour before being charged again, which required 10 hours of downtime while charging.

By the turn of the century, however, thanks to improved technology and the reduction of costs, cell phones had come into wide-spread use and today landlines are being cancelled in favour of cell phone service.

Except here in Loring.

In remote areas such as Argyle that are not properly served by nearby cell towers, the landline remains our lifeline to keep us in contact with emergency services and the outside world.

While Bell is reluctant to spend money on improving cell service, they also recognize that landlines are soon to become extinct and seem just as reluctant to service and upgrade those lines.

It’s a Catch-22 and of course it's the little guy that’s caught in the catch.

Once cell service reaches us and proves reliable, many residents here will cancel their landlines.

There’s one feature of landlines however, that will be difficult for us to give up. We have a single line coming into our house but have 3 extensions spread around the house.

Cell phones do not offer that feature.

If the cell phone is at one end of the house while I’m at the other end, the caller is apt to hang up by the time I get to the phone - if I hear it ring at all.

My friends point out the portability of the cell phone would eliminate that issue, but I’m not likely to carry my phone around the house, especially when I’m in my pajamas. 

Attempting to carry the phone with me for my convenience would also make it very inconvenient for My Shirley. 

We could consider two cell phones but our usage does not justify doubling our cost and why would we want 2 numbers? Our friends would likely only remember one of the two numbers to call anyway and would inevitably call the wrong number depending on who they wished to talk to. This of course would solve nothing and make the second cell phone redundant.

Cell phone service does not offer the feature of an “extension” to permit us 2 or more cell phones that share the same number.

While cell phone service does offer many other features - most of them are of little interest to us.

We will have to think long and hard about our continued landline use when the option does become available to us. Bell’s continued ability to service our landline will be a key factor among them.

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NOTE: As this article was being written and sent to press, Bell seems to be working at improving cell service here. Cell phone reception at our house currently registers 1 bar but even that is hit and miss at this time.


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