--September 3, 2015.
Need a cab? Pick up the phone and just say “TRenmore-4777”, a Bronx Park Taxi will be at your door. Need the Fire Dept.? Grab the phone (quickly) and say “HEmlock-5323”, and you’ll be talking with the Fire Chief directly. Need new furniture? Stretch-up from your old chesterfield and walk to the phone to say “YOrk-3600” to reach the Fifth Ave. Department Store on Wellington to shop “online”, literally.
Unlike today, access to a telephone was a cherished commodity in the past.
Prior to August 4th, 1957, we could still “give” the operator the simple 2-letter/4 or 5-digit destination and she would connect for us. Although they may seem strange today, our old phone prefixes were once a large part of our cultural past. They were also globally unique to Montreal. Prefixes like POntiac (767), TRenmore (768), YOrk, and WEllington were once part of our regular vocabulary, connecting us all more deeply than we could imagine. They had the ability to be quickly shared and stored in our memory, allowing us to easily recite them “on-demand”.
In a way, forming our own mental phonebooks. Plus, it was fun saying them out loud!
Here’s how we came to know them. In July of 1881, Montreal phones were assigned numbers of up to 4-digits, yet many people continued to make calls by name. Only in 1884 were subscribers instructed to call by number.
In 1898, Central office (exchange) names were added to phone numbers. There were only 4 exchange names then: MAIN, WESTMOUNT, UPTOWN and EAST (ie: you would say MAIN and the number(s)).
In 1924, to adapt to automatic (dial) service for local calls, each phone number required all 4-digits (ie: MAIN 427 became MAIN 0427). On April 25, 1925, our first new self-dialing “LAncaster” exchange was opened, its phone numbers were listed as LA-1234 (for example). Verdun Mayor, Edward Wilson, made the first phone call from our own TRenmore exchange, in 1947, from the Bell Canada Building on the corner of 1st Avenue and Bannantyne.
(This building is still there for us to “experience” as a piece of our history, and to share with our children.)
In 1951, 2-letter/5-digit phone numbers were introduced, creating many local exchange names, with a digit added to their name (ie: CRescent-1234 became Crescent 1-1234). From early 1951 to August 4th, 1957, at least 71 exchange names were created to deal with telephone demand, and by 1958 all Montreal phone numbers were composed of 2-letters and 5-numbers.
Can you recall saying the prefixes, TRenmore, YOrk, WEllington, FItzroy, WIlbank, HArbour, MArquette, POntiac, LAncaster, or HEmlock ? Our children can only imagine how easy it was to “connect” in those days, maybe even faster than starting a computer and connecting to the internet today.
There is still something magical about those times, when we picked up the phone and talked to a real person.
A person waiting to connect you to anyone in your world, simply by name.
In this age of technology, we could never re-experience this magic, as it is now all…
just a part of our disconnected past.
If you enjoyed this, please ask the operator to connect you to POntiac-5000 and remember to add 514.
Bell Canada Telephone Historical Collection