Telephone Historical Centre

Do you have something you think would be a good fit for our collection? Please call (780-433-1010) or email the Curator at to see if we are able to take it in. Thank you!

The Telephone Historical Centre has an extensive collection of antique telephones and telecommunications technology. Through hands-on exhibits, visitors can interact with some of the artefacts and experience history first hand. 

If you have something you think would be a great addition to our collection, please call or email the museum or bring it by during our hours of operation. For large items or large collections, please call or email first, as we have limited storage space and may not be able to take the item(s). However, we may be able to connect you with other organizations who may be more than happy to give your item(s) a home.

 The telephone artifacts and replicas in the collection trace Edmonton's telephone history as it evolved from manual to automatic switching.
The manual phone system was first established in Edmonton in 1885. The method of line switching used for these kinds of phones was performed manually by switchboard operators at telephone exchanges. Here are but a few examples of manual system telephones you can find on display at the Telephone Historical Centre.
This is an original coffin style telephone that is a wall variation of the box style telephone, and one of the earliest examples of manual system telephones. While it represented a revolution in telecommunications technology, the coffin phone was rather crude and inefficient by modern standards. The main limitation of this phone was that it employed a single combination transmitter/receiver or "transceiver". This meant that the person using the phone had to constantly transfer the wooden handle of the phone from the mouth to the ear in order to carry on a conversation.

Replica of one of two telephone units ordered for service in Edmonton in 1885 by Alex Taylor. The original phones were the first two telephones in Alberta, and were manufactured by the Consolidated Telephone Construction and Maintenance Company of London, England. This wall telephone represented an evolution in telephone design in that the transmitter and receiver were separated for easier use.

This is an example of a wooden three box wall telephone. The top box of the phone contained the magneto, or electric generator, a switch hook to hang up the handset and, of course, the bells. The middle box contained the transmitter, and the bottom box contained the glass wet cell batteries for the phone. The three box phone was in use right up to the turn of the 20th century.
The automatic telephone system was first introduced to Alberta when Edmonton set up an automatic exchange on 20 April 1908. The automatic systems relied upon signals from the telephones to mechanically make the switch linking one telephone to another. Among the first telephones to employ the automatic system were the rotary dial telephones. The dial on these phones contained a number of finger holes, each hole marked with a digit. The digit corresponded to the number of times the circuit would be broken as the dial returned to its resting position after being dialed. For example, if one dialed 4, the circuit would be broken 4 times. The signal pattern of making and breaking the circuit when dialing a particular telephone number would make the switch. No operator was needed for such a system. The next few images show some of the vintage rotary dial telephones currently at home in the Telephone Historical Centre.
The candlestick telephone was an upright desk phone that was in use during the days of manual switching. Later models, like the one pictured here, were adapted for automatic switching, and had a dial set on the base. The early rotary dials had eleven digits, with one digit set aside for dialing long distance. Though the long distance digit was essentially a second zero digit on the phone, it was placed there to reassure users that dialing a number with zero in it would not lead to the operator line. As users became more accustomed with the system, the operator and zero digits were combined.
Wall phones also made the transition from manual to automatic switching. This wooden phone illustrates the phone designs that incorporated the rotary dial.
As the telephone continued to evolve, new materials were incorporated in its manufacture. Starting around the late 1920's, bakelite, an early plastic, was used in the manufacture of telephones. Because bakelite could be cheaply made, telephones made from it became more affordable for the average consumer, especially during the years of the Great Depression.This rotary dial phone is one of several artifacts of its type that can be found at the Telephone Historical Centre.
The automatic telephone switching system in Alberta evolved from rotary dial to Dual Tone Multi Frequency or touch button technology in 1967. Instead of a rotary dial, telephones had numbered keypads to deliver signals to the exchange. This system has persisted to the present day, though it has become more refined with the advent of digital telecommunications systems. The Telephone Historical Centre has in its collection several unique artifacts representing the early days of touch button telephony.
A Model 554 Northern Electric single line orange plastic wall telephone with touch buttons. The bright orange colour of the phone illustrates just how commonplace telephones had become in the personal lifestyles of ordinary Albertans.
A Mickey Mouse telephone with rotary dial. Later versions of this telephone incorporated touch button technology. Decorator phones have been around since the early 1900s, and this novelty character phone appeared on the scene in the 1970s. The original Mickey Mouse phone was based on a design sculpted by Don Winton of the United States.