Botha Telephone: Limiting conversations to five minutes

Early Botha and its telephones

Maggie Richardson working in Botha on switchboard. Contributed photo

By Craig Baird For the Advance

The telephone was a revolutionary invention that changed the world immensely. It allowed people to communicate quickly over long distances and provided small villages with the ability to reach out to the wider world. Such was the case for Botha when it brought in the telephone in 1915.

Whether or not that was when the telephone first appeared in Botha is up for debate, but the earliest record of subscribers for the community dates to that year. At that point, eight businesses and 61 individual subscribers were using the telephone service. Five years later, there were 130 subscribers.

From the mid-1910s to 1932, the Botha exchange was located in the post office. That changed when Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) opened a central exchange office in Stettler to handle Botha’s pole line. That would have been the end of Botha’s telephone history if not for the Great Depression.

Due to severe financial difficulties for AGT, the government organization sold off its rural telephone lines to privately-owned mutual telephone companies in 1934. The rationale for AGT was that while the company dealt with a lack of subscribers and high maintenance costs, rural farmers could repair downed power lines a lot quicker than their own employees would be able to.

The first meeting of the Botha Mutual Telephone Company would be held on March 12, 1935. The members of the organization decided to elect Louis Bassler as the first president, a position he would hold until 1942. The next meeting for the organization was held the next day. An AGT representative had arrived to discuss the rules for transfer. In the following weeks, the Botha Mutual Telephone Company began looking at ways to raise money for new poles, wires, phone boxes for elevators and more.

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It was decided that subscribers could become shareholders in the company for three dollars. Non-shareholders would pay two dollars a month as a rental, and subscribers could purchase poles for lines at cost. Wes Bright was also hired as a maintenance man, or trouble man as he was called, and would earn 30 cents per hour.

In March of 1936, the first annual general meeting of the Botha Mutual Telephone Company was held, with several bylaws enacted. One interesting bylaw asked that subscribers limit all their phone conversations to only five minutes.

Throughout the 1930s, the company raised what money it could from subscribers for wires and poles. By the time the Second World War broke out, things were better and the telephone company was able to purchase $200 in Victory Bonds.

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In 1942, Don Menzie took over from Bassler as president. He would serve until 1951 when Bob Hannaford took over.

The Botha Mutual Telephone Company would continue operating, even as its subscribers declined in numbers, until 1968 when it was sold to AGT. In August of 1970, the company’s charter was officially dissolved, bringing an end to that era of Botha’s history.

Suggestions for columns or questions? E-mail Craig at crwbaird@gmail.com. Listen to his podcast by searching for “Canadian History Ehx” on your podcast platform. Find his show on YouTube by searching for “Canadian History Ehx.”

Information for this column comes from Botha Memories.

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