Communication is vital to survival, and this is evident in many living organisms. Bees perform dances to let other worker bees know where to find pollen; small whales emit distinct siren calls to communicate with other whales; even plants use their intricate root systems for communication.


Early Communications

The history of long-distance human communication began early. First Nations people used smoke signals to transmit messages; the Romans acquired delivery pigeons to aid them in their military endeavours. Many different ways to communicate were developed to suit the specific needs of the people.

In the 4th Century B.C.E., the Greeks invented hydraulic semaphores that functioned as optical telegraphs and sent visual signals through water-filled vessels. There were, of course, drawbacks to this type of communication: hydraulic semaphores could only be used in a very limited range and with pre-determined messages. Optical telegraphs had the inconvenience of only being deployable and viewable during certain parts of the day due to visibility conditions.

A French engineer named Claude Chappe began advanced work in visual telegraphy in 1790. He designed a system that utilized two sets of jointed wooden beams, which operators would move with cranks and wires, and built a telegraph network that extended from Lille to Paris. In 1794, Swedish engineer Abraham Edelcrantz created a system of pulleys that opened and closed shutters for a faster method of communication.

It was not until the 1830s that electrical telecommunication systems started to appear.


Electrical Telecommunications

Experiments on communication with electricity were initially unsuccessful. A German physician and inventor named Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring began early experiments in electrical telegraphy around 1809. His design used about 35 wires to visually represent Latin letters and numerals. The messages were conveyed via electrical currents to receiving operators. These operators then analyzed the messages and sent them off to their intended destination. This eventually led to the first working telegraph, built by Francis Ronalds in 1816, which used static electricity.

Based on earlier works done on telegraphs, Alexander Graham Bell was credited with the invention of the electric telephone and won its patent in 1876. The first commercial telephone services were soon set up on both sides of the Atlantic in the cities of New Haven and London.

As with other telecommunication inventions such as the radio, television, and the digital computer, there were several inventors who collaborated on and contributed pioneering experimental work to voice transmission over a wire. However, the key innovators were Alexander Graham Bell and his father-in-law, Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Hubbard was the first to create a telephone company, the Bell Telephone Company in 1877, which led us into the era of modern telecommunications.


The Establishment of Canadian Telecom

In 1847, the Montreal Telegraph Company was established to provide telecommunication services in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, with a link to the Western Union in Detroit. A few years later, Canadian Pacific Railway Telegraphs became a competitor.

Telegraphs were first used to aid in the construction and operation of railways. After World War I, most of Canada’s smaller railways were in financial trouble. As a solution, the federal government merged all railways and created the Canadian National Railway, whose telegraph lines became the CN Telegraph Company. From 1932 until 1964, two Canadian railway telegraph companies competed against each other. The CN Telegraph Company and CP Railway Telegraphs offered the only telecommunication services available. They provided national network services for the Canadian Radio Broadcast Commission. In 1980, both network services merged together to form CNCP communications. Later, it became a part of Rogers Communications called Unitel.


The Telephone

Telephone companies in Canada trace their roots back to the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell.

With the establishment of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, other companies providing telecommunication services began to increase in number across Canada. At the time, these companies could only provide local services. In 1958, a 158-station, cross-Canada microwave network was completed — the world’s longest at the time — to connect all of Canada. The facilities that comprised the national network were owned and operated by companies like Bell Canada and BC Tel. Eventually, a managing alliance named Stentor Canadian Network Management was formed to standardize phone services, both local and long-distance, across the nation. However, in 1999, its termination resulted in the formation of large, separated holding companies like Bell, Rogers, and TELUS.

Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) allowed for the creation of greater forms of telecommunication. Private lines were now interconnected with the public telecommunications network, making telecommunication more accessible.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “…the most important decisions in terms of [the CRTC’s] impact on the future of telecommunications in Canada occurred in 1984 and 1985, respectively. In the first decision, the CRTC agreed to deregulate ‘enhanced services.’ While the ‘enhanced services’ decision had the benefit of allowing many more information service providers into the market, it also capped the concept of universal service…The fact that 99% of Canadians have access to these technologies attests to the value of this approach.

Since then, telecommunication exploded in Canada with the wide availability of various services beyond simple telephony.

Modern Telecom

Modern telecommunications, also known as modern telecom, is the exchange of information over significant distances via electronic media like voice chat, video calling, or instant messaging. Modern telecommunications are not limited to telephones; they include fiber optics, satellites, radio and television broadcasting, and the Internet. The innovation of these technologies allows us to communicate better than ever before, providing an easier and more efficient way to stay connected.

Telecommunication advancements are seen all across Canada, and they are not slowing down any time soon. Canadian telecommunication companies are among the most successful businesses in today’s global economy. As long as people are communicating with one another, the telecommunications industry will continue to thrive.