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Alberta Government Telephones Exchange Building

Mannville

Other Names:
A. G. T. Building

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Alberta Government Telephones Exchange Building in Mannville is a one-storey, brick-clad building with a hipped roof, wide eaves, and exposed rafters. The main part of the building was constructed in 1917. The hipped roof and rear kitchen extension were added in the 1920s and modern bathroom facilities were added in 1954. In 1965, a modern telephone exchange building was constructed behind the 1917 structure. This newer building is not included in the designation. The Alberta Government Telephones Exchange Building occupies the western portion of a subdivided lot on the corner of 50th Street and 51st Avenue in the Village of Mannville's main commercial district.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of Mannville's Alberta Government Telephones Exchange Building lies in its association with the expansion of telephone service into rural Alberta and the role played by mutual telephone companies. It is also a significant example of telephone exchange buildings built to an evolving standardized plan.

Telephones were introduced in Alberta in 1885 and began to spread across the province after the Bell Telephone Company established itself in Calgary in 1887. Bell refused to extend services to rural areas believing them to be unprofitable. Consequently, the provincial government began to build rural telephone lines in 1907 and, in the following year, took over Bell's provincial infrastructure to establish a department that would become Alberta Government Telephones (AGT). Later in 1908, a telephone line was extended to Mannville and a switchboard was set-up in a local drug store. In 1917, a stand-alone telephone exchange was built to meet the growing demand for telephone service. It was operated by the government until 1934 when it was turned over to local mutual telephone companies (MTCs). These co-operative organizations, under which local residents built local telephone networks connected to the main government network, were created in 1915 to both reduce government expenses and to hasten the process of extending service into rural areas. During the 1930s, AGT had difficulty maintaining its infrastructure due to falling revenues exacerbated by unpaid bills. The agency began divesting itself of its rural networks by handing them over to the MTCs. By the end of 1936, 600 MTCs had been formed, which increased to over 1,000 by the early 1960s. In 1934 and 1935, five Mannville-based MTCs were formed; two others followed in the early 1960s. By the late 1960s it was realized that the MTCs could not afford to implement new automatic dialling technology and they were ultimately amalgamated back into the AGT network. The first to do so were in the Mannville area. As part of that process, this exchange building was replaced with a more modern facility, which was built on the same lot (now subdivided), immediately to the rear of the old exchange.

Built in 1917, the Alberta Government Telephones Exchange Building in Mannville is an excellent example of a standardized plan used by the Crown corporation. Standardized plans were popular as they allowed for consistency in construction and cost-savings as materials could be made-to-order in bulk. Telephone exchanges of this same relatively simple plan - one-storey, brick-clad buildings with two bays - were constructed in numerous communities of similar size across Alberta, including Bashaw, Carstairs, Cochrane and Innisfail. The front bay was a public area and housed a pay telephone, service counter and the telephone switchboard. Customers gained access through the asymmetrically placed front door. The rear bay was used as living quarters for the telephone agent. These buildings originally had a flat roof with a parapet, giving them a distinctly industrial look. This design was likely adopted by AGT to foster a business-like image befitting an important public utility. In the 1920s, AGT changed its architectural preferences and adopted a more domestic image, possibly as a way of integrating their services and agents into the everyday life of the communities they served. AGT also sponsored beautification contests and frequently funded employee-initiated landscaping and gardening activities around telephone buildings. In 1927, as part of this image change process, the Mannville exchange's flat roof was replaced by a hipped roof with exposed eaves and a wooden canopy was installed over the main door. Similar changes had already been made to the other exchanges of the same standard plan.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1934)


Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Alberta Government Telephones Exchange Building in Mannville include elements such as:

General
- basic layout and design reflective of a standardized plan used by AGT in the 1910s and 1920s;
- location at the centre of Mannville, on the corner of 50th street and 51st Avenue, reflective of the important role of telephone exchanges in their communities.

Exterior
- residential or domestic appearance of the building reflective of AGT corporate image in the late 1920s and 1930s;
- moderately-pitched, cedar-shingled, hipped roof with exposed eaves, added in 1927 over the original flat roof;
- asymmetrically placed main door with transom surmounted by a shed-roofed wooden canopy with large wood brackets;
- 1920s addition, which added a kitchen and doorway at the rear of the building;
- exterior walls clad in brick laid in a stretcher bond pattern;
- brick chimneys with capping;
- window openings with brick lintels and sills;
- original 1-over-1 wood storm windows and window sashes in the domestic spaces of the building and original 4-over-2 storm windows and window sashes in the public portion;
- original entry doors with multi-paned window inserts;
- extant original exterior light fixtures.

Interior
- interior layout reflecting the separation between the original public telephone office and the private living space for the telephone agent and family;
- wood frame supporting structure;
- extant original interior fir trim, baseboards, doors, frames and cupboards;
- original wood strip floor;
- plasterboard interior walls;
- dugout with cistern under the kitchen extension;
- extant original interior panel doors with hardware;
- extant original interior fixtures and switches.


Location



Street Address: 5041 A - 50 Street
Community: Mannville
Boundaries: Lot 20A, Block 3, Plan 9520485
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
9
50
25
1 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
9520485
3
20 A


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
53.338879 -111.178704 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2009/10/27

Historical Information

Built: 1904/01/01 To 1904/01/01
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Developing Economies : Communications and Transportation
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Historic Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Office or Office Building
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder: Neil MacKinnon
Context: HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE

In October 1915, a new telephone exchange was opened in Mannville with a northern electric switchboard. On December 1, 1917, the exchange was moved into a newly constructed telephone office on Main Street built by Neil MacKinnon who became mayor a year later. MacKinnon had also constructed the original Mannville School and the McQueen Memorial Church. The Telephone Agent was Ellen Ewing. Mrs. Alice Rutherford, who would take over as Agent in 1920 and continue in this role until 1965 while herself residing in the AGT building, assisted her. During the 1930s the rural areas around Mannville formed mutual telephone companies. Six of these were eventually amalgamated into one company centered in Mannville. On May 1, 1965, automatic dialing was introduced to the village and its hinterland with the use of one of the first underground cable systems to be installed in the province. As a result, the Mannville Telephone Exchange was closed. The building served for a while as the community library and has continued as a prominent historical feature of Main Street Mannville ever since.

The historical significance of the Mannville Telephone Exchange lies in its provision of structural evidence of telecommunications in early Alberta. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest telephone exchange buildings in the province. It is also a reminder of the early development of downtown Mannville.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0669
Designation File: DES 1934
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 36680
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 1934)
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