18 - The News - Thursday, August 25, 25, 2011



The '50s and '60s brought more changes

Etta Wilson found herself out of a job

FROM PAGE 17 Dial conversion in Westmeath had been completed in 1958, putting long-time operator Etta Wilson out of work. Ms. Wilson had worked at the Alba switchboard in Greenwood from that company's inception until 1918, when the Alba company was taken over by NRTCO and she came to work in the home of Fred and Eva Grylls in Westmeath to assist Mrs. Grylls as operator. The Grylls home also housed the post office. The Alba exchange had eight lines connected to it, including one from the Snake River Telephone Association and one from the Perretton area. Alba's first subscribers, along with founder Robert T. McLaughlin, were Abraham Moore, Alexander Moore, John B. Moore, and William Smyth. Other operators at Alba along with Ms. Wilson had been Margaret Patterson, Crystal Fraser, Carena McLaughlin, Edith Moore, and Mrs. William Carnegie. William Dennison was maintenance man. The late Basil Brown, who was secretary manager for NRTCO from 1941 to 1975, took that position when all bills to customers were written out longhand. The biggest challenge however, as he told the Cobden Sun in 1989, was to upgrade equipment run down during the war years. "There wasn't the material or manpower available to keep up the equipment," he said. "What we were basically left with was a bunch of junk. And in those days, if you reported at an annual meeting that there was 50 cents left over, someone would make a motion that we lower the rates." Telephone service cost $8 per year at that time. Mr. Brown started investigating the possibility of going to dial phones in the early 50s. However, no one was manufacturing that equipment for small companies at the time. By 1956, he had obtained plans and estimates from a US company. "But by then, Northern Electric, Bell's supplier, was getting into this," he said. They asked us to wait a while longer, and they would have a system available." The company had to borrow $35,000 to go to dial phones. This was in a day when you could buy a farm for $5,000. "It was a job to convince the shareholders that the cost of seven farms divided by the number of subscribers was a good deal," said Mr. Brown. Dial conversion in 1958 in Westmeath happened only four years after the town of Pembroke had gone to dial. By 1961, the company's assets were assessed at $¾ million, and the $300,000 that had to be borrowed to finance dial conversion in Beachburg was much more palatable to shareholders. NRTCO was a pioneer in dial service for small communities. Mr. Brown credited the company's historical good relation- We're Celebrating 100 years in Business! Thursday, August 25, 2011 2:00 p.m - 4:00 p.m. Official Cake Cutting 3:00 p.m. Please join us for cake and refreshments goodies and surprises for the children and a chance to win some fun prizes 4 Stewart Street Beachburg, Ontario ship with Bell for many of its accomplishments. Toll-free calling from Westmeath and Beachburg to Pembroke came in 1966, when there were approximately 1,000 customers. In 1996 NRTCO installed extensive equipment to become an Internet Service Provider offering dial-up Internet to Beachburg, Westmeath, Lapasse, Pembroke, Petawawa, Cobden and Renfrew. In 2003, the company changed its name to NRTC Communications to better reflect the variety of services it had come to provide. Besides its 582 and 587 exchanges, NRTC also operates the 638 exchange in the Greenwood area which extends to the eastern limits of the city of Pembroke. Due to a long-standing agreement with Bell, the 638 exchange was included in the extended local calling service enjoyed by the Pembroke exchanges. Because of peculiarities in CRTC regulations governing expanded local calling, the 587 exchange is not included in a toll-free calling area which includes most of Renfrew County and some of Pontiac County in Quebec. However, NRTC offers the service to 587 customers at a small additional monthly charge. In 1989, digital switching equipment replaced the old manual equipment. When the capacity of the existing cables approached its limits, fibre optics was investigated. Initially the central office in Beachburg was equipped with the new technology, doubling its capacity. In 1993 to 1994 fibre optics cable was laid from Beachburg to Pembroke after consulting with Bell to make sure Bell had the ability to continue with the capacity so provided. NRTC has continued to expand the fibre optics network to enable it to provide telephone and high-speed Internet service to Pembroke, Petawawa, Cobden, and Renfrew. This includes direct-to-home fibre access in Cobden. NRTC has its own fibre optic link to the national communications network through its Ottawa hub. Currently there are 18 independent telephone companies in Ontario who are active members of an umbrella organization, the Ontario Telecommunications Association (OTA). Additionally, there are a number of non-OTA member companies in the province. One example of this is the municipally-owned telephone company which serves the city of Thunder Bay. Renfrew County has had more than 80 privately-owned telephone companies since the turn of the century. However, they have not all been in existence at the same time, as companies have taken over other companies or amalgamated to create new companies. NRTC Communications has been meeting the communication needs of under-serviced areas since 1911. Now, 100 years later, NRTC continues to be a leader in offering superior quality, state-of-the-art telecommunication services to communities throughout Renfrew County. - Story written by Marie Zettler

There wasn't the material or manpower available to keep up the equipment... what we were basically left with was a bunch of junk."

The late Basil Brown, secretary manager for NRTCO between 1941 and 1975





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