Spectrum Management - From the Early Years to the 1990s

by Laval Desbiens

Page 02 of 26

In the Beginning   -   From Telegraph to Radio 1850-1910


The telegraph appeared around 1850.The Telegraph Act was adopted in Quebec in 1852 to enable the incorporation of electric telegraph companies.

The Electric Telegraph Companies Act of Upper Canada provided for limited control of the operations of private telegraph companies, such as the placement of lines, and allowed the Crown to take over these facilities and require the services of its operators at any time on a temporary basis, or on two months' notice, to assume permanent possession.


1858 marked the installation of the first transatlantic telegraph cable linking America and Europe. It would be in service for only four weeks.

Soon thereafter, in 1874, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

On April 8, 1875, the Marine Telegraph Act placed the supervision of private underwater cable companies in the hands of the Department of Marine and Fisheries.

It did not take long to decide that the privacy of communications was important, and on March 21, 1881, an Act was adopted putting the government in charge of administering an oath of secrecy to telegraph line employees, as well as penalties for divulging the content of messages, a first regarding the right to the privacy of communications.


To keep up with technical developments, in 1882 it became necessary to define the words "telegraph" and "telephone" in the Act, because one did not necessarily include the other.

Four years later, it was time to revise the Statutes of 1881 governing electric telegraph companies, underwater electric telegraphs and the oath of secrecy required by telegraph company officers and employees.

Several underwater cables were already installed and operating to link the islands on the east coast to the mainland, and to connect America to the old continent.

In May 1901, the Canadian government bought two wireless stations from the Marconi Company and set them up at Belle Isle, Newfoundland, and Chateau Bay, Labrador, in case the underwater cable was damaged because of the ice between these two locations. They went into operation in late 1901, and it seems they were the first two wireless stations in Canada.

Although he had already conducted experiments and proven that radio communication over relatively short distances was possible, on December 12, 1901, Gugliemo Marconi succeeded in receiving the first "S" signal in St. John's Newfoundland transmitted by his colleagues in Poldhu, Cornwall. Unable to obtain funding in his own country, he moved to England and formed the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company in 1897.

After these successful attempts, Marconi was unable to obtain authorization to install permanent facilities in Newfoundland for a commercial service linking England and America, because the Anglo-American Telegraph Company held the monopoly rights for receiving transatlantic communications.


On his way to the United States, Marconi passed through North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and based on this trip and some chance meetings, the decision was made to operate the transatlantic wireless link from Canada.


But during these years, a young Canadian by the name of Reginald Fessenden from Knowlton, Quebec, had already tested voice transmission between Cobb Island in the Potomac River and Arlington, Virginia. It was even reported that his transmission process was superior to Marconi's, but as with many things, one does not always receive any or even timely recognition in one's own country!

In 1904, the British parliament passed a Wireless Telegraphy Act that stipulated that anyone who transmitted or received wireless signals had to obtain a licence from the Post Office. Soon after its passage, the Colonial Office forwarded a copy of the Act to the Canadian government with the recommendation that similar legislation be introduced in Canada.


The Canadian Wireless Telegraphy Act was adopted in 1905, when there were already 13 wireless telegraph stations in the country being used for navigation and commerce, with three in Quebec located at Fame Point (Pointe à la Renommée) in the Gaspé, Heath Point on Anticosti Island and Belle Isle close to Newfoundland (but still in Quebec at the time). The Act provided for the possibility of issuing licences authorizing telegraphy experiments on the air and licence fees.

The Act was virtually identical to the British one, with the difference that it gave the Department of Marine and Fisheries the authority to enforce it, thereby reflecting the importance of this sector and the need for safety at sea.

It prescribed the form, period, terms, conditions and restrictions pertaining to licences for operating wireless transmitting and receiving devices, and penalties for the operation of unlicenced apparatus.

The Wireless Telegraphy Branch was immediately created within this Department.

In 1905, C.P. Edwards, who had come to Canada with Marconi, installed a telegraph station at Sable Island and at Camperdown.

During the same period, an experimental commercial transatlantic telegraph service started up between Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and Clifden, Ireland, and national archives record the incorporation of the Fessenden Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada, but without a trace of any operations of the company in this country.

Meanwhile, on the west coast where there were many shipwrecks, a decision was made to install a chain of coast stations between Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

Cecil Doutre, the Dominion Superintendent of Wireless Stations for the Department of Marine and Fisheries, obtained approval to establish a chain of wireless stations between Vancouver and Prince Rupert. In 1906, Mr. Doutre and Mr. E. Hughes made a site selection tour aboard the CGS Quadra, and selected Gonzales Hill (Victoria), Pachena Point at the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait, Estevan Point, Triangle Island, Ikeda Head and Digby Island close to Prince Rupert.

In 1906, the Wireless Telegraph Act of 1905 was amended to become a single act that included and combined telegraph and wireless telegraphy.

The same year, Fessenden set the bar even higher, and transmitted a recorded music program to the United Fruit vessels in the Caribbean and on the east coast. (See appendix)

In 1907, there were already 15 coast stations in the country that were owned by the government but leased and operated by Canadian Marconi, which kept the revenues from the tolls collected for transmitting messages. Some licences issued were apparently refused by Marconi, who argued that the licence conditions did not comply with their service contract.

The main American station of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada (Canadian Marconi) could be installed and reliable, regular service started up in Glace Bay in February 1908. Fessenden transmitted voice on 70 kilohertz between Brant Rock and Washington, DC.

The Pachena station went on the air in February 1908 with L.H. Bradbury as the operator. The station was issued Union Jack and signal flags to warn non-wireless equipped vessels of impending storms. The station was temporarily closed a little later on because of a shortage of competent operators.

Establishment of the chain of six coast stations on the west coast was completed in 1908. The one in Pachena was not put back into operation until 1910, with the call sign "KPD", and the operator-in-charge was A. Buchanan assisted by C. Kennedy.

In December of the same year, Cecil Doutre was promoted to Departmental Agent for Purchasing and Contracts. He was replaced by C.P. Edwards, who was proficient in both Morse code and landline telegraphy, and had good knowledge of wireless operations.

In 1910, the Department's Wireless Telegraphy Division was incorporated into the new Department of the Naval Service.

Main sources of this information:

Sharon A. Babaian: "Radio Communication in Canada: A Historical and Technological Survey"

Larry L. Reid: "An Early History of the West Coast Radio Service," written in 1989 for the 20th Anniversary of the Department of Communications

LGN (loyd Nelson ?)) "Historical Summary of Radio Regulation in Canada" 29-1-69


Spectrum Management - From the Early Years to the 1990s

by Laval Desbiens