Salt Spring Island Archives

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Ellen Bennett (19 )

Mrs. Bennett describes her years 1955-64 working for the Telephone Co. as an operator in Ganges.

Accession Number Interviewer Tony Farr
Date Jan. 6, 1984 Location Cassette tapes box File #1A to File #23 Shelf 8C
Media Audio CD
ID 23




Unknown Speaker 0:00
This is an interview with Mrs. Ellen Bennett made on the sixth day of January 1984. At the waterworks office at Central on boxspring Island. Now, Mrs. Bennett, when did you start with a telephone company?

Unknown Speaker 0:20
June of 1955

Unknown Speaker 0:23
as an operator, yes. And where was the exchange at that time,

Unknown Speaker 0:28
the exchange was in a little building at that time, which is now Glads candy shop.

Unknown Speaker 0:34
Right, I know that one. And what type of switchboard was in operation,

Unknown Speaker 0:40
there were the old Magneto switchboards, and one was

Unknown Speaker 0:49
with how many positions at one time,

Unknown Speaker 0:50
when I started there were three positions and before I finished in 1964, when the office went down, we just installed the fourth one.

Unknown Speaker 1:01
And what sort of a shift system that you have there were

Unknown Speaker 1:13
four for daytime shifts and one night shift to the daytime shifts were broken shifts was several hours in between. The first three operators came on at 789 in the morning and seven o'clock operator was replaced by the afternoon shift at 230 in the afternoon.

Unknown Speaker 1:40
What about the evening shift into

Unknown Speaker 1:42
the night data Park operator work till I think it was eight o'clock at night on a broken shift and the nine o'clock operator worked till nine o'clock at night on a broken shift. And then the 230 operator work till 11 till midnight, sharp broken shift until the night operator came on and work till seven o'clock in the morning.

Unknown Speaker 2:07
And it was just one night, gets one girl in one night. And who were the Chiefs during this time?

Unknown Speaker 2:13
Well, I'm not completely certain but the best I can can find Miss Kitty Allen was the very first chief operator very first operator on Saltspring Island, followed by Miss Farina Aikens, and in those days, when Miss Aikens was the operator, the telephone office was down in the little building by the Legion and at the time I went to work there Miss Aikens have been replaced by Miss Effie Turner and before in the diet of the others when dial in 1964 Mr. Retired and was taken over by a longtime operator on Saltspring Miss Josie oberen Josie was the last chief operator on Saltspring

Unknown Speaker 2:58
who was the official to delete people reported

Unknown Speaker 3:04
to in the beginning they reported to two one Mr. Ms Walker of traffic and all they all they also collected the bills at the telephone office and we reported to the commercial department

Unknown Speaker 3:27
so I'm just walking with the

Unknown Speaker 3:30
supervisor traffic in Victoria and she used to call her to visit us very seldom but she come over and she was a very fine lady. She can check to make sure everything was alright watch us operate the ports and we enjoyed this welcome to visit

Unknown Speaker 3:51
well she straight

Unknown Speaker 3:55
yes she was very strict but she also understood the the problems of operators in small telephone offices because we were everything we were the information operators of long distance operators and local call operators and whatever we had to do it because we didn't we were just small our complement was maximum 12 operators full and part time

Unknown Speaker 4:25
that I understand you had problems with the system

Unknown Speaker 4:31
Yes, Miss Warburton was a horse of a different color I don't think MS Word in it ever run. A switchboard herself, bless her soul, certainly not a small one and didn't understand our problems. And we only need to panic when she came because we never knew and she used the oh this is this is just a little funny but she couldn't stand the cold. And you can imagine three to four or five people in a little room about 12 by 14 with a heat turn up, and no windows opened. We nearly died in this war with music but would come because of the heat. Also, in my personal experience as Miss Warburton during a power outage, she almost fired me because I was a little snippy with a customer who phoned to inquire about the power and I told her I worked for California hydro, so I didn't know that Miss Miss Turner saved my soul. They my neck

Unknown Speaker 5:33
What about the piece of the telephone operator in the island life? How did you see that?

Unknown Speaker 5:39
Well, I always felt that the telephone operators were the sort of the lifeline of a small community. We were secretaries to the doctors, the businessman, the police, whatever, the fire department and when there was any emergencies or wherever it was occurring, then someone would just phoned the operator and say there's a fire or get the police or I need a doctor in a hurry and we just sent them in the old days the fire department was one fire chief and all the neighbors there was no great fire department you call the fire chief and then you find all the neighbors and then those days we knew all the neighbors

Unknown Speaker 6:31
will be expected this sort of service and I suppose over people on the island because they couldn't really do have it

Unknown Speaker 6:36
i i think so. When you live in a small community, there's always something that sort of holds that community together and I always felt that there's a telephone office did because things were organized I mean now when you call it the fire department you bring the fire department emergency number and it brings it the fire home six home six firemen zones so in those days, it didn't ring at anybody's house. You just phoned in screen fire and half the time the operator knew who it was without identification could you get very good very good ears for voices when you're a telephone operator. And that's how it was run and people just relied on the telephone operator to deliver the whatever necessity was needed. Plus that information

Unknown Speaker 7:29
most about general information going around to clinical and offices events.

Unknown Speaker 7:36
Well not really towards events but people were looking for somebody and they'd say well I know his brother is the shoe maker or and this came through on long distance to live his brother's a shoe maker down the street or his brother drives a taxi or I know he runs a trucking business or whatever and and that was it we just found them of course on our on the other end of the stick when we wanted to get information we could then say way we found the cab drivers and other small towns and they all they knew everybody. So that's how we got our information, which is something you can't do now if you don't have the name of the street Forget it. But in those days, we could find people through all kinds of devious methods as I say by calling the cab driver and say you know, Joe Blow is a shoemaker in Gimenez. Can you tell me who his brother is and where he lives? And that's all we got. Crossing taxi and Sydney taxi were two of my main information bureaus.

Unknown Speaker 8:40
Was there any major events that happened while you were an operator I feel on the board and troubles me kind or

Unknown Speaker 8:52
not any, anything specific but when you talk about there was a fire. An elderly gentleman that lived on a certain road phoned in and screamed out help I'm on fire and I was the operator that took the call. I phoned the fire department and said it was on such and such a road but I didn't recognize the voice and I knew it had to be one of two people. So I sent a relative screaming to one house and the fire department to the other and luckily I sent the fire department to the right house. But these were the things that happened to fellas I kept saying Who is it he just kept saying operator out by on fire turned out to be not that serious. It was just a Chesterfield cushion filling hose of smoke Fire Department ever got it out and everything was fine. But it was little things like that that broke up the monotony and make the day interesting.

Unknown Speaker 9:53
Any other incidents that you recall either with a telephone company or with a customer

Unknown Speaker 10:01
Well, when you work for public, in any public service, you have your good customers and your bad customers. But when you work with a couple 1000 people, and you only have two or three, that really gives you a bad time, that's a pretty small amount of, you know, fair, very small amount of hassle to have to take. And that's what we found the telephone company, then you have the others who are just super nice. So that makes up for, but I think, to show that people really appreciated us when the office was being switched over, we worked till midnight. And some of us and people came around one doctor and his wife came past seeing so long it's been good to know you. Other customers came with boxes, with various treats in it for us would you would have at a party and said, We're sure you're having a party. And this is just a small token of our appreciation for all your loyal and, and, you know, good servants over the years. And that when the final analysis is what made it really worthwhile, the people did appreciate the efforts that we put in and then we got hundreds of phone calls me saying, you know, we're sorry, you're gone. All the rest of it. Okay, the the dial phones, the cutover was on August the 12th 1964 at midnight. And then all went to the new switching building up on lower Ganges road.

Unknown Speaker 11:52
Was there any occasions when drunks used to come in and try to get into the office and use up the businesses but

Unknown Speaker 12:01
not really. I don't know. Not when I was ever on duty. Did we have any trouble? I don't remember any of the girls complaining of having any great problem. But we did have one or two that used to get loaded and then try to make long distance calls all over the place. And and this one fella used to do it all the time. And his wife used to be really upset when the bills came in. So we had a payphone in the telephone building. And what I used to do to him was plug it into the payphone and bring it on the payphone. So he thinks that he was ringing and then I tell him if they didn't answer, therefore, then they wouldn't have these horrendous phone bill. That worked very well. So I'm like he used to tell me that I was, wasn't ringing the right number. But I could easily convince him that I was that stopped horrendous phone calls all across the country that were not that they just couldn't afford. I did this as a favor to his wife. And he never needed the distance difference. So there was no harm done.

Unknown Speaker 13:02
We had an occasion of Williams Lake when I was on the board where you get more than one person who suddenly alleviated calling up. And somebody got the smart idea of putting two of them together. And they hooked up one or the other. And they ended on a couple of hours. Happy conversation.

Unknown Speaker 13:18
Oh, gee, I can try that too. I never thought of that one. I had one fellow that I knew very well about. And I talked to him for half an hour and didn't know who I was talking to. And they you Oh, we had one. This was really funny. He was a very nice gentleman that should live down in our cushion Lake Village. And he was arrived, the phone had been supplied by an old timer, Mrs. White monitor tennis in the village and it was on the outside of his building. And when he was drinking used to try to use the phone sometimes and he would swear at us. And we used to tell him that he couldn't do that and he better stop it. So he was something he would usually remember that he had been a very bad boy and it's one of the operators the night before. So we always knew the next morning we would get a phone call from and he would apologize for the drunks that used his telephone and weren't nice to the telephone operators. But we knew it was him but it didn't matter because he didn't really need anyway

Unknown Speaker 14:35
he would say

Unknown Speaker 14:39
that right? Well, that's what he would do anyway, he would just he would always get very very abusive when he was drinking but he always really was sorry the next day but he never would have meant that it was him he was always saying the other grumps he used his telephone that's