Nova Scotia's Telegraphs,
Landlines And Cables

by David Graham Whidden

A history of telegraphs in Nova Scotia,
originally  published  in  1938
in the Wolfville Acadian

On 15 November 1849, an Associated Press news item
was telegraphed  from  Halifax  to  Amherst  and on
to Saint John and thence to Boston and New York.
On 11 August 1852,  telegraph  communication
was completed between Halifax and Sydney...

•   #  Landlines
•   #  Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company
•   #  Montreal Telegraph Company
•   #  Dominion Telegraph Company
•   #  Canadian Pacific Railway Company
•   #  Canadian National Telegraphs
•   #  Submarine Cables
•   #  Newfoundland Cable
•   #  Atlantic Cables
•   #  Fred Gisborne
•   #  Western Union Cables
•   #  Commercial Cables
•   #  Direct United States Cable
•   #  Bermuda Cables
•   #  Azores Cables
•   #  Cable and Wireless Limited

In historic documents, like this one, measures often pose a problem for modern readers.  In the 1930s, when D.G. Whidden wrote his history of telegraphs, the system of measurements in use in Canada was the Imperial System [feet, miles (two quite different vareties of “mile,”), gallons, bushels (at least five different “bushels,”), ounces (three vareties of “ounce,” all different), etc.].  In the 1970s, Canada converted to the Metric System of measures, and nowadays many people are unfamiliar with the old Imperial System.  Whidden's article is reproduced here with all measurements stated as he gave them, and modern equivalents have been inserted in [square brackets].  Responsibility for any errors in these equivalent modern measures is entirely mine.  Money has been left unchanged (excuse me) – no attempt has been made to restate costs or prices in modern terms.

For those who prefer it, the original version is available as published in 1938, without conversions to modern measures.


In 1843, the United States Congress appropriated $30,000 for an experimental electric telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore, and the line was constructed and put in operation in 1844, becoming a commercial line the following year.

July 3, 1846, the telegraph line between New York and Buffalo was opened, and on December 19, 1846, the electric telegraph line between Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, was ready for business, but not until January 14, 1847 was a message received in Toronto from Buffalo.  This line belonged to The Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Company; in the newspapers it was generally referred to as The Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara and the St. Catherines Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Company, but that was not officially the name of the company.

The Montreal Telegraph Company built a line from Montreal to Toronto in 1847, which was opened August 3, 1847; and on August 20th, 1847, Montreal had telegraph communication with New York.  The company extended their line to Quebec in 1848.

The British North American Electric Telegraph Association was organized in 1847 by F.N. Gisborne, and started to build a line from Quebec to the Atlantic Ocean, but only got as far as River du Loup; this line was later extended to Woodstock, New Brunswick.

On Wednesday, April 14, 1847, an Act was passed by the New Brunswick Legislature incorporating The British North American Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Company.  On March 30, 1848, an Act was passed by the New Brunswick Legislature incorporating the New Brunswick Electric Telegraph Company.  A line was built in New Brunswick from Calais, Maine, to St. John in 1848; from St. John to the Nova Scotia boundary in 1849; from St. John to Fredericton in 1850, and from Fredericton to Woodstock in 1851.

February 1, 1856, the New Brunswick Electric Telegraph Company leased their system to the American Telegraph Company, of New York.  June 1, 1866, the lease was assigned to the Western Union Telegraph Company, and on December 30, 1905, the lease was renewed for fifty years.

In 1847 the subject of the electric telegraph was brought up in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, and on March 30, 1847, an Act was passed to incorporate The Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company, but this Act does not appear to have been approved by the Imperial Government.

Saturday, March 4, 1848, G.R. Young, J.W. Johnston, James D. Fraser, Thomas Killam, H.Y. Mott, Chas. F. Harrington and William B. Taylor were appointed a Select committee to enquire into, and report upon, the subject of the electric telegraph from Halifax through New Brunswick to Quebec.  This committee reported to the House March 13, 1848.  Journal of the Nova Scotia Legislature, 1848, Appendix No. 66.

The report of the Select Committee shows that F.N. Gisborne was then in Halifax in the interests of the British North American Electric Telegraph Association, and that he had given the committee a great deal of information.  The committee learned that the Morse company were in control of telegraph lines from Portland, Me., to St. Louis, and were then considering the building of a line from Bangor to Calais, and thence to St. John.

The Nova Scotia Assembly passed an Act, April 11, 1848, authorizing the appointment of a commission of five commissioners to establish a Line of Electric Telegraph from the City of Halifax to the New Brunswick boundary line, and to extend the same if necessary.  Chapter XXV of the Acts of Nova Scotia.  This Act was approved by the Queen in Council, London, June 27, 1848.  The line was to be along the post road.

January 29, 1849, Dispatch and other papers on the subject of the Line of Electric Telegraph proposed to be erected from Halifax to Quebec and the United States of America, were ready by the Clerk of the House, N.S. Journal, Session of 1849, Appendix No. 28.  From these papers it is seen that Geo. R. Young and Michael Tobin (without authority to enter into any final arrangement) had gone to St. John, N.B., May 11, 1848, where they met Mr. L.R. Darrow, one of the principal contractors in the United States engaged in building Telegraph Lines, and he had assured them that there would be no difficulty in raising the necessary capital, in the United States to build the line from Bangor to Calais. Messrs. Young and Tobin then went to Quebec, and were waited upon by F.N. Gisborne, at the request of the British North American Electric Telegraph Association.  On the twelfth of June they were informed by Mr. Darrow that contracts had already been entered into for the wire required for the line from Portland to Calais.

March 4, 1850, a report from the Select Committee on, the Electric Telegraph, reported to the House of Assembly, under date February 24, 1850.  N.S. Journal, 1850, Appendix No. 83.  That report said “That in the early part of the season certain gentlemen, namely – the Honourable the Provincial Secretary (Joseph Howe), the Hon. G.R. Young, William Murdoch, A.J. Archibald and Thomas Logan, Esquires, were commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor to erect and manage the Line of Telegraph to be built without our borders and to connect with the New Brunswick Line.”

The committee told that immediately after their appointment the Commissioners had advertised for tenders for different parts of the materials and construction work, and that before the posts had been set the Commission had secured the services of F.N. Gisborne as Superintendent.  The committee stated that the cost of the line from Halifax to the New Brunswick boundary, was about thirty-one pounds (£31) per mile [about £19 per kilometre], including the batteries in the three offices, Halifax, Truro and Amherst, but not the office fittings in Halifax.  In that report the Committee said: “Your committee regrets to observe that for the present the messages from Halifax and St. John are not telegraphedNOTE 2 on from Portland to Boston, but are forwarded from Portland by railway.”

NOTE 2: This refers to one of the more prominent episodes
in the  notorious  Telegraph  War  of  the  early 1850s.

...Mr. Francis  Ormand  Jonathan  Smith... has caused to be published
two  letters,  in  which  he  attempts  to  justify  himself  for  refusing  to
permit the despatch for the Associated Press of New York and Boston
to  come  over  the  Portland  line  of  telegraph – thus  subjecting  the
Associated Press  to  the  trouble  and  expense  of  running a (special
train)  Express  with  the  Steamer's  news  from  Portland  to Boston...


      ICS, 3 June 2014

Francis Ormond Jonathan Smith

An Exposition of the Differences Existing Between
Different Presses and Different Lines of Telegraph,
Respecting the Transmission of Foreign News

by Francis Ormond Jonathan Smith (1850)

The Nation's Newsbrokers (vol. 1): The formative years
from pretelegraph to 1865

by Richard Allen Schwarzlose (1989)

News over the Wires: The Telegraph and the Flow
of Public Information in America, 1844-1897

by Menahem Blondheim (2002)

At the same session of the House of Assembly the Commissioners submitted a report giving an account of their expenditures.  The poles were spruce and tamarack, and the wire was nine gauge black iron, but later when second wire was run to Truro from Halifax it was nine gauge galvanized iron.  An English news item was telegraphed from Halifax to Boston and New York, November 15, 1849, Gisborne acting as operator at Halifax.  The 31st of December, 1849, the N.S. Telegraph had worked 51 days.

The Truro and Pictou Electric Telegraph Company was incorporated March 28, 1850, and the line was built that year.


The Nova Scotia Legislature passed an Act, March 31, 1851, Chapter XVII, Laws of Nova Scotia, incorporating the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company, the incorporators being Thomas Killam, William A. Henry and Hiram Hyde.  A meeting of the newly incorporated company was held April 24, 1851, in the Exchange Reading Room, Halifax, at which a Provisional Committee was appointed to obtain further subscriptions to stock, and to organize the company, the members of the committee being Samuel Cunard, James Stewart, George E. Morton, Charles W. Dickson and Thomas Hosterman; Hugh Hartsborne, Secretary.  A contract was entered into with Hiram Hyde to construct an electric telegraph line from Pictou to Sydney, Cape Breton, for five thousand five hundred pounds [£5500], Nova Scotia currency; forty posts to the mile, 20 feet long, five inches across the top, and five feet in the ground; all finished and in working order, including instruments, batteries etc.  Two thousand five hundred pounds to be paid for the line to the Gut of Canso, and three thousand pounds from Plaister Cove [now called Port Hastings] to Sydney.

"forty posts to the mile" [25 posts to the kilometre]
poles (posts) "20 feet long" [6.1 m long]
"five inches across the top" [13 cm across the top]
and "five feet in the ground" [1.5 m in the ground]

At a meeting held July 11, 1851, Mr. Hyde proposed to build lines from Halifax to Liverpool, via Margaret's Bay, Chester and Lunenburg; and Halifax to Yarmouth via Kentville, Annapolis, Digby and Claire, for seven thousand eight hundred and sixty-six pounds [£7866] , N.S. Currency, for the whole.

November 13, 1851, the contractor reported that the wire was stretched from Pictou to the Strait of Canso, and from Plaister Cove [now called Port Hastings] to Sydney; and that the mast on the eastern side of the Strait of Canso was nearly completed.

At a meeting held December 9, 1851, a motion passed "That the line from Halifax to Liverpool, with an office at Lunenburg, be put in operation immediately." At that meeting Mr. Dickson was appointed to confer with the commission of Government Lines of Electric Telegraph to ascertain whether, and upon what terms, they would allow this company to carry two wires into the office at Halifax, and to have the use of this office for communication with Liverpool and Kentville.

December 16, 1851, Mr. Dickson presented a letter from the Government Commissioners stating that the company would be allowed to use the Halifax office for two pounds ten shillings [£2. 10.] per month, with fuel and lights, the company to find the instruments, batteries and operator, which was agreed to.

January 12, 1852, organization of the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company was completed, and by-laws adopted.

February 5, 1852, at a meeting of the Directors, Alexander McKay was appointed Chief Operator of Halifax office, at sixty pounds per annum; John Edgar the operator at Liverpool at fifty pounds, and James I. Cochran operator at Lunenburg, at forty pounds.

May 3, 1852, Hyde was instructed to immediately open an office on the Nova Scotia side of the Strait of Canso, connecting with Pictou, and an office on the Cape Breton side of the Strait of Canso, and at Sydney.

July 19, 1852, the telegraph office was opened at Antigonish, and the official proceeded to Plaister Cove, to open the office there, but not until August 11, 1852, was telegraph communication completed between Halifax and Sydney.

August 26, 1852, the lines throughout the province, belonging to the Government, and the Pictou lines, passed into the control of the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company.

September 18, 1852, Alexander McKay resigned as Halifax operator, and it was decided to pay him one hundred and fifty pounds per year, from October 1, 1852.  At that meeting Mr. Hyde was given a contract to construct a line from Pictou to Amherst, with offices at River John, Tatamagouche, Wallace and Pugwash for eighteen hundred and fifty pounds.

October 23, 1852, the Secretary was instructed to write Samuel Cunard, then in England, to purchase two miles [3.2 km] of submarine cable, best and latest, to be laid down at the Gut of Canso.

January 12, 1853, offices were reported open for business during the year 1852, as follows:
   Telegraph offices opened in Nova Scotia

   1852 Jan  2   Halifax, Lunenburg, Liverpool
   1852 Apr 15   Kentville
   1852 May  7   Bridgetown
   1852 May 10   Milton
   1852 Jun  8   Yarmouth
   1852 Jul 19   Antigonish
   1852 Jul 20   Weymouth
   1852 Aug  1   Pictou
   1852 Aug  4   Sydney
   1852 Aug 11   Plaister Cove, Antigonish, New Glasgow
   1852 Aug 25   Truro, Amherst
   1852 Aug 31   Annapolis
   1852 Oct  1   Sackville, West Canso (McNair's Cove) (1859 renamed Mulgrave)
   1852 Nov  9   Chester
   1853 Jan  7   Digby

Note: In the original article, the list (above) 
reported the Antigonish office opened Aug 11, 1852, 
but elsewhere the text says Jul 19, 1852.
At that meeting it was reported that in October, 1852, the line across the Strait of Canso which was stretched from Cape Porcupine to a mast at McKean's Point, had been much injured, the mast on the tower broken by an unfortunate accident; but that the lines were now again in operation across the Strait.  The cable, imported from England, had arrived in December, and would be laid down in the Spring.

At a meeting of the company, held January 16, 1856, it was reported that, in 1855, Alexander McKay had been appointed Superintendent of Lines and Offices.  Also that the offices, with their operators, at the first of January, 1856, were as follows:

Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company
1 January 1856

Office Operator
Amherst A. McD. Piers
Annapolis H.C. Harris
Antigonish J.J. Wilkie
Barrington R.H. Crowell
Bridgetown Charles Hoyt
Bridgewater Hibbert Flint
Canso East
(Plaister Cove)
(Port Hastings)
J.H. Short
Canso West
(McNair's Cove)
J.B. Harrington
Cape Canso Mrs. E. Taylor
Chester Chas. A. Richardson
Digby John Robinson
Guysboro Miss Margaret McGregor
Hantsport N.W. Beckwith
Halifax Jesse Hoyt
D. Grant
Kentville Saml. D. Angus
Liverpool Miss E.M. Geldert
Lunenburg Miss Caroline Jost
Middleton Edward S. Angus
New Glasgow Thos. R. Fraser
Pictou Jas. W. Richardson
Port Hood E.D. Tremaine
Pugwash H.A. Borden
Ragged Islands L. Chipman
Shelburne Joseph P. Johnson
Sydney J. Ward
St. Peters  
Tatamagouche James McLearn
Truro William F. Archibald
Wallace William S. Huestis
Weymouth Norman P. Jones
Wilmot N.B. Gesner
Windsor D.E. Gelbert
Wolfville George V. Rand
Yarmouth A. LawsonNote 1
Note 1 (by ICS): Alexander Lawson was owner,
publisher, and editor of the Yarmouth Herald
(weekly newspaper) for 62 years, 1833-1895.

March 19, 1856.  The Executive Committee being informed that nothing could be done with the old cable at the Strait of Canso, which had been broken late in the Fall of 1855, it was decided to try Gutta Percha covered wire, and on March 26, 1856, three miles of Gutta Percha wires were ordered.

June 25, 1856, it was decided that if the cable at the Strait of Canso was not sufficiently suited for the traffic, the Superintendent purchase from the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, a quantity of cable to stretch across the Strait, and have it laid.  The cable was purchased, and was successfully laid across the Strait July 7, 1856.

The line from Liverpool to Barrington had been built in 1853, and from Barrington to Yarmouth in 1854.  The line from Antigonish to Cape Canso, via Guysboro, was built in 1854, as was also the line from St. Peters to Arichat.  The line from Plaister Cove (now called Port Hastings) was built in 1855, to Port Hood; and from there a line was built to Aspey Bay, via Baddeck and Ingonish, by the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, which was completed and ready for business, November 9, 1856, on which date messages were transmitted between St. John's, Newfoundland, and New York; the operator at Port Hood being J.J. Wilkie, while his brother, Wm. G. Wilkie, was at that time operator at Antigonish.  The Port Hood - Aspey Bay line was constructed by Hiram Hyde, his Superintendent of mail route at Antigonish, T.S. Lindsay, being in charge of the work.

A line was built from Wolfville to Canning, in 1858.  May 14, 1858, T.S. Lindsay was given a contract of keeping lines in order, between New Glasgow and Sydney, and between Plaister Cove and Port Hood.

May 4, 1860, the lines of the Nova Scotia Electric Telegraph Company were leased to the American Telegraph Company, they being described in the lease as follows:

"One line of poles with three wires (from Halifax) to Sackville at the head of Bedford Basin.  One line of poles with two wires thence to Truro.  One line of poles with one wire thence through Londonderry and Amherst to the eastern boundary of the Province of New Brunswick.  One line of poles and one wire from Amherst, passing through Pugwash, Wallace, Tatamagouche and Pictou, to Truro.  One line of poles and one wire from Pictou, through New Glasgow, Antigonish and Guysboro, to Cape Canso.  One line of poles and one wire from Antigonish to McNair's Cove.  Submarine cable from McNair's Cove to Plaister Cove (now called Port Hastings).  One line of poles and one wire from Plaister Cove to Port Hood.  One wire from Plaister Cove to Sydney, and from St. Peters to Arichat.  One line of poles and one wire from Sackville at the head of Bedford Basin to Windsor, Hantsport, Lower Horton, Wolfville, Kentville, Berwick, Wilmot, Lawrencetown, Bridgetown, Annapolis, Digby, Weymouth, Yarmouth, Barrington, Shelburne, Ragged Islands, Liverpool, Bridgewater, Lunenburg, Mahone Bay and Chester to Halifax.  Also a line of new cedar poles and galvanized wire from Wolfville to Canning.  Also the batteries and telegraph apparatus necessary to work the said lines and keep offices open at the several stations before mentioned, except the Boundary of New Brunswick, and Sackville at head of Bedford Basin, there being no offices at those points."

On April 8, 1862, an agreement was executed between Jonathan McCully of Halifax, Chief Commissioner of Railways for the Province of Nova Scotia, also a member of the Executive council of said Province and authorized to represent the Province on behalf of the Railway Department, party of the first part, and the American Telegraph Company, lessors of the liens of telegraph in said Province, party of the second part.  The Telegraph Company agreed to handle free of charge the messages to and from officials of the Railway Department.  The Telegraph Company agreed to open offices in stations along the railways then existing or which may be thereafter operated.  the Telegraph Company allowed the Railway Department to place one wire on its poles.  The Railway Department furnished transportation of men and material, also office space, particularly at Windsor and Truro.  The Railway Department also granted to the Telegraph Company right to erect and maintain pole lines along the right-of-way of the railways.

In December 1866 the lease was taken over by the Western Union Telegraph Company.

January 9, 1872, a new cable was imported for the Strait of Canso.

March 12, 1872, 53 telegraph offices were in operation in Nova Scotia.

December 5, 1872, it was resolved to accept the Western Union Telegraph Company's offer to purchase, and on January 9, 1873, advertisements appeared announcing the sale of the Nova Scotia telegraph system to the Western Union Telegraph Company.


The Montreal Telegraph Company was incorporated July 28, 1847, and immediately built a telegraph line from Montreal to Toronto, and extended it the following year to Quebec.  With Sir Hugh Allan as president, in 1851 the company began to absorb other existing telegraph companies, one of importance being the pioneer in Canada, the Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Electric Magnetic Telegraph Company; it also absorbed the line of the British North American Electric Telegraph Association from Quebec to River du Loup, which line was extended to Woodstock, New Brunswick.

In 1861 the Montreal Telegraph Company had 3,422 miles [5506 km] of telegraph lines, 32 poles to the mile [20 poles to the kilometre], with No. 8 and 9 galvanized iron wire.  These included the main line from Woodstock to Detroit, Michigan, 1,050 miles [1689 km], a line from Montreal to Troy, N.Y., and one to Portland, Maine.

In 1865 arrangements were completed to carry the lines of the Montreal Telegraph Company from Woodstock, New Brunswick, through the province to Sackville, New Brunswick, in anticipation of the successful laying of the Atlantic cable.

In 1871 the Montreal Telegraph Company had telegraph lines along all the railways in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and had, on September 22, 1870, entered into an agreement to run lines along the Intercolonial Railway to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

During the year 1871 the Montreal Telegraph Company opened fifty-four new offices in Nova Scotia.  (Jour. Tel. Vol. 5, p. 57, Feb. 2, 1872)

In 1872 two hundred new offices were opened by the company in the Dominion of Canada.

August 17, 1881, with Sir Hugh Allan still president, an agreement was entered into whereby the Great North Western Telegraph Company assumed operation and control of the system of telegraph owned and previously operated by the Montreal Telegraph Company, for a term of ninety-seven years from and after July 1, 1881.

November 1, 1912, the Great North Western Telegraph Company leased their system to the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Since the lease was executed in 1881 the Montreal Telegraph Company has maintained an office in Montreal, with very little business to transact other than receiving rental on their telegraph system, and paying stockholders a regular dividend of eight per cent per annum.


Selah Reeves organized the Dominion Telegraph Company in 1868, but it was reorganized in 1870 and incorporated by Canadian charter April 14, 1871.  It was reincorporated by 37 Victoria , Chapter 82, assented to May 26, 1874, and that Act was amended May 15, 1879, extending the powers of the company to "all parts and places within the limits of the Dominion of Canada."

In 1872 the company had 1,176 miles [1892 km] of line.  In 1874 a second line was completed between Toronto and Montreal.

Mr. D.B. McQuarrie, the company's superintendent of construction, in 1875 completed a line from Pictou, Nova Scotia, to Tor Bay, N.S., to connect with the Direct Cable; offices on this line, at Pictou, New Glasgow, Antigonish, Guysborough, Canso and Tor Bay, were reported open for business February 19, 1876; a number of other offices were also opened that month in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In 1876 a line from Pictou to Halifax was completed, and January 20, 1877, offices on that line were reported open for business at Halifax, Dartmouth, Waverly, Shubenacadie, Truro, New Glasgow and Pictou. About that time an office was opened at Whithead, N.S., on a spur line from Cross Roads on the Tor Bay line.

July 1, 1879, the Dominion Telegraph Company was awarded a contract, by the Canadian Government, for the construction and permanent maintenance and operating a line between Canso and Halifax, Nova Scotia; and arrangements were made whereby the lighthouse keepers upon adjacent islands could communicate signals, either by flags or semaphores to and from passing vessels, and also between the lighthouses and telegraph stations upon the mainland.  The following is from a Government report dated November 30, 1881: "By a cash payment of $16,000 to the Dominion Telegraph Company, they constructed and agreed to maintain, a shore route telegraph line, 208 miles [335 km] in length, between Canso and Halifax. This line was erected in connection with the signal stations to be established upon adjacent islands, and upon which lighthouses have been erected by the Department of Marine and Fisheries." At that time seventeen stations were in operation on that line, but in a report dated September 7, 1883, in which it was said that "the line between Halifax and Canso, in Nova Scotia, operated by the Western Union Telegraph Company, has been maintained efficiently without cost to the government," there was shown to be only the following stations in operation on the line:

Western Union Telegraph Company
Telegraph line in Nova Scotia, Dartmouth to Canso
7 September 1883
     Station           Intermediate       Progressive
                         Distance           Distance

  Dartmouth                0                  0
  Musquodoboit            28 mi.             28 mi.
  Ship Hbr via Clam Cove  24 mi.             52 mi.
  Tangier                 21 mi.             73 mi.
  Sheet Harbour           18 mi.             91 mi.
  Beaver Harbour          10 mi.            101 mi.
  Liscomb                 36 mi.            137 mi.
  Sherbrooke              11 mi.            148 mi.
  Isaac's Harbour         36 mi.            184 mi.
  Manthorn's Cove          3 mi.            187 mi.
  Tor Bay                 10 mi.            197 mi.
  Whitehaven Loop         11 mi.            208 mi.

  (The original report states distances in miles only.)

Connection with Canso was made through the Whitehaven loop, which ran from the Antigonish-Canso line, at Cross Roads.

This Dartmouth - Canso pole line was acquired by Canadian National Telegraphs, from the Western Union Telegraph Company, in 1929, when the landlines of the latter company, in the Maritime Provinces, were purchased by the Canadian National Railways. The following year that portion of the line from Dartmouth to Liscomb was abandoned, and in 1933 the remainder of the line, between Liscomb and the Whitehaven loop was abandoned, and the poles have since been removed.

July 1, 1879, the company's lines were leased to Jay Gould's company, (American Union Telegraph Company) for ninety-nine years, and that lease was assigned to the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1881.

The consideration of this agreement was: 5766 shares of unissued stock of the nominal value of $50 per share should be subscribed and paid for by the American Union, at eighty cents on the dollar, equal to $230,640, from which $23,400 should be deducted for the lease of the Oswego and Ogdensburgh lines; the floating debt of the Dominion Company, $140,000 paid; and the balance expended in the extension of lines; an annual rental of $52,500, equal to a payment of 5% on the capital stock of $1,000,000, to be increased by $10,000 annually in the event of traffic arrangements being made with any other company in Canada; the assumption of the bonded debt of sixty thousand Pounds Sterling, of the Dominion Telegraph Company; all costs of renewal and all expenses including municipal taxes. At the expiration of the lease and the property with additions and betterments thereto was to revert to the Dominion Telegraph Company.

The reversionary interest of the Dominion Telegraph Company was purchased, for cash, under an agreement, dated January 15, 1925, between the Dominion Telegraph Company, the American Union Telegraph Company, the Western Union Telegraph Company, and the Dominion Telegraph Securities Limited. The sum paid was $116,640, which amount at compound interest, computed at 4%, would equal $1,000,000 by 1978, that being the estimated value of the Dominion Telegraph Company's property at the beginning of the lease of 1879.  In the meantime, of course, the rental of $62,500 continues, but in 1978 when the lease expires, the rental will cease, and the Dominion Telegraph Company owners will have available the sum of $1,000,000 in lieu of the physical telegraph property.


In building the Canadian Pacific Railway across Canada it was necessary to establish a telegraph system in connection with the railway, and this soon became a general commercial telegraph system.  The first train on the C.P.R. from Montreal arrived in Winnipeg July 1, 1886, and by September of that year the company had opened 366 telegraph offices in Quebec, Ontario and Western Canada.

In 1884 the Commercial Cable Company landed two Atlantic cables at Canso, N.S., with their office at Hazel Hill, and constructed a pole line to Antigonish, which, in 1889, was extended to New Glasgow. The Canadian Pacific Railway built a line from St. John, N.B. to New Glasgow, N.S., via Truro and made a connection, at New Glasgow, with the Commercial Cable Co's line in December 1889. The following year the C.P.R. built a telegraph line from Truro to Halifax, and in 1891 they extended their line from New Glasgow to Sydney.  The C.P.R. telegraph lines were built along the old Intercolonial Railway, in Nova Scotia.  On April 28, 1909, the C.P.R. took over the Commercial line from New Glasgow to Hazel Hill, and September 23, 1909, sold to the Western Union Telegraph Company that part of the line from a point of half mile east of New Glasgow Station to a point of intersection with the Railway Company's line leading from Heatherton Station towards Guysborough, being altogether 52 miles [84 km] of poles and 104 miles [167 km] of iron wire, along the highway, the C.P.R. having a line along the railway.

Canadian Pacific Telegraph offices in Nova Scotia in 1936 were:

Glace Bay
Hazel Hill
New Glasgow
North Sydney
Port Hawkesbury


Canadian National Telegraphs is a trade name applied to a group of telegraph systems, namely - Great North Western Telegraph Company, Grand Trunk Pacific Telegraph Company, Canadian National Telegraph Company.

The assets of the Canadian Northern Telegraph Company were transferred to the Canadian National Telegraph Company.

By an agreement, dated January 15, 1925, between the Dominion Telegraph Company, the American Union Telegraph Company, the Western Union Telegraph Company, the Great North Western Telegraph Company and the Dominion Telegraph Securities, Limited, the Canadian National Railway purchased, for cash, the reversionary interest in the telegraph lines of the American Union Telegraph Company, expiring July 1, 1978, until which time an annual rental of $62,500 has to be paid.  The sum paid in cash was $116,640.

July 1, 1929, the Canadian National Railway purchased the landlines of the Western Union Telegraph Company in the Maritime Provinces, but not the properties representing cable routes from North Sydney, N.S., to the United States.

In 1936 the Canadian National Telegraphs had 187 offices in Nova Scotia, including government offices.


From the time he conceived the idea of an electric telegraph, in 1832, until the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable, Professor S.F.B. Morse's favourite dream, in his own words, was "that universal humanity was to be bound in a true social fraternity by instantaneous communication of thought".

October 18, 1842, Professor Morse laid an insulated copper wire from Governor's Island to the Battery, New York, and communications were received over it until it was hauled up by a vessel's anchor.

In 1843 Samuel Colt (a firearms manufacturer) laid a submarine telegraph cable connecting the City of New York with Coney Island and Fire Island.

In July, 1848, a submarine cable was laid across the Hudson River, between New York and Jersey City, the laying of which was described in the issue of September 18, 1858, of the Scientific American, which contained the following: "In the autumn of 1846-47 two lines of wire were thus insulated with a compound of India rubber and sulphur for Mr. Downing, the president of the House Telegraph Company, for connecting this city and Philadelphia by telegraph; and in the months of April, May and June, 1848, a large amount of small iron and copper were insulated and covered with gutta percha, by Mr. Reynolds, for persons connected with the Morse lines; and in July of that year four miles [6 km] of No. 9 iron wire was insulated with a double coating of gutta percha by the same gentleman, a part of which cable was placed at the bottom of the river between New York and Jersey City."

On the night of November 22-23, 1852, a cable was laid between Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick, and Carleton Head, Prince Edward Island, by the steamer Ellen Gisborne. This cable was not a success; and item in the Novascotian of Monday, June 18, 1855, reads: "P.E. Island Telegraph Communication again to be established between the Island and the main land.  An advertisement appears in the Charlottetown papers for taking up the submarine cable and relaying the same across the Strait, between Cape Tormentine and Traverse." If that cable was relaid it could not have been satisfactory, for after successfully laying the Newfoundland - Cape Breton cable, August 10, 1856, the steamer Victoria proceeded to Prince Edward Island and laid a new cable from Tormentine.


In the History of Newfoundland by D.W. Prowse, the author, Judge Prowse, said: "The first written communication in Newfoundland about a telegraph line across the Island, to connect us with Cape Breton, came from Dr. Mullock, and was published by him in The Courier, at St. John's, November 8, 1850".  The letter contained the following: "I regret to find that in every place for Trans-Atlantic communication, Halifax is always mentioned and the natural capabilities of Newfoundland entirely overlooked.  This has been deeply impressed on my mind by the communication I read in your paper of Saturday last, regarding telegraph communication between England and Ireland, in which it was said that the nearest station on the American side is Halifax, twenty-one hundred and fifty miles [3460 km] from the west of Ireland.  He then went on to show that the logical route was by a land line across to Cape Ray, and then a cable to Cape North, Cape Breton."

Thus it will be seen that a trans-Atlantic cable was talked of and written about in the press before Cyrus W. Field heard of the proposition, and before a telegraph line was built between Plaister Cove, on the east side of the Strait of Canso, and Port Hood.

Prowse wrote: "The pioneer of telegraph communication in the Colony was the celebrated Frederick Newton Gisborne... In 1851 Mr. Gisborne came to St. John's, appeared before the Legislature, explained his plans which were to lay a telegraph line from St. John's to Cape Ray, and to connect with Cape Breton by carrier pigeons, steamer, or eventually, it was hoped, by a submarine cable.  The House of Assembly granted five hundred pounds for a survey, and passed an Act authorizing the construction of the lines.  (This Act authorized Frederick N. Gisborne to form the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company, with a capital of one hundred pounds.) In the same year Mr. Gisborne commenced building the St. John's and Carbonear Electric Telegraph Company's line." He then quotes from Newfoundlander of March 11, 1852: "The electric telegraph between St. John's and Carbonear Bay was put in operation for the first time on last Saturday (March 6, 1852) and has transmitted several messages from Brigus and Harbour Grace each day of the week."

Prowse continuing wrote: "In the spring of 1852 an Act was passed incorporating the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company, giving exclusive right to erect telegraphs in the Island, for thirty years, and a large grant of land on the completion of the line.  The Ellen Gisborne came to St. John's in December 1852, but it was not until the spring of 1853 that Mr. Gisborne organized a company in New York, with Horace B. Tibbetts, Darius B. Holbrook and others; he then proceeded vigorously with the work of building the line to Cape Ray ... everything was progressing favourably in the summer of 1853, when the New York agents dishonoured his bills, and the whole thing collapsed; Gisborne himself was stripped of everything he possessed.

In January 1854 Gisborne came in contact with Cyrus W. Field, then a young merchant who had made a handsome fortune and retired from active business.  Field at once took hold of the larger idea of cable communication with Europe; for Gisborne's project of the limited Newfoundland line he cared nothing, and would have nothing to do with it, but when he found from Professor Morse, Lieut. Maury and Brett that an Atlantic telegraph was a practical undertaking, he threw himself into the project with all his marvellous zeal and pertinacity... His enthusiasm brought over Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Marshall O. Roberts and Chandler White, the financiers of the company formed in March 1854, and granted a charter by the Newfoundland Government as The New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company."

August 15, 1855, the American steamship James Adgar, having in tow the barque Sarah L. Bryant, and accompanied by the steamer Victoria, entered Sydney harbour in the afternoon, after having made an unsuccessful attempt to lay the cable from Newfoundland to Cape Breton.  Forty miles [65 km] of cable had been paid out, with about thirty miles [about 50 km] still on board the barque, when a heavy gale arose and it became necessary to cut the cable in order to save the barque.

July 4, 1856, the brig Ellen arrived in Sydney from the Gulf, having succeeded in recovering about twenty miles of the old submerged cable; the remainder of it was lost.

The successful laying of the cable to Cape Breton was described in a Cape Breton news item to Halifax papers, from which the following is digested.  – The Propontis (screw steamer), chartered by the manufacturers, having received the cable on board, left London the second of June, and after calling at St. John's, Newfoundland and Sydney, where the necessary machinery was obtained and the coaling effected, she arrived at Cape Ray July 8th, 1856.  On the morning of the 9th the end of the cable was safely landed in Cape Ray Cove.  The Propontis left there at 2:20 pm and dropped anchor at Aspey Bay at 5:36am, 63 geographical miles [probably 116 km] in 15 hours and 17 minutes.  The end of the cable was landed, and at 2:20pm the first telegraph communication from shore to shore was made.  The first commercial message sent over the Newfoundland cable was one from J. & W. Pitts, St. John's, Newfoundland, to A. & M. Cameron, Baddeck.  The pole line to Cape Ray was completed in October, 1856.

In December, Field found that the cable across the Gulf was broken, and all of the Newfoundland line in disorder Superintendent Simpson having left the country in despair.  Field then looked for a competent man to take charge, and found the man he believed would make good, in A.M. MacKay, a Pictou man, 22 years old, Superintendent of the Nova Scotia telegraph lines.  When MacKay arrived in St. John's he found things in just the state of confusion that had been represented, not a section of the line being in working order.  He ascertained where the break was in the cable, and had it repaired in June, 1857, with the steamer Victoria, and then organized a staff of repairers and operators, and put the system in working order.  In 1861 there were fifteen telegraph offices in the colony, the local rate being twenty-five cents for ten words; from St. John's to Port Hood, Nova Scotia, it was $3 for ten words and twelve cents for each additional word; Port Hood being the terminus of the New York Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company's line in Nova Scotia.  From the time the liens were put in order by MacKay, in 1857, he and Field kept the concern going until the successful laying of the Atlantic Cable in 1866.

In the summer of 1867 it was decided to lay a cable from Great Placentia, Newfoundland, to North Sydney, via St. Pierre; this was done, and since then several other cables have been laid between Placentia and North Sydney, and the cable between Port-au-Basque and Aspey Bay has not since been used.  In 1872 another cable was laid between Great Placentia, Newfoundland, and North Sydney via St. Pierre.


The Newfoundland line and the cable from Newfoundland to Cape Breton being now in working order with Mr. A.M. MacKay in charge, Mr. Field devoted his entire energy to the formation of the Atlantic Cable Company, which was organized in England December 16, 1856, with a capital of 350,000 pounds, in shares of one thousand pounds each, part being subscribed in England and part in the United States.  This company undertook the laying of a cable from Ireland to Newfoundland, and an order was placed for 2500 miles of cable.  The manufacture of this cable was completed in the summer of 1857.

"2500 miles of cable" may mean either 4022 km or 4625 km, depending on whether the statute mile or the nautical mile was meant.  No doubt the cable manufacturing contract was clear on this point.

The cable was made up as follows, – seven No. 22 gauge copper wires were tightly twisted together, forming a conductor one twelfth of an inch [2.1 mm] thick, and weighing 107 pounds per mile [30.2 kilograms per kilometre]; around this cord were three layers of gutta percha, increasing the size of the core to three-eighths of an inch [9.5 mm]; outside of this was a jacket of hemp saturated with pitch tar, beeswax and boiled linseed oil; this was encased with eighteen strands, each made of seven No. 22 gauge iron wires.  The cable weighing one ton per mile had a total weight of 2500 tons.

"One ton per mile" converted to kilograms per kilometre may be 490 or 550 or 565 or 635, depending on whether the meaning was the statute mile or the nautical mile, and the long ton or the short ton.  The best we can do is: This cable weighed about 500 to 600 kilograms per kilometre.

The steamship Niagara, loaned by the United States government, and the Agamemnon loaned by the British government, each took one-half of the cable on board, and steamed from Valentia, Ireland, August 7, 1857.  The Niagara paid out cable as she went along, but on the 11th of August, the cable broke and the end sank in 12,000 feet [3700 metres] of water, 280 miles [520 km] from Ireland.  Both ships then returned to Plymouth, for they had no facilities for raising the cable.

The Atlantic Telegraph Company raised more capital and had 900 miles [1660 km] of new cable made.  The Niagara and Agamemnon took the cable on board, and sailed from Valentia, June 10, 1858; they proceeded to mid-ocean where they spliced the two halves of the cable, and on June 26th began submerging it, one sailing west and the other sailing east.  Three days later a double break occurred, and 144 miles [266 km] of cable went to the bottom of the ocean.

The Agamemnon returned to England for gear and instructions, and on the 29th of July the two halves of the cable were again spliced in mid-ocean.  August 5th the Agamemnon reached Valentia, and at about the same time the Niagara arrived at Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, and the ships exchanged congratulations through the cable.  Each of the steamships had 1100 miles [2035 km] of cable on board; the Niagara sailed 882 miles [1632 km] and paid out 1014 miles [1876 km] of cable; the Agamemnon sailed 813 miles [1504 km] and paid out 1014 miles [1876 km] of cable.

August 16, 1858, the cable was connected with the telegraph systems of Europe and America, and the following message was sent across the ocean in thirty-five minutes: "Europe and America are united by telegraph.  Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good-will toward men." Queen Victoria and the President of the United States exchanged congratulations, and the Atlantic Cable was open for business, but its usefulness was for a very short time, for on the fourth of September, the signals ceased and the cable was out of commission.

Mr. Field did not give up in despair, but held meetings in England to regain the confidence and revive the enthusiasm, of the public; but the Civil War came on in the United States, and he was obliged to look almost wholly to the British people for financial aid, and this made his work exceedingly difficult.

The Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company was formed by an amalgamation of the Gutta-Percha Company and the firm of Glass & Elliott, manufacturers of wire cable, and that company constructed a new cable.  The conductor consisted of seven No. 18 copper wires and weighed 300 pounds per mile.  This was surrounded by four layers of gutta-percha alternating with four layers of a compound of gutta-percha and Stockholm tar; outside of that was a jacket of hemp, or jute, yarn: the sheath consisted of ten No. 13 gauge iron wires, each previously covered with five tarred manila yarns.  The whole cable was one and one-eighth inch thick, and weighed 35 cwt. per mile, with a breaking strain of 7¾ tons.

"...the sheath consisted of ten No. 13 gauge iron wires..."

...the sheath consisted of ten iron wires, each 2.41mm in diameter...
Note: This interpretation – that "No. 13 gauge" means 2.41mm – is by far the
most likely but is not certain.  Whidden did not state (and probably did not know)
which of several possible wire gauges was the one used to specify the size of
these sheath wires.  For iron wire manufactured in England in the mid-1800s,
the most common gauge system was the Birmingham Wire Gauge (B.W.G.),
also called the Stubs Iron Wire Gauge, in which "No. 13" means 2.41mm.

By the way, this method of specifying wire sizes, by a recognized wire gauge system, is
still (in 2014) widely used.  If you go to the hardware store to buy copper wire for wiring
a house, they will ask if you want "number 14" (used for 15-ampere circuits such as
ordinary room receptacles and lighting circuits) or "number 12" (used for 20-ampere
circuits) or "number 8" (used for circuits feeding electric stoves).  "Number 18" is often
used for wiring electric doorbells.  These wire gauge sizes, widely used in North America,
are specified in the Brown & Sharpe (B&S) wire gauge system.  In this system, smaller
gauge numbers identify larger wire sizes, a characteristic that everyone in the electrical
industry is familiar with but sometimes confuses novices.
"The whole cable was one and one-eighth inch thick,
and weighed 35 cwt. per mile..."

One cwt. = 112 pounds

The whole cable was 29 mm thick,
and weighed 1100 kilograms per kilometre,
"...with a breaking strain of 7¾ tons."

Here we have a problem.  We do not know whether the
"breaking strain" was measured in short tons of 2000 pounds,
or long tons of 2200 pounds.
(This is one of the numerous ambiguities of the old Imperial measurement
system, that forced its replacement by a simpler and clearer system.)

The breaking strain could be either 7700kg or 7000kg.

The steamship Great Eastern was chartered to carry and lay the cable, and on July 23, 1865, started from Valentia on her trip across the ocean, but on August 2 the cable broke and the end sunk to the bottom, in 2000 fathoms [3700 metres] of water, 1064 miles [1970 km] from Ireland.  Desperate efforts were made to catch the cable and take the end on board the ship, but on August 11, all hopes having been given up of doing so, the ship started on a return trip to England leaving 1900 tons [1900 tonnes] of cable at the bottom of the ocean, in addition to what was lost in 1857 and 1858.
             In the summer of 1866 there appeared 
        in The Times (London) the following information 
             regarding the financial condition of 
                the Atlantic Telegraph Company

   The Capital of the Atlantic Telegraph Company 
                   is as follows:
   1  Original capital stock raised in 1856-7        £402,860
      This stock will be increased,
      if the cable of 1865 is raised and repaired,
      by the amount of profit in that case payable 
      to the Telegraph Construction
      and Maintenance Company, namely                 137,140
      Making the entire ordinary stock                600,000

   2  The 8 per cent Preferential Stock               600,000

   3  Debentures at 5 per cent                        100,000
     Total subscribed capital                      £1,300,000

The above capital has covered everything up to the failure of last year's cable, and the Atlantic Telegraph Company had arranged for providing funds necessary for resuming the work by an issue of 12 per cent preference shares, which they were advised was entirely within their powers.  An adverse legal opinion having, however, been obtained by third parties, the directors withdrew the proposal for the 12 per cent stock, and returned the money to the applicants.

The time had been gone by for the making application to Parliament for the necessary powers during the last session.  It was therefore decided that for the purpose of aiding in the immediate completion of the undertaking an entirely distinct company should be formed, and endowed with such privileges as would induce the public to subscribe to it.  The Anglo-American Telegraph Company was brought out, with a capital of 600,000 pounds, all of which has been taken up.

The effect of the agreement entered into between it and the Atlantic Telegraph Company is that the former undertook the construction, for the latter company, of a new cable, and for its submersion between Ireland and Newfoundland during the present summer (1866), and for the adoption of suitable measures for raising and completing the broken cable of last year (1865).  The Anglo-American Company also engages to work both cables or either, as the case may be, as the agents and on behalf of the Atlantic Telegraph Company, during the continuance of the agreement, further provides that in consideration of these services an annual payment of 125,000 pounds shall be made by the Atlantic Telegraph Company to the Anglo-American Company out of the earnings from the working of the cables, the arrangement being that the receipts in each year from all the Atlantic Telegraph Company's lines are, after paying expenses of repairs, management, working and directors, and interest (not exceeding 5,000 pounds per year) on the debentures of the Atlantic Telegraph Company to be appropriate thus:

First, in paying the Anglo-American Company 125,000 pounds per year:

Second, in paying 72,000 pounds per year (representing 8 per cent on the Atlantic Company's existing preference stock, and 4 per cent on their ordinary stock) to the Atlantic Telegraph Company: and

Third, the entire balance of each year's receipts is to be divided between the Anglo-American Company and the Atlantic Telegraph Company in equal shares; but no deficiency in respect of the annual payments in one year is to be carried forward to another year.

The right is reserved to the Atlantic Telegraph Company of terminating the agreement on or before the first of January, 1869, (on giving three months notice to that effect) by payment to the Anglo-American Company of the sum of £1,200,000 being double the amount of its capital."

"It is specially provided that all messages must be transmitted without favour or preference in the order in which they are received."

A new cable was made differing somewhat from the last one, it weighing about 500 pounds per mile less, and having an increased breaking strain.  Enough cable was made to cross the Atlantic and allow slack; and enough of the 1865 cable was provided to repair the damage it had sustained.

The Great Eastern, with the new cable on board, left Sheerness on Saturday, June 30, 1866, arriving at Beerhaven, Thursday morning, July 5, where she took coal and provisions.  The other steamers which were to accompany her, forming the Telegraph Fleet, joined her in this order, – William Corry and Terrible, Friday 6th; Albany, 7th; Medway, 10th.  Saturday, July 7th, the end of the Irish shore cable was landed from the William Corry, at 2:30 the next morning the laying was successfully completed and the end buoyed in 94 fathoms [172 metres] of water; Latitude 51.40° Longitude 11.06°; distance from Telegraph House at Valentia 27 1/2 miles [51 km] of cable paid out.  Thursday 12th the Great Eastern, Medway, Albany, Terrible and Racoon sailed from Beerhaven; Friday 13th the shore end was spliced to the main cable on board the Great Eastern, and at 2:40 pm the Telegraph Fleet started for Newfoundland, H.M.S. Racoon returning to Valentia.

Friday, July 27th, the Great Eastern arrived at Heart's Content, Newfoundland, at 8 o'clock am, the distance run, including the Valentia shore end, 1669 miles [3088 km], cable paid out 1864 miles [3449 km].  At 8:43 o'clock that evening, July 27, 1866, the splicing of the main cable to the shore end at Heart's Content, was completed, and thus was pronounced the death sentence on the Collins Overland Telegraph, which was to unite the Western and Eastern Hemispheres by a cable 36 miles [67 km] long across Behering Strait, and allow messages to be exchanged between New York and Paris, over 16,000 miles [26,000 km] of pole line, and which had been under construction a year.  This overland telegraph enterprise was promoted by Peter Macdonough, a California banker, who was assisted to the tune of one hundred thousand dollars by Hiram Sibley, founder and first president of the Western Union Telegraph Company.

The Gulf cable being out of commission a dispatch boat was sent to Aspey Bay, Cape Breton, with telegraph messages, which reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sunday, July 29th, one being from Cyrus W. Field, who had come across on the Great Eastern, in which he gave a detailed account of the laying of the cable, and said: "After taking in coals the Telegraph Fleet will sail for the spot where the cable was lost last year, and recover the end and complete a second line between Ireland and Newfoundland.  The Medway will proceed to lay the new cable across the Gulf of St. Lawrence."

Queen Victoria, having been advised of the successful completion of trans-atlantic telegraph communication, sent the following message to the President of the United States: "Osborne, 27th July.  To the President of the United States: The Queen congratulates the President on the successful completion of an undertaking which we hope may serve as an additional bond of Union between the United States and England.  Victoria." The President sent the following reply: "Executive Mansion, Washington, 11:30am July 30.  To Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  The President of the United States acknowledges with profound gratification the receipt of Her Majesty's dispatch, and cordially reciprocates the hope the cable which now units the Eastern and Western hemispheres may serve to strengthen and perpetuate peace and unity between the Government of England and the Republic of the United States.  Andrew Jackson.

The following scale of charges for cable messages was announced: From any telegraph office in America to any telegraph office in Great Britain and Ireland, for twenty words including address and signature 20 pounds Sterling, and for each additional word twenty shillings.

The following telegraph was received at Halifax, Sunday, September 2nd, 1866, from Heart's Content, Newfoundland: "The Atlantic cable of last year was picked up this Sunday morning at 4:40 o'clock, in Latitude 51.52°, Longitude 36.63° .  The splice was made, and the cable lowered at 7am.  The Great Eastern is now 700 miles [1300 km] from here, paying out.  Everything was going well, and they expect to reach here on Saturday next." The Great Eastern completed the 1865 cable on Saturday, September 8, 1866, so that then there were two cables operating between Newfoundland and Ireland.  The speed at which messages were transmitted over the first cables was about seven words per minute.


The story of the laying of the Atlantic Cable having been told it seems fitting that a sketch of the pioneer promoter of that great enterprise should now be given.

Frederic Newton Gisborne, son of Hartley Packer Gisborne, and wife who was descended from a half sister of Sir Isaac Newton, was born in Broughton, Lancashire, England, March 8, 1824.  In 1845 he emigrated to Canada and for two years farmed near St. Estache, Quebec.  At that time the Electric Telegraph was attracting much attention, and Mr. Gisborne joined a classes organized by Mr. O.S. Wood, a pupil of Prof. Morse, for the purpose of learning telegraphy.  He finished his course, passing first in every branch and was appointed to open the office in Quebec, for the Montreal Telegraph Company.  A letter signed by O.S. Wood, Superintendent and Secretary Montreal Telegraph Company, dated November 15, 1847, began as follows: "I cannot allow you to leave the service of our Company, in which you have so faithfully employed your time an talents, without a few words expressive both of the pleasure that I feel at your eminent success, and my good wishes.  From your skill and patience, your perseverance and integrity, I anticipated, and as you will remember, predicted your success in our business; and in this I have not been disappointed.  It would be with the deepest regret (in consequence of the embarrassment which your leaving must produce upon our line) that I shall part with you, were it not that you leave with the prospect of a more profitable and responsible situation, which I think you so richly merit."

He then engaged with the British North American Electric Telegraph Association, as Superintendent, and constructed a pole line to River du Loup, Quebec.  On May 8, 1848, he was given the following letter: "Office of the British North American Electric Telegraph Association, Quebec, May 8, 1848.  Dear Sir, - By desire of the Directors, I have infinite pleasure in communicating to you that, at a meeting held by them on Saturday last, I was instructed to convey to you their entire approval of your proceedings throughout the mission from which you have just returned, and their unqualified appreciation of the strenuous efforts made by you to forward the interests of the Association, by the establishment of a line of Telegraph between Quebec and Halifax.  It is my further duty to express to you the thanks of the Board, and to inform you that an additional sum of 75 pounds has been voted compensation for your services, which you are requested to accept." This was signed by W. Kimlin, Secretary, and addressed to F.N. Gisborne, Esq.

In 1849 he was appointed superintendent of Electric Telegraphs, by the Nova Scotia Government. He gave up that position in 1851, and went to St. John's, Newfoundland. He applied for, and was granted, a charter for the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company, by the Newfoundland Legislature, and then proceeded to make an exploratory survey of route for the proposed telegraph line from St. John's to Cape Ray. In making this survey, which was completed December 4, 1851, he suffered hardships which would have caused most men to have given up in despair. All of his white companions deserted him, and four Indians took their place; two of those deserted, one died, and the fourth suffered so from exposure that he was infirm for years after.

Gisborne prepared a preliminary report, and submitted it to the Newfoundland Government, receipt of which was acknowledged December 15, 1851.  Having submitted a final report, later on, he received, in acknowledgement thereof, the following: "In acknowledging the receipt of your final Report of the exploratory survey made by you with a view to the establishment of a line of Electric Telegraph from hence to Cape Ray, to be connected by a sub-marine line with the Continent, it affords us much pleasure not only to convey to you the expression of our entire satisfaction with the manner in which your duties throughout have been performed, but also to testify our high sense of the zeal and ability with which you have devoted yourself to the accomplishment of an undertaking of such magnitude as that which you have projected, – an undertaking of the highest utility to the whole civilized world, and the successful completion of which must result in invaluable benefit to Newfoundland. To you is due the sole credit of projecting this great enterprise, and upon your personal influence and persevering efforts (established as is your reputation for experience in such works) do we mainly rely for its successful achievement." This was dated St. John's, March 24, 1852; addressed to F.N. Gisborne, and signed by E.M. Archibald, Attorney-General; a member of the Executive Council; Speaker of the House, and two other members of the Provincial Parliament. The Act of 1851 incorporating the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company was then amended.

On September 10, 1858, a card was published in the New York Journal of Commerce, over the signature of Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Marshall O. Roberts, Cyrus W. Field and David Dudley Field, in which it was said, with reference to the Atlantic Cable, that "this scheme originated with the two gentlemen whose names are last subscribed to the card", namely Cyrus W. Field and David Dudley Field.

Because of that, the writer determined to ascertain, if possible, whether or not that statement was correct, and whether or not Gisborne was one of the original promoters of the enterprise, and now submits the following evidence:

After his charter was amended in 1852 Gisborne went to New York and interested Horace B. Tebetts and Darius B. Holbrook in his project.  He then went to England, with letters of introduction to John W. Brett, inventor of submarine cables.  That he talked with Brett about a telegraphic cable across the Atlantic is evident from a letter he received from Brett, dated May 26, 1853, in which he gave as his purpose in writing Gisborne (quoting from letter) "to learn if you are prepared to co-operate in opening up Telegraphic communication between Newfoundland and Ireland, and whether the object will meet fair support under your auspices in America".  He also said: "My impression is to do it well and have an odd dollar or two to meet the chances of accident, we must have a capital of 750,000 pounds.  Can you find 375,000 pounds and good names in America, if I can find 375,000 pounds and good names here?"

Under date July 8, 1853, Brett wrote to Gisborne saying in part: "Let me recommend to you, without delay, to apply to the Colonial Authorities, and at once secure in our joint names an exclusive privilege for establishing Submarine Telegraph between Newfoundland and Ireland."

Gisborne, having lost all he possessed in the construction of the Newfoundland line, went to New York in January, 1854, and there made the acquaintance of Chandler White and Cyrus W. Field.  And here it may be said that in his History of the Atlantic Telegraph, Henry M. Field, D.D., after telling of Gisborne's experience with the Newfoundland Telegraph Company, says that Gisborne met Field in New York in 1854.  It is therefore established that Gisborne was working on the scheme of a telegraphic cable across the Atlantic a year before he met Field.

Having arranged with Field and others that if he would accompany them to Newfoundland, and aid in procuring the repeal of the charter of the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company, the debts of that concern would be taken care of, he returned with the party to St. John's, and the legislation secured is to be found in the Acts of the Newfoundland Legislature for 1854.  Chapter 1, passed April 15, 1854, An Act whereby the Newfoundland Electric Telegraph Company is dissolved and all the Rights and Franchises thereto, be and the same are hereby annulled and extinguished.  Chapter 2, An Act to incorporate a company under the style and title of "The New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company", passed April 15, 1854.  That Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Cyrus W. Field, Marshall O. Roberts, Chandler White and Frederic N. Gisborne, and all other persons who shall pursuant to this Act become Proprietors of Shares etc. etc.  Capital 1,500,000 pounds, shares of 100 pounds each, as soon as 2500 shares of the Capital Stock shall be subscribed the company shall go into operation, and the said Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Cyrus W. Field, Marshall O. Roberts and Chandler White shall be the first directors of said Company.  The said Company shall have powers to establish, construct and work a line or lines of telegraph between Newfoundland and Ireland, or any other Island, place or places in the Atlantic Ocean, or in Europe, or in the United States, and to construct, purchase and work any line or lines or means of communication in Canada, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the United States.

The Acts of Newfoundland of 1854 show that David Dudley Field was not one of the incorporators, but that Frederic N. Gisborne was.

The company appointed Gisborne Chief Engineer at a salary of $5,000 a year.  In quitting the company he was given a testimonial, dated New York, February 10, 1857, signed by Peter Cooper, President, which began as follows: "We have much pleasure in testifying to your scientific ability and great energy as a Telegraph Engineer, in which capacity you have been employed by our company as Chief."

In 1879 Gisborne was appointed superintendent of Canadian Government Telegraph and Signal Service.  He died at Ottawa, Canada, August 30, 1892.


In August, 1875, the Western Union opened a cable station at North Sydney, transferring a staff from Port Hastings.  April 1, 1911, the Western Union Telegraph Company leased the Anglo system, thus obtaining control for cables at North Sydney which had previously been operated by the Anglo American Cable Company.

The North Sydney station now (1938) has five cables from Newfoundland, one being a tricore cable, making a total of seven conductors in the five cables.  One was laid between Heart's Content, Newfoundland, and Lloyd's Cove, at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, in 1873; another was laid in 1913, and another in 1921.  One was laid between Heart's Content and North Sydney, via St. Pierre, in 1873, and a tricore cable was laid in 1880, by the same route.  In 1891 a cable was laid from North Sydney to Canso, and another was laid between those two stations in 1922, thus opening a lane for transatlantic traffic to New York, without going over landlines.

A cable station was opened, by the Western Union, at Canso, Nova Scotia, in 1881.  A cable was landed at Dover Bay (Canso), May 23, 1881, and another was landed at the same place, March 23, 1882, both coming direct from Penzance, Cornwall, England.  The 1881 cable was diverted to Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, in 1913, and the 1882 cable was likewise diverted in 1915, and both are now (1938) in operation.  In October, 1889, two cables were laid between Dover Bay and New York, and are now in operation. In 1891 a cable was laid between North Sydney and Canso, and another in 1922, both being now in operation.


The Commercial Cable Company landed at Canso, and opened for business, in December, 1884, two cables from Waterville, Ireland, one of which was, in 1909, diverted, in the Atlantic, to St. John's, Newfoundland, and the other was diverted in the same manner, in 1910, both being worked between Canso and Ireland via St. John's. A third cable was laid between Waterville and Canso, in 1894, and a fourth in 1900, coming by way of Fayal, Azores. A fifth cable was laid between Waterville and Canso in 1905, and a sixth in 1923, via Fayal.

In 1884, a Twin Core cable was laid between Canso and Rockport, Massachusetts, and a cable between Canso and Coney Island, New York, the same year.  In 1900 a cable was laid between Canso and Coney Island, and another cable connecting Canada and the United States was laid in 1905, landing at Coney Island. In 1923 a cable was laid from Canso to Far Rockaway, New York, which made a high speed connection between Ireland and New York, via Waterville, Azores, Canso and Far Rockaway. This is a duplex cable capable of transmitting 600 letters per minute, in either direction at the same time; it is now channelled, – two channels of 300 letters per minute each, both east and west.

The Canso cable station is located at Hazel Hill, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, the building having been erected in 1888.


The Direct United States Cable, originally owned and operated by a company of that name, was laid between Ballingskelling, Ireland, and Tor Bay, Nova Scotia, by the steamship Faraday in 1874.

An additional section laid at the same time between Tor Bay and Rye Beach, New York, extended this line of communication to the United States of America.

In October, 1887, these cables were taken out of Tor Bay, and their landing point was transferred to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the work of this diversion being carried out by the steamship Britannia. This arrangement of communication continued until August 1910, when the cable between Halifax and Ballingskelling, Ireland, was cut, off Newfoundland, and the two ends thus formed were diverted into Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. This work was carried out by the steamship Telconia, with the result that the cable is now in three sections, namely, Ireland - Newfoundland; Newfoundland - Nova Scotia; Nova Scotia - New York.

The Halifax - Newfoundland - Ireland sections were taken over by the British government in 1922, at which time the cable was taken out of Ballingskelling and extended to Penzance, Cornwall. The Halifax - Rye Beach section has since been abandoned.

In 1929, when a combine of the large British Communication Companies was formed, this cable was taken over from the British Government by the combined companies now operating under the name Cable and Wireless Limited of London, England.

The landing in England was at that time transferred from Penzance to Porthcurno in Cornwall.

The operation of this cable at the present time (1938) is by the most modern methods by which Canada is brought in direct and constant communication with London, England.


The cable between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Bermuda, was laid by the steamship Westmeath in 1890.

This cable forms a link in the chain of communications between Nova Scotia and the West Indies, which extends southward from Bermuda to Turks Island, and thence by two cables, one to Barbados and one to Jamaica. The whole of this route was taken over in 1929 by Cable and Wireless Limited.


This was originally a German cable operated between the Azores and New York. In 1917 the British Government picked up and diverted the New York end of it to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the work being done by the steamship Colonia.

The diversion of this cable to Nova Scotia formed part of the All British route from England to Australia by way of Canada and the Pacific, operated jointly by the Pacific Cable Board and British Post Office.


All cable communications now (1938) entering Nova Scotia at Halifax are under control of Cable and Wireless Limited, the amalgamation of the various companies having been carried out in October 1929.

Since the amalgamation the Cable Telegraph services have been modernized and improved, giving Nova Scotia an important position in the world communications which this company controls.

The Wayback Machine has archived copies of this webpage:
Nova Scotia's Telegraphs, Landlines And Cables
by David Graham Whidden, 1938

Archived: 2000 August 17

Archived: 2000 November 21

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Archived: 2007 September 09

Archived: 2010 August 07

These links were accessed and found to be valid on 19 July 2012.

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