Wednesday Women’s Work – Emily Lander, Saskatchewan’s First Telephone Operator

(Photo of Emily Lander courtesy of SaskTel)

While writing about City Battery and Irvin Hassan, I became curious about the history of the telephone in Saskatchewan. SaskTel, the province’s phone company has a timeline on their website and one of the points that piqued my interest was Emily Lander, Saskatchewan’s first telephone operator.

Emily was born in England in 1870. She and her sister Lucy lived in Regina with their older sister Edith and Edith’s husband William, a butcher. In 1887, Peter Lamont opened the first telephone exchange in Saskatchewan at his bookstore, and that was the year Emily became an operator.

Early switchboard operators had been mostly teenage boys because boys had worked in telegraph offices, and in large cities the job could be physically demanding. In some phone exchanges, workers had to climb ladders to reach the jacks at the top of the switchboard. But teenage boys did what teenagers do, and played pranks and were rude to callers. The Boston Phone Company was the first to hire a woman switchboard operator, Emma Nutt*, in 1878. By the time Emily became an operator, most operators were women. Customers liked that women had softer voices and were more polite than the boys had been. Of course, phone companies liked that they could get better work and pay them less than they had paid the boys.

In my online searching, I couldn’t find anything else about Emily Lander. I guess she did what most women who “disappear” from the record do, which was get married. I like to think that she lived into old age when she could just dial the phone without having to ask the operator to make the connection, and smiled at the wonder of it all.

*Tomorrow is Emma M. Nutt Day!


City Battery Service, Regina, Saskatchewan

Though he went by Irvin, James and Lucy Hassan’s youngest son’s full name was George Robert Irvin Hassan. Here he is in the 1919 Regina Henderson Guide, using his initials in a rather grand way. He and J.C. Wilson must have been business partners to have merited billing next to their business name in the city directory.

Until the 1930s, telephones did not draw power directly from the line and were powered by a battery stored in an enclosure on the wall. The phone was already very popular by 1919, so Irvin and J.C. probably had a lot of business from people who needed their phone battery serviced.

(Portions of the Regina Henderson Directory for 1919 as well as many other directories for other prairie cities are available at Peel’s Prairie Provinces.)