A Walk Around Town – Walk M – Telegraph Poles or Pine-wood Candles?

 Excerpt from “Walk M” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on July 31st, 1856.

This week’s walk will feature a rib-tickling narrative from Junius:

“A laughable occurrence took place just outside of the corporation a few years ago, when some American’s built and erected the first telegraph line in this section, for the Montreal Company. By many incredulous and ignorant people, then they were considered Yankee specutions after a similar order, et id hoc genus, as wooden nutmegs,

St. Paul Street prior to telegraph / telephone poles. St. Catharines Museum, N1032

bass-wood hams, pine-wood candles, ground pea coffee, flour-pulverized sugar, worthless paper-currency, &c. While our wide-awake Jonathan’s were digging the holes, stripping the bark off from the poles, and placing them firmly in the ground in an upright posture, many a daft Sawney, verdant Canuck, imported green-horn, and simple passer by, halted, stared, looked about wildly, and asked the question, “what are you trying to do there?” sometimes Brother Jonathan was mum, sometimes a little snappish, but oftener would exclaim, “I guess I am!” “Well,” says one, “what do you call that critter?” “A telegraph fixin,” was the pert reply! “Well,” says another, “can it bring and send the news?” “Yes!” “Well, where is your mail bags, delivery box, &c.” “Don’t have any!” “By jiminy christus,” says another, “if I don’t believe we Canadians are sold, for it is a genuine down Eastern humbug, and no mistake!” Jonathan laughed, squirted out the tobacco juice and plodded on, until he came to the first farm outside of the Town East, when on digging the first hole, and on raising the first pole, out came the old man, Tiny, Phebe, Bill, Sol, and the whole household, and forbid all further encroachments on their rights and on the rights of their loyal country and countrymen here, declaring that no more damned Liberty Poles should there be raised with their consent, or the consent of their peace-makers! When told they were not Liberty Poles but Telegraph Poles they still disbelieved, and adhered to their fixed resolve and high patriotic purpose. Not until the horses were hitched before the wagon and John and Tiny had driven into Town, and consulted with Elias, the squire, could they be pacified and quieted, and then only partially. One of them a short time afterward fully tested the genuineness of the communicative Telegraph to his entire satisfaction. On seeing the Durhamites passing with their flags and banners, Jack rushed out into the street with a red petticoat tied on the end of a long pole, crying “these are the colors I fight under.” Ignorance and stupidity were glaring in those days; but they have long since passed away, and so have many who then were sold and our warm-hearted neighbors.”

According to the book: “St. Catharines – Canada’s Canal City” by John Jackson and Sheila Wilson, telegraph services were introduced in St. Catharines in 1846-1847. The telegraph allowed for immediate communication between adjacent communities.   The first line traveled from Queenston to Toronto, passing through many small towns along the way.  A branch of telegraphic line was then constructed along the route of the Welland Ship Canal from Port Colborne to Port Dalhousie. The organization that built the telegraph to St. Catharines was called: “Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines Electro-Magnetic Telegraph Company”.

By 1874 council minutes were being recorded and the town clerk was authorized to telegraph Toronto once a week to obtain the “Observatory of Time”. A notation in a private diary states that in 1861 more than 60 messages were received, which was apparently quite a lot.  Can you imagine what the writer of that diary would say if he knew how many text messages are now sent in one day, even by one person?

The advancement of communication technology progressed when the telephone arrived in St. Catharines in 1878 and by 1895 long distance calls became possible.

It’s hard to believe that all of those telegraph and telephone poles are hardly necessary anymore!

This is a 1938 image of utility poles being removed from Queen Street. The image ran in the St. Catharines Standard newspaper with the caption: “POLES over 50 years old were cut down on Queen Street yesterday in the first move to rid St. Catharines of unsightly poles on uptown streets.  Bell Telephone workmen took down six poles on the west side of the street ranging from 40-50 feet in height.  The street was blocked to traffic as a safety measure.” St. Catharines Museum, St. Catharines Standard Collection, S1938.51.4.1-3


  1. This is great detail! Thank you. Who can tell me in what year the first private telegram might have been sent from St. Catharines to the USA? The town library did not have this info for my book that takes place in1855. Would like to be as accurate as possible.

    • Pamela,

      Thank you for following the blog!

      I have some information that may help. An excerpt from the book; “History of the Municipality of Toronto” by Jesse E. Middletown, contains a chapter titled; “The Beginnings of the Telegraph” written by Robert F. Easson. The excerpt reads as follows: “Line built by Samuel Porter, an American telegrapher of considerable experience. He suspended a wire across the Niagara River to connect the wire at Queenston with Lewiston, N.Y., and built for the 1st Canadian Telegraph Company an excellent serviceable line.” This occurred in 1846-1847. Also in 1847, the telegraph connection between St. Catharines and Queenston was completed. With that being said, I think it is safe to assume that by 1847 it was possible to send a telegraph message from St. Catharines to the United States. Further information found in the book; “Ontario Historical Society” Volume 25, 1927 states that the first message sent between Toronto and Buffalo was on January 15th, 1847, further indicating that telegraph messages were being sent from Canada to the U.S.A. in 1847.

      Another interesting bit of information found in the book; “St. Catharines Canada’s Canal City” by Jackson and Wilson, is that when William Hamilton Merritt’s house burned down in 1856, Merritt had been in Utica, New York. He was informed of the fire by his son via telegraph.

      Hopefully this information proves useful.

      Best Regards,

      Alicia Floyd

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