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TELUS pulls the plug on Okotoks’ last payphone

McRae Street payphone handled more than 133,000 calls at its peak usage in 2000, but saw only two calls made all of last year.

The number you have dialed is no longer in service.  

Once a virtual workhorse but now a relic from the past, TELUS removed the last remaining payphone in Okotoks during a ceremony, complete with a payphone-shaped cake, Thursday afternoon. 

TELUS director Theresa Lynn told those gathered in the parking lot of a McRae Street strip mall that the payphone, which was the first in Okotoks, was installed in 1963 outside the AGT Building by Alberta Government Telephones. 

“There were 1,043 residents at that time and that payphone was a most welcome addition to the community,” Lynn said, adding that it cost five cents to make a call and without automatic coin detectors, an operator would have to listen for the drop of a nickel to confirm payment. 

The payphone did prove popular, its usage hitting an all-time high in 2000 when more than 133,000 calls were placed, which worked out to a whopping 365 every day. Lynn said the businesses in the area at the time created a lot of drop-off and pick-up activity, which often necessitated a phone call. 

The advent of cellphones began to lessen the public’s reliance on payphones, a situation that intensified over the years to the point where only two calls were made from the McRae Street payphone in 2021 and none so far this year. 

“Although it doesn’t seem that long ago, 20 years goes by fast,” Lynn said in reference to that record-setting year. "It’s crazy to think where we’ve come since then.” 

Calling the payphone an iconic piece of history, Mayor Tanya Thorn told those in attendance that it's sometimes hard to believe how far telecommunications has come. 

“Not to date myself, but I do remember leaving my house and my mom always saying, ‘Do you have dimes,’ so I always had dimes in my shoes,” Thorn said. “That’s the way we called home, not that anyone came to pick me up when I phoned.” 

She said growing up in small-town Alberta that payphones were how people stayed connected. 

Although the McRae Street payphone will be recycled, The Eagle 100.9 auctioned off a similar, but modified, model to benefit the Sheep River Health Trust, with Julie Dufresne’s winning bid of $525 added to the $60,000 raised during the station’s radiothon last week. TELUS also donated $5,000 to the Sheep River Health Trust at the ceremony. 

With usage rates so low, Lynn said TELUS continues to remove payphones throughout Alberta, often donating them to museums, historical societies, town halls and other places. Because the McRae Street phone was the first to be installed, she said there was some symbolism to making it the last to be removed. 

Ted Murphy

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