History

On September 24, 1901, the completion of the Yukon Telegraph line connecting Vancouver to Dawson City forever changed the relationship between the remote Canadian North and the outside world. "Time and space are annihilated," Yukon Commissioner William Ogilvie wrote to Ottawa in one of the first messages transmitted over the new telegraph. "We are of the world now."

More than 50 years ago, the company that eventually became Northwestel inherited the responsibility for adding to the North's early telecommunications milestones. In 1947, at the end of World War II, the federal government contracted Canadian National Telegraphs (CNT) to maintain and operate the landline telephone network installed during the construction of the Alaska Highway.

In the decades that followed, CNT brought new or improved local and long distance telephone service to a much larger area of the North, including the Northwest Territories and Northern British Columbia. It accomplished this through a pioneering spirit and the adaptation of innovative technologies to the North's uncompromising environment. Steadily, the company laid the groundwork for a modern network capable of transporting and switching a growing volume of sophisticated telecommunications traffic.

Northwestel was incorporated as a company on January 1, 1979, after CNT became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canadian National (CN). Northwestel's continued tradition of excellence resulted in its sale to Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) in 1988. With the acquisition of Bell Canada's eastern Arctic operations four years later, Northwestel became the sole telecommunications supplier North of the 60th parallel- an area nearly half the size of the entire country. Ownership of Northwestel was transferred from BCE to Bell Canada in 1999.

As the first and only northern-based company to provide telecommunications across the North, our company sees a future where we will progressively build upon a legacy of achievement. Northwestel believes that all northerners should have the opportunity to take full advantage of the digital age with reliable, high-quality links to family, friends and information around the world.

Milestones

  • 1865

    The Milton F. Badger clipper ship sails into New Westminster, BC with 2,000 km of copper wire and thousands of green glass insulators on board for the proposed Collins Overland Telegraph system to link North America with Europe via Russia. Before it can be completed, the line is made redundant by the installation of transatlantic cable between Newfoundland and Europe..

  • 1899

    Construction on the 1,000-kilometre Yukon portion of the Yukon Telegraph line begins at Bennett Lake and later finishes in Dawson City. Twenty-eight men, four of whom drown in the Yukon River, complete the work in six months, traveling by waterway and stringing wire at a rate of 10 to 16 kilometres a day.

  • 1901
    • The Vancouver-to-Dawson City Yukon Telegraph line is completed.
    • Whitehorse gets Canada's first successful automatic telephone exchange
    • A massive snowfall in northern British Columbia knocks out five kilometres of the Yukon Telegraph line only three months after its successful completion. It takes a month to repair the damage
  • 1923

    The first two wireless radio telegraph stations in the Northwest Territories and Yukon network open in Dawson City and Mayo, Yukon. It costs $1.50 to send a 10-word message during the day or a 50-word message at night between the two communities. 50 messages go out on the first day.

  • 1925
    • The Aklavik, NWT radio station opens, providing the only direct communication link between the Mackenzie Delta and southern Canada until 1960.
  • 1937

    The Fort Rae radio station moves to Yellowknife, the North's "latest boomtown."

  • 1943

    The pole line from Edmonton to Fairbanks, Alaska- the longest open-wire communications system in the world- is completed as part of the Alcan Highway construction project.

  • 1947

    The federal government of Canada contracts Canadian National Telegraphs to maintain and operate the landline telephone network installed in the Yukon during the Alaska Highway construction.

  • 1957

    The last radio station in the Northwest Territories and Yukon network opens, 56 kilometres east of Aklavik in the new community of Inuvik, NWT.

  • 1959
    • Construction begins on the Whitehorse-to-Dawson pole line.
    • Construction begins on the Grande Prairie-to-Alaska microwave radio network.
  • 1960

    Dawson City makes its first telephone contact with the outside world. However, residents aren't able to make long distance calls from their homes until their antiquated switchboard is replaced two years later.

  • 1961

    The Grande Prairie-to-Alaska microwave network is completed.

  • 1962
    • Fort Simpson, NWT residents ring in the New Year by calling each other on their first local telephone system.
    • Long distance service comes to the Northwest Territories at Hay River.
  • 1963

    Canadian National Telegraphs (CNT) is awarded a U.S. military contract to build a tropospheric scatterwave system for the Distance Early Warning (DEW) line. The company immediately recognizes the project's potential for bringing reliable telecommunications to communities in Canada's Arctic.

  • 1964
    • Residents of Cambridge Bay and Coppermine (now Kugluktuk), NWT are able to make long distance calls over a standard telephone for the first time.

     

  • 1966

    The 1,475-kilometre Mackenzie Valley pole line is completed after four years. A long distance call to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson from Inuvik, NWT makes it official.

  • 1972
    • Old Crow elder Abraham Peter places the first official long distance call from his remote Yukon community.
    • Installation of Centralized Automatic Toll Ticketing (CATT) equipment in the Whitehorse exchange makes direct-dialed long distance calling possible.
  • 1974

    Atlin, BC receives long distance service.

  • 1976

    A microwave system replaces the open-wire pole line that previously brought long distance telecommunications to the Mackenzie Valley and Delta in the western Arctic.

  • 1978

    Northwest Telecommunications Inc. is incorporated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canadian National in July 1978. The newly-formed company begins operations on January 1, 1979.

  • 1980

    The company name, Northwest Telecommunications, is shortened to Northwestel.

  • 1992
    • Northwestel assumes Bell Canada's operations in the eastern Arctic, resulting in the largest telephone operating area in the Western hemisphere.
    • Northwestel and Hughes Network Systems sign an agreement to bring telephone service via satellite to underserved northern communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
  • 1995
    • 911 emergency calling is introduced in Whitehorse and area.
    • Snare Lake, NWT receives local and long distance telephone service.
  • 1996
    • The Government of the Northwest Territories and Ardicom Digital Communications (of which Northwestel is a partner) sign an agreement to construct and operate a High Speed digital communications network to support advanced information services in all Northwest Territories communities.
    • Northwestel becomes the first telephone company in Canada to obtain a cable TV licence, with the establishment of Northwestel Cable.
    • Northwestel Mobility Inc. is created to focus exclusively on cellular telephone services.
  • 1997
    • Northwestel, through its partnership in Ardicom, successfully demonstrates for the first time in Canada that videoconferencing can work over satellite using frame relay technology.
    • Jean Marie River, NWT receives local and long distance telephone service.
  • 1998
    • Northwestel turns up a DS-3 High Speed connection to southern Canada, paving the way for High Speed Internet in the North.
    • Canadians North of the 60th parallel get their own common area code: 867.
    • Northwestel introduces High Speed Internet service in Whitehorse.
  • 1999
    • Northwestel rolls out the first Sonet OC3 radio network in the North. Prior to this, data traffic between the Yukon and Northwest Territories had to be routed South and then back North.
  • 2000
    • Northwestel offers the first cable modem Internet connection in the North in Yellowknife.
    • The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) delivers its historic decision approving long distance competition and an ambitious Service Improvement Plan for the North.
  • 2001
    • The CRTC's decision to permit long distance competition throughout Northwestel's operating area comes into effect on January 1.
    • Northwestel begins implementation of a five-year, $85 million Service Improvement Plan to extend basic telephone service to unserved and underserved areas.
  • 2002
    • Significant improvements are made to Northwestel’s network, including the completion of a new digital radio system in the Mackenzie Valley and the installation of fibre optic cable to Fort Resolution and Fort Smith.
    • New telephone exchanges are installed in Carmacks, Chesterfield Inlet, Coral Harbour, Fort McPherson, Holman, Lutselk’e, Mayo, Norman Wells, Qikiqtarjuaq and Teslin.
  • 2003
    • CRTC Telecom Decision 2003-39 expands Northwestel’s Service Improvement Plan (SIP) to include call management services to 4 communities and dial-up Internet to approximately 40 communities.
    • New telephone exchanges are installed in Baker Lake, Dawson City, Dease Lake, Grise Fiord, Repulse Bay and Watson Lake.
    • Completion of new digital radio system improves service to northern B.C.
    • Northwestel Cable launches digital cable to portions of Yellowknife.
  • 2004
    • A new telephone exchange is installed in Pangnirtung and exchanges are upgrades in Tsiigehtchic and Wonowon.
    • Dial-up Internet service is introduced in Grise Fiord, the northern-most civilian settlement in Canada.
    • A new digital microwave radio system along the Dempster Highway becomes fully operational.
  • 2005
    • Northwestel Cable purchases Fort Nelson Cablevision and Internet North.
    • Northwestel Cable and Telesat Canada launch NetKaster satellite High Speed Internet to communities in Nunavut and Northwest Territories.
    • Northwestel extends telephone and Internet service to Fort Fitzgerald and the Smith Landing subdivision, both in northern Alberta, as a result of a CRTC decision to adjust the serving boundaries of Northwestel and Telus.
  • 2006
    • Northwestel Cable extends NetKaster High Speed Satellite Internet service to Alberta.
    • Northwestel Cable purchases High Level Cable.
    • A partnership with the Dakwakada Development Corporation creates Latitude Wireless, which launches digital cellular service in seventeen Yukon communities.
  • 2007
    • Northwestel is Major Sponsor of 2007 Jeux du Canada Winter Games, held in Whitehorse, February 23 to March 10.
    • Northwestel introduces High Speed Internet service in Stewart Crossing, making it the first territory or province in Canada to offer the service in every community.
    • Latitude Wireless launches services in Norman Wells and Fort Simpson.
    • Northwestel purchases Northern Television Systems Ltd. (WHTV) from the Hougen Group of Companies.
    • A partnership is announced between Northwestel Wireless and CityWest of Prince Rupert, B.C. to launch wireless data services over the city’s cellular network.
    • Northwestel and the Inuvialuit Development Corporation form a joint venture company to provide telecommunications in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. (In 2008, the company is named Tundra Communications.)
  • 2008
    • Northwestel completes a new land-based microwave radio system to provide telecommunications services to three diamond mines in NWT.
    • Northwestel and the Yukon government sign the company’s largest-ever contract to build, operate and maintain the Yukon-wide Mobile Radio System for emergency and safety professionals.
    • Northwestel is recognized by Up Here Business Magazine as one of the top five northern employers.
    • Northwestel completes a $2-million cable network upgrade in Whitehorse, to improve reliability, channel capacity and Internet speeds.
    • Northwestel and the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation in northern B.C. partner to form Tahltan River Communications.
    • Northwestel launches On Demand service for digital cable customers in Whitehorse.
  • 2009
    • Latitude Wireless launches service in Baker Lake and Kugluktuk.
    • Through a financial partnership with the Yukon government, Latitude Wireless expands service to the Lake Laberge and Carmacks airport areas.
    • Northwestel launches On Demand service for digital cable customers in Yellowknife.
    • Northwestel becomes the third company in the NWT and Nunavut to receive the CORTM safety certification.
    • Northwestel completes construction of a full fibre optic cable link from the Yukon to southern Canada, allowing for higher-capacity services to the Yukon, northern BC and the Mackenzie-Beaufort region of the NWT. 
  • 2010
    • Northwestel and Fort Nelson First Nation launch Waterways Communications Limited Partnership.
    • Latitude Wireless launches new sites in Ibex Valley, and the Watson Lake and Dawson City airport areas.
    • Northwestel achieves CORTM safety certification in Yukon.
    • Northwestel purchases Fort Smith Cable and begins a major upgrade project to the cable infrastructure.