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Throwback Thursday: Power and Phones

Throwback Thursday: Power and Phones

            Nestled in a small valley, surrounded by stark and towering mountains, Pemberton had for most of its history been cut off from the rest of the world. So when most of the country had been electrified, Pemberton remained in the proverbial and literal dark.

            The first sparks of the idea of electric power in Pemberton came with the development of the Bridge River Power Project. In 1912 a surveyor traveled to Bridge River near Seton Lake, and saw the potential for a massive new power project. If the project went forward it would run lines through Pemberton, bringing this small hamlet into the 20th century. But the development of the project was slow as the First World War, then the Great Depression, and then the Second World War halted the funding and supplies needed for this massive infrastructure project.   

            Finally in 1948 the first of the power houses was completed and power lines were run through Pemberton. But Pemberton was not deemed to be big enough to be worthy of the expense of building a substation; so even though there were power lines in Pemberton there was no power. Now, the citizens of Pemberton were obviously seriously disappointed with this and began to immediately petition to give power to the valley. The two groups leading the charge for bringing power were the Board of Trade and the Women’s Institute. Their efforts paid off in March of 1951 when the Village got electricity, then the Valley later that fall; although Mount Currie would have to wait three more years.

            This year Pemberton is turning 160 years old as a place name on European Maps so to honor this the museum is putting out a series of Throwback Thursday blogs.


Power house No.1 on Seton Lake 

P1062 Powerlineslash

Slashing in preperation for power lines

BRP317 BR1 Powerhouse Under Construction Feb 25 1949 400Dpi

Construction of Powerhouse No. 1

BRP417 Two Men Building On BR1 Penstock August 1949 Album 224 419 Sept1948 Sept1949 400Dpi

Laying pipes for the first power house, 1948

            With power the people of the valley now also wanted running water. The residents were fed up with walking down to the river or the pump to fetch water and then walking back to the house with heavy pails, or even worse, having to gather snow and wait for it to melt on the stove in the winter. This clamber for water and power meant a busy and stressful summer for the only electrician and plumber in valley, Jack Taillefer.

            Power revolutionized life in the valley, in every way from farming, to diet, to social life. Electric sorting machines improved farming greatly; farmers no longer had to spend long hours inspecting each potato individually. With a sorting machine the farmers, with a crew of five or seven, could now cull and bag 20 tonnes of potatoes a day. Though the greatest improvement probably was for the homemakers. Now there were such modern luxuries as the steam iron, the electric stove, light bulbs, and electric washing machines. Washing machines weren’t a completely new machine in Pemberton, as previosuly many families had gas powered washers. However, these gas washers were extremely obnoxious machines, they were as loud as a chainsaw; they shook the whole house when they ran, and they spat out exhaust that had to be piped outside.

            With power and water also came the telephone, after local harassment of the B.C. Telephone Company, they installed a telephone line in 1953. It was an originally a single crank operated all on one party line with each house having its own specific ring.

The original listing in the phone book for Pemberton was:

Private                                             Business

2E Van Beem                                  2D P.G.E. Railway

2W Fowler                                      2G Pemberton Co-op

2H Decker                                       2T Pemberton Express

2Q John Ronayne                            2K Warren’s Store

2X Green                                         2P Fleetwood Logging

2Y Robert Miller                              2G Walker

2F Foughberg

2B Taylor 

Lucienvanbeem Bctel195720 20170705 0001

A reminder for manners on a party line from a 1957 phonebook

               There were eventually 18 people on the party line. The line could be out for days, and if you were on a long distance call and someone else picked up the phone, your caller would be muted. So in 1957 a contract was awarded to build an exchange in Pemberton, and at 8 am on 17 September, 1958, Pemberton’s new $125,800 exchange went online, with 100 subscribers. The designation for this exchange was TWINOAKS 4, an ironic choice as there were no oak trees in Pemberton. Later on in the ‘60s Pemberton adopted the automatic system, doing away with operators before both Squamish and Lillooet. By then virtually every house had a phone, power, and running water; the pioneer days were gone, the little village had joined modern 20th century life.


 Lucienvanbeem Bctel195718 20170705 0002

Listings in the 1957 phone book for Pemberton