This well-preserved Renaissance Revival building, erected in 1890, was designed by prominent local architect James Balfour to house the Bell Telephone Company’s modern new telephone exchange.
In 1878, Hamilton became home to the first telephone exchange in the British Empire. The company’s first Hamilton office operated out of four cramped rooms on the top floor of the Hamilton Provident and Loan building, at the corner of King and Hughson Streets.
The nerve centre of this new building was its large, second-floor operating room. Here, about “young lady operators” busily routed calls through the company’s modern multiple-magneto switchboard. Originally, boys had been employed to handle the calls, but they were found to be too quick-tempered and rude to customers. To improve its public image, Bell soon started hiring women to operate the system. The supposed innate “courtesy,” “patience” and “skillful hands” of these “Hello Girls,” as they were known, were considered key qualities for the job.
In 1913, Bell moved into the large new Regent Exchange around the corner. Canadian Canners Ltd. used the original Exchange building for its offices for a number of decades after 1919. In the late 1990s, it became home to the Hamilton offices of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), which preserved the building.
Bell’s 1913 Regent Exchange building still stands at 8 Main Street East. To handle dial-telephone calls, Bell constructed the Baker Exchange at 17 Jackson Street West in 1929. The building was enlarged and continued as a Bell property into the 21st century. Hamilton’s first female operators were Misses Minnie and Beulah Howell, who started taking calls in 1880.