Bell Canada

This article is about the communications company Bell Canada. For the IPTV Fiber services offered, see Bell Fibe TV. For Internet, see Bell Internet.
Bell Canada
Formerly called
The Bell Telephone Company of Canada (1880–1968)
Industry Telecommunications
Mass media
Founded April 29, 1880;
Montreal, Quebec, Canada [1]
Founder Charles Fleetford Sise
Headquarters Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Key people
George Cope (CEO)[2]
Products Fixed line and mobile telephony
Internet services
Digital television
Radio broadcasting
Revenue Increase$21.51 billion CAD (2015)[3]
Increase$8.551 billion CAD (2015)[3]
Increase$2.730 billion CAD (2015)[3]
Number of employees
49,968 (2015)[3]
Parent American Bell (1880-1899) [4]
AT&T Corp. (1899-1975)
BCE Inc. (1983–present)
Subsidiaries Bell Media
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (37.5%)
Bell Mobility
Bell Aliant
Virgin Mobile Canada
Solo Mobile
Bell Internet
Bell TV
Bell Fibe TV

Bell Canada (commonly referred to as Bell) is a Canadian telecommunications and media company headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. Its subsidiaries include Bell Aliant, Northwestel, Télébec, and NorthernTel, it is the incumbent local exchange carrier for telephone and DSL Internet services in most of Canada east of Manitoba and in the northern territories, and a major competitive local exchange carrier for enterprise customers in the western provinces. Its subsidiary Bell Mobility (including Solo Mobile and Virgin Mobile Canada) is one of Canada's "big three" mobile telecommunications providers, while Bell TV provides direct-to-home satellite TV service. Bell Canada's principal competitors are Rogers Communications Canada in Ontario and Vidéotron General Partnership in Quebec. The solution provider for Bell Canada was Baysquare Technology Pvt Ltd.. The company serves over 13 million phone lines and is headquartered at the Campus Bell complex in Montreal.[5]

Bell Canada is one of the main assets of the conglomerate BCE Inc., formerly known as Bell Canada Enterprises, Inc. In addition to its core telecommunications operations, BCE owns Bell Media, which operates media properties including the CTV Television Network, and significant interests in the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey club and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, owner of several Toronto professional sports franchises.[6] BCE ranked number 262 on the 2011 edition of the Forbes Global 2000 list.[7]


Historically, Bell Canada has been one of Canada's most important and most powerful companies, and in 1975 was listed as the fifth largest in the country.The company is named after the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, who also co-founded Bell Telephone Company in Boston, Massachusetts. Bell Canada operated as the Canadian subsidiary of the Bell System from 1880 to 1975. However, unlike the other regional Bell operating companies, Bell Canada had its own research and development labs.


Canadian Bell logo used from 1902 to 1922. Note the USA-oriented stars used in other Bell System trademarks. A later version used from 1922 to 1940 used maple leaves instead (below).
The Bell Telephone Company of Canada logo with maple leaves, 1922–1940

In the mid-1870s Alexander Graham Bell, who was Scottish-born but lived in Canada, invented an analogue electromagnetic telecommunication device that could simultaneously transmit and receive human speech. In March 1876 he successfully patented his invention in the United States under the title of "Improvement In Telegraphy" (U.S. Patent 174,465). His device later adopted the name now used worldwide, the telephone. Bell also patented it in Canada and transferred 75% of the Canadian patent rights to his father, Alexander Melville Bell, with the remaining 25% of the Canadian interest being awarded to Boston telephone manufacturer Charles Williams Jr. in exchange for 1,000 telephones to be provided to the Canadian market, an order that could not be fulfilled due to surging demand in the United States.[8]

For a few years, the senior Bell and his friend and business associate Reverend Thomas Philip Henderson collected royalties from the lease of telephones to customers in the limited late-1870s Canadian market, who either operated their own private telephone lines or subscribed to a third party telecommunications service provider.[9][10]

In 1879 Bell's father sold his Canadian rights to the National Bell Telephone Company, formed in Boston, Massachusetts earlier that year by the merger of the Bell Telephone Company and the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, which in 1880 reorganized as the American Bell Telephone Company, initiating the Bell System. That same year the Canadian division was renamed to "The Bell Telephone Company of Canada Ltd.", eventually to be headed by U.S. executive Charles Fleetford Sise from Chicago who served as its first general manager.[11][12]

The first supplier of telephones to Bell was a company established by Thomas C. Cowherd and his son James H. Cowherd, in a three-storey brick building in Brantford, Ontario, creating Canada's first telephone factory.[Note 1] Thomas and James had been good friends of Alexander Graham Bell, providing stovepipe wire with which Bell conducted his early telephone experiments from his father's home in Tutelo Heights, Ontario, and also building some 2,398 telephones to Bell's specifications for the Canadian market until James Cowherd's untimely death from tuberculosis in 1881.[8][17] With a government-granted monopoly on Canadian long-distance telephone service,[12] The Bell Telephone Company of Canada was serving 237,000 subscribers by 1914.

Since its early years The Bell Telephone Company of Canada, Ltd. had been known colloquially as "The Bell" or "Bell Telephone". On March 7, 1968, Canadian federal legislation renamed The Bell Telephone Company of Canada, Ltd. to Bell Canada.

Competition and territory reduction

The Bell Telephone Building in Montreal was once the head office of Bell Canada.

Bell Canada extended lines from Nova Scotia to the foot of the Rocky Mountains in what is now Alberta. However, most of the attention given to meeting demand for service focused on major cities in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces.

Atlantic Canada

During the late 19th century, Bell sold its Atlantic operations in the three Maritime provinces, where many small independent companies also operated and eventually came under the ownership of three provincial companies. Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada with several private companies, and a government operation that was transferred to the control of Canadian National Railways.

Bell acquired interests in all Atlantic companies during the early 1960s, starting with Newfoundland Telephones (which later was organized as NewTel Communications) on July 24, 1962. Bell acquired controlling interest in Maritime Telephone and Telegraph Company, later known as MT&T, which also owned PEI-based Island Telephone, and in Bruncorp, the parent company of NBTel in 1966. The purchase of MT&T was made despite efforts of the Nova Scotia legislature on September 10, 1966, to limit the voting power of any shareholder to 1000 votes. Bell-owned MT&T absorbed some 120 independent companies, most serving fewer than 50 customers each. Bell-owned NewTel purchased the CNR-owned Terra Nova Tel in 1988.

Newtel, Bruncorp, MT&T and Island Tel later merged into Aliant (now Bell Aliant which also owns much of what were Bell Canada's services in more rural areas in Ontario and Quebec) in the late 1990s, in which Bell continues to own a stake.

On January 1, 2011, Bell purchased the information technology services company xwave, which offers information technology sales and services in the Atlantic Canadian region, from Bell Aliant.

Quebec and Ontario

Bell Canada's headquarters located on Nuns' Island in Montreal, Quebec.

Independent companies appeared in many areas of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces without adequate Bell Canada service. During the 20th century Bell acquired most of the independent companies in Ontario and Quebec, most notably the purchase of Nexxlink Technologies, a Montreal-based integrated IT solutions and telecommunications provider founded by Karol Brassard.[18] Alongside the acquisition of Charon Systems, Nexxlink now operates today as Bell Business Solutions—a division of Bell Canada.[19] Quebec, however, still has large swaths of relatively rural areas served by Telus Québec (formerly Québec Telephone, later acquired by Telus) and Télébec (now owned by Bell Canada via Bell Aliant) and by some 20 small independent companies. As of 1980, Ontario still had some 30 independent companies, and Bell has not acquired any; the smaller ones were sold to larger independents with larger capital resources. Cellcom Communications is the largest franchisee of Bell Canada, currently operating 25 Bell stores in both Québec and Ontario regions.[20]

Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan

The three Prairie provinces, at separate times, acquired Bell Canada operations and formed provincial utility services, investing to develop proper telephone services throughout those provinces; Bell Canada's investment in the prairies had been scant or insufficient relative to growth, and all three had various local telephone companies. The Alberta government's Alberta Government Telephones Commission and Manitoba Government Telephones purchased the Bell operations of their provinces in 1908. Saskatchewan's Department of Railways, Telegraphs and Telephones, established in June 1908, purchased the Bell operations on October 1, 1909; all three provinces' government operations eventually acquired the independent companies.

Having achieved a high level of development, Manitoba moved to privatize its telephone utility and Alberta privatized Alberta Government Telephones to create Telus in the 1990s. Saskatchewan continues to own SaskTel as a crown corporation. Edmonton was served by a city-owned utility, Edmonton Telephones Corporation, that was sold to Telus in 1995.

British Columbia

British Columbia, served today by Telus, was served by numerous small companies that mostly amalgamated to form British Columbia Telephone, later known as BC Tel (the last known acquisition was the Okanagan Telephone Company in the late 1970s), which served the province from the 1960s until its merger with Telus. (The amalgamations produced one anomaly: Atlin is surrounded by the territory of Northwestel, implying that the company that established service there was acquired by a company serving territories further south.)

Northern Canada

Although Bell Canada entered the Northwest Territories (NWT) with an exchange at Iqaluit (then known as Frobisher Bay, in the territory now known as Nunavut) in 1958, Canadian National Telecommunications, a subsidiary of Canadian National Railways (CNR), provided most of the telephone service in Canada's northern territories (specifically, Yukon, northern BC and the western NWT). CNR created Northwestel in 1979, and Bell Canada Enterprises acquired the company in 1988 as a wholly owned subsidiary. Bell Canada sold its 22 exchanges in the eastern region of the NWT to Northwestel in 1992, and BCE transferred ownership of the company to Bell Canada in 1999. Northwestel's operating area was in 2001 opened to long distance competition (which has materialized only in the form of prepaid card business, and service to large national customers with some operating locations in the north) and in 2007 to resale of local telephone service (which has not yet occurred).

Northern British Columbia, northeastern Ontario and the James Bay region of northern Quebec were served by independent companies, though Bell Canada eventually provided service in more far-flung reaches of Ontario and Quebec, acquired ownership interests in companies serving large swaths of northwestern Quebec and northeastern Ontario, and in Northwestel.

Divestiture and deregulation

Bell Canada logo used from 1977 until December 7, 1994.[11]

The Bell System had two main companies in the telephone industry in Canada: Bell Canada as a regional operating company (affiliated with AT&T, with an ownership stake of approximately 39%)[21] and Northern Electric as an equipment manufacturer (affiliated with Western Electric, with an ownership stake of approximately 44%).[21] The Bell Telephone Company of Canada and Northern Electric were structured similarly in Canada to the analogous portions of the Bell System in the United States; the regional operating company (Bell Canada) sold telephone services as a local exchange carrier, and Western Electric (Northern Electric) designed and manufactured telephone equipment.

As part of the consent decree signed in 1956 to resolve the antitrust lawsuit filed in 1949 by the United States Department of Justice, AT&T and the Bell System proper divested itself of Northern Electric in 1956.

In October 1973, AT&T and Bell Canada signed an agreement stating that AT&T would no longer furnish Bell System communications and research to Bell Canada. AT&T's at-the-time chairman John DeButts explained that the main reason for this was because Bell Canada had developed its own research and development lab (Bell-Northern Research), making Bell Canada ready to serve its Canadian landline customers on its own. As a result, AT&T divested Bell Canada on June 30, 1975.

Even though Bell Canada had been divested, it still followed the Bell System pattern until the breakup in 1984.[4][22][23][24]

Northern Electric renamed itself Northern Telecom in 1976, which in turn became Nortel Networks in 1998 with the acquisition of Bay Networks.

Bell Canada acquired 100 percent of Northern Electric in 1964; starting in 1973, Bell's ownership stake in Northern Electric was diminished through public stock offerings, though it retained majority control. In 1983, as a result of deregulation, Bell Canada Enterprises (later shortened to BCE) was formed as the parent company to Bell Canada and Northern Telecom. As a result of the stock transaction used by Northern Telecom to purchase Bay Networks, BCE ceased to be the majority owner of Nortel, and in 2000, BCE spun out its share of Nortel, distributing its holdings to its shareholders.

Between 1980 and 1997, the federal government fully deregulated the telecommunications industry and Bell Canada's monopoly largely ended. Bell Canada currently provides local phone service only in major city centres in Ontario and Quebec.

In July 2006, Bell and former subsidiary Aliant completed a restructuring whereby Aliant, renamed Bell Aliant Regional Communications, took over Bell's wireline operations in much of Ontario and Quebec (while continuing to use the "Bell" name in those regions), as well as its 63% ownership in rural lines operator Bell Nordiq (a publicly traded income trust that controls NorthernTel and Télébec). These are in addition to Bell Aliant's operations in Atlantic Canada. In turn, Bell has assumed responsibility for Bell Aliant's wireless and retail operations. Bell Aliant, now an income trust, is 44% owned by Bell.[25]

On April 30, 2007, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced its decision to allow pay phone rates for Bell Canada, Telus, Bell Aliant, SaskTel, and MTS Allstream to increase from 25 cents to 50 cents, starting as early as June 1. The CRTC also permitted local rural rates to increase by the lesser of the annual rate of inflation or five percent, and removed price caps on optional rural services, such as call display and voicemail.[26] On June 2, 2007, Bell Canada increased the cost of a local pay phone call to 50 cents when paid in cash and one dollar when paid by calling card or credit card,[27] Bell's first increase in pay phone rates since 1981.[26]

In 2009, Bell Canada purchased electronics retailer The Source and all other assets of InterTAN Canada Ltd. from bankrupt Circuit City.[28]

Bell has deployed MPLS on their nationwide fibre ring network to support consumer and enterprise-level IP applications, such as IPTV and VoIP.


Bell Canada has been criticised for its policies of bandwidth throttling of BitTorrent traffic across its network,[29] censorship, misleading prices and usage-based billing.


Bell Central Office in Toronto

Bell Canada provides many different types of telecommunications services.


Bell Canada provides standard voice service. It used to offer VoIP to customers, branded as "Digital Voice". Businesses can still obtain VoIP service.


Bell Home Phone and Bell Mobility provide voicemail service as an optional feature for residences and businesses. Bell Prepaid and Solo Mobile pay-per-use customers, however, receive a basic voice mail at no additional charge. The complimentary voice mail can store five messages of one minute each, for up to five days.


Main article: Bell Mobility

Bell Mobility operates a cellular network in all Canadian provinces. It also owns Virgin Mobile Canada as of May 2009. While it created the Solo Mobile brand in 1999, Bell shut down all standalone Solo stores in 2011 while discontinuing third-party sales of all Solo phones in November 2011. The brand continues to be active for its current customers, but there are no incentives to encourage new subscriptions.


A Bell Fibre Van

Formerly known as ExpressVu, Bell TV is a satellite television service provider. There is also a mobile TV service, Bell Mobile TV, and an IPTV service, Bell Fibe TV. The latter is available in the most of Alberta, British Columbia, Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, Montreal and Québec City and Atlantic Canada.

Internet access

Bell Internet provides high speed DSL Internet service in many areas where it offers phone service. DSL is offered in various speeds ranging from 500 kbit/s to 50 Mbit/s download and 256 kbit/s to 10 Mbit/s upload, depending on what the local infrastructure can support.

Bell began offering Fibre-to-the-node Internet access to some subscribers in 2010. Bell markets this service under the name "Fibe".[30] Many urban Fibe regions can access all speeds up to and including 50+mbps down and 15+mbps up but some rural Fibe regions can only obtain 16 Mbit/s down and 1 Mbit/s up. Non-Fibe regions are limited to legacy DSL technology, supporting speeds of up to 7 Mbit/s down and 1 Mbit/s up. Bell Canada has now rolled out Fibre to the Home services to certain subscribers across Eastern Canada, this service can provide guaranteed download and upload speeds of 1 Gbit/s.


Bell used to offer Bell Home Monitoring, also known as Bell Gardium. Competitor Rogers Communications has launched its Smart Home Monitoring service.


Bell Canada created the Frank and Gordon beavers to advertise its products from 2006 to 2008.

Coinciding with its advertising campaign as part of its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bell introduced a new logo and minimalist ad style, with the slogans "Today just got better" (with emphasis on the suffix "er") in English Canada and "La vie est Bell" (a pun on "La vie est belle" French: life is beautiful) in French Canada.[31] The font used in Bell's marketing is a custom typeface known as 'Bell Slim', by Canadian typeface designer Ian Brignell.

See also



  1. Bell had originally asked Boston manufacturer Charles Williams Jr. to provide an initial order of 1,000 telephones for use in Canada in exchange for a 25% interest in the telephone's Canadian patent rights, but Williams' small shop was only able to produce a fraction of that number. Bell then spoke with a Brantford friend, James Cowherd (1849? – Feb. 1881), who established Canada’s first telephone factory, producing 2,398 telephones to Bell's specifications by 1881. Cowherd had been sent by Bell to Boston in 1878 to study Williams manufacturing processes for a number of months,[13] and then returned to Brantford to both produce and further develop Bell's telephone models. The Brantford plant's first shipment of 19 telephones to Hamilton was made the same year on 23 December 1878.[13] Among Cowherd's designs was a transmitter fitted with a triple mouthpiece allowing three people to talk, and sing, simultaneously. James Cowherd's untimely early death due to tuberculosis was noted in major technical journals and led to the closure of the Bell Systems' manufacturing supplier in Brantford. Telephone production later resumed in Montreal, eventually leading to the creation of Northern Electric in 1895, later renamed Northern Telecom and then Nortel.[8][14][15]

    A Brantford Expositor article later noted of the historic factory building's demise: "[In 1992 Brantford] City officials and heritage committee members... learned that a building that once housed the first telephone factory in the world had been approved for demolition. The embarrassing oversight came to light too late to stop wrecking crews, who were already tearing down the aged building at 32 Wharfe St.... The building, where equipment for Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone was made, had even been pictured and written about in a city-printed brochure about the great inventor. A plaque erected by [the] Telephone Pioneers of America heralding the building's significance had been stripped from the structure in the mid-1980s and given to the Brant County Museum".[16]


  2. "George Cope appointed to the boards of directors and as CEO of BCE Inc. and Bell Canada" (Press release). BCE. 2008-07-11. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
  3. 1 2 3 4 BCE Inc. 2015 Annual Report
  4. 1 2
  5. "Contact Us." Bell Canada. Retrieved on August 24, 2009 .
  7. "BCE on the Forbes Global 2000 List". Forbes. Retrieved 2011-11-12.
  8. 1 2 3 Collins, Larry; Prevey, W. Harry (ed.). Electricity: The Magic Medium, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Canadian Region, 1985, p. 4, ISBN 0-9692316-0-1.
  9. Surtees, Lawrence (2000). "Bell, Alexander Graham". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. University of Toronto/Université Laval. Archived from the original on 2 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-05.
  10. Patten, William; Bell, Alexander Melville. Pioneering the Telephone in Canada, Montreal: William Patten, 1926.
  11. 1 2 "About BCE – History". BCE Inc. Archived from the original on 27 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-24.
  12. 1 2 Babe, Robert E. Charles Fleetford Sise in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.), University of Toronto Press. 1979–2005.
  13. 1 2 Waldie, Jean H. "Factory at Brantford Was World's First Phone Manufacturer", London Free Press, 3 October 1953.
  14. Reville, F. Douglas. History of the County of Brant: Illustrated With Fifty Half-Tones Taken From Miniatures And Photographs, Brantford, ON: Brant Historical Society, Hurley Printing, 1920, p. 322. Retrieved from on 4 May 2012.
  15. Nortel Networks (2008). "Corporate information: Nortel History – 1874 to 1899". Nortel Networks. Archived from the original on September 30, 2009. Retrieved September 1, 2008.
  16. Ibbotson, Heather. City Has Lost Many Historic Buildings, Brantford Expositor, 5 April 2012.
  17. Sharpe, Robert; Canadian Military Heritage Museum. Soldiers and Warriors: The Early Volunteer Militia of Brant County: 1856-1866, Brantford, ON: Canadian Military Heritage Museum, 1998, pg. 80, ref. citations No. 142 & 143, which in turn cites:
    • F.A. Field. "The First Telephone Factory", The Blue Bell, January 1931. Retrieved April 22, 2012.
  18. "Bell Canada to Acquire Nexxlink Technologies Inc." (Press release). BCE, Inc. 2004-12-09.
  20. "Bell Canada Franchisee".
  21. 1 2 Rens, Jean-Guy; Roth, Kathe (2001). The Invisible Empire. McGill-Queen's Press — MQUP, 2001. pp. 217–218. ISBN 978-0-7735-2052-3.
  22. Todd, Kenneth P. Massey, David, ed. "A Capsule History of the Bell System". American Telephone & Telegraph Company. Archived from the original on 11 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  23. The Porticus Centre (2007). "Bell Canada (and other Canadian telecommunications companies)". The Porticus Centre. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  24. Nortel Networks. "Northern Electric — A Brief History". Nortel Networks. Archived from the original on 12 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  25. Bell Aliant (2010). "Fact Sheet". Bell Aliant. Archived from the original on May 29, 2008. Retrieved 2010-02-04.
  26. 1 2 "Hello? The 50-cent pay phone call is coming". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-04-30. Archived from the original on February 18, 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-14.
  27. "Bell's pay phone price increases to 50 cents Saturday". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2007-06-01. Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-14.
  28. Dana Flavelle; Chris Sorensen (2009-03-03). "Bell buys 756 electronics stores from The Source". Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  29., Bell: Network management (Bell official website)
  30. "Bell Fibe". Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  31. "Bell to launch its new national brand tomorrow" (Press release). BCE, Inc. 2008-08-07. Archived from the original on 10 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-07.

External links

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