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The Switchboard Building: Kelowna’s First Tech Hub

Big things are happening. After years of being “1405 St. Paul”, we finally have a name for our humble abode (drum roll please)…The Switchboard!

You may be wondering, “Where did this name come from?” Well, we have a bit of a story to tell.

The Switch-Back

Before the rise of the computer and the almighty Internet, Kelowna was consumed by another kind of groundbreaking technology: The telephone.

Okay okay, it may seem like small fish in today’s tech terms, but before computers could fit in your pocket, the telephone revolutionized communication.

In the beginning, telephones consisted of direct lines running from business to business, and privately-run switchboards were the norm. Kelowna’s first switchboard was created by Harry H. Millie, a watch repairman who owned a shop on Bernard Avenue.

Bernard Ave, 1910. Postcard image from delcampe.net.

As demands grew, larger regional companies created or acquired their own switchboards and invested heavily in the local phone system.

One of those companies, Okanagan Telephone, operated out of this very building, starting around 1905. Okanagan Telephone built the phone infrastructure that Kelowna residents would eventually strain to capacity.

The Switch-Forward

Over the next 40 years, the telephone industry saw unparalleled growth. In 1933, Okanagan Telephone and BC Telephone reached an agreement that allowed subscribers to call telephone numbers all across Canada. By 1945, Okanagan residents were once again jamming the phone lines as Canadian soldiers returned home from Europe.

Okanagan Telephone’s customer base doubled between 1945 and 1950, and then doubled again between 1950 and 1960. Struggling to keep up with demand after several rounds of infrastructure investments, Okanagan Telephone was forced to sell to BC Telephone, ending the era of locally owned telephone exchanges.

The Switchboard

At coLab, we are reclaiming the building as a place of innovation and local connection with its new title: The Switchboard. The pioneering spirit that defines Kelowna’s tech community today has its roots in this history, and in the legacy that is the Switchboard Building.

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