According to research by writer Lawrence Papoff, Bell installed the first public telephone outside its offices in Lancefield’s Stationery Store in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1881. Pay phone use peaked in Canada in 1998, when there were 90,000 phones from coast to coast. Bell remains the largest provider with some 45,000 phones, mostly in Ontario and Quebec.
In 2013, Bell Canada and Bell Aliant told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that, of the 55,000 pay phones then in use, 10,501 phones were making revenue of less than 50 cents a day. Still, the regulatory agency found that the phones are critical for low-income or homeless people who don’t have cellphones or landlines of their own. They are also critical in rural areas and aboriginal communities with spotty or zero coverage, and are often used in emergencies.
I am not the only photographer who finds these relics of a pre-mobile era interesting. Joshua Nelson has a large collection here.