The Castley family ran the first telephone exchange in the city of Duncan. Their house used to stand where the parking lot is in City Square.
This is part of a letter we received from the Castley’s granddaughter in Victoria
City Square is the site of the first telephone office in the Cowichan district and also of the home of Elias and May Castley, telephone pioneers, and their family, for about forty-five years. I am their granddaughter, and was troubled recently, while showing some of my family around Duncan, to find that there was absolutely no record of them in this square where they lived for such a long time.
The following is a quote from a speech written by my father, Claude Green, and given at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the B.C. Telephone Company, in 1991, at the Silver Bridge Inn:
Elias,… constructed by contract the first telephone line from Goldstream to Nanaimo and also the under sea cable from Maple bay to Burgoyne Bay on Saltspring Island In 1904 he was appointed the local telephone agent for the company and the first telephone exchange was in the Castley home which was situated on the south-east corner of Craig and Ingram Streets. Elias’ wife. May, was appointed the first telephone operator.
There is also an article published by the Cowichan Leader on May 27, 1971, which reads:
Mr. Castley maintained the telephone lines from Chemainus south to Goldstream ….When line trouble developed – which was often in those early days Mr. Castley would be away for days at a time. This meant that Mrs. Castley was left in sole charge of the exchange. This she did in addition to looking after her small children [eventually six daughters].
My grandmother, May, tells, in her short autobiography, This Is My Story, how Elias’ life ended:
On Tuesday, December 21″, 1909, Elias met with an accident and was seriously injured. While erecting a pole for the fire bell a guy rope broke letting down the pole with him on it. On December 23rd he was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Victoria as there were no facilities in our small hospital. Dr. Dykes and I accompanied him to Victoria and an emergency operation was performed by specialist Dr. Jones. Elias passed away at 6 AM on December 25th at the age of 37 years.
The Cowichan Leader takes up the tale:
When the Telephone Exchange was moved from her house in 1911 Mrs. Castley found it impossible to carry on as an operator. However, by 1917, the older children were capable of taking over some of the home duties and this allowed Mrs. Castley to rejoin the Telephone Co. where she continued working until her retirement in 1939.
Elias, in his short life, was a most actively public-spirited man and, in the April 28, 1905 issue of the Cowichan Leader, there was an article saying that …some of our leading and most enterprising citizens
have gone ahead and organized, financed and put in operation, the Cowichan Water Works Co…. A list of the five Directors of the Company appears at the end of the article and among them is E. Castley.
Of the six Castley daughters, who grew up in the house at the comer of Craig and Ingram Streets, four remained in Duncan and North Cowichan and two raised families in the Cowichan Valley. The daughters who stayed were: Florence Waldie, Edna Green (my mother), Gladys Castley and Ina Talbot.
May Castley sold the house and moved into an apartment in about 1950. The house was turned into a store, Shindler’s Style Shop, which was subsequently sold to the City of Duncan in 1967. The building was demolished and the property turned into a parking lot until it morphed into City Square.
The Centennial Committee is planning to install a plaque in City Square to honour the Castley family and their contribution to early Duncan.
Here is a photo from Duncan’s 75th Anniversary, Claude Green speaks about the Castley family contribution.