State of Disrepair: Documenting the demise of the public payphone

A concrete slab remains on the corner of Chebucto and Windsor, where a pay phone used to be.

HALIFAX – It’s been almost a year since I first started thinking about payphones.

Back then I spoke with an urban planner who was working on a redesign for a major downtown Halifax street; he casually mentioned that they might not be including payphones in their new plans. While they ultimately decided against this idea, I was shocked to think that we, as a city and a society, were at such a point.

This phone's proximity to the North End's upscale Hydrostone Market doesn't keep vandals away, with graffiti all over the phone's inner cabin and exterior.

Now that cellphones permeate our culture, what role does the public payphone play in 21st century Canada? What does it mean for our city when phone companies begin taking away payphones or leaving them vandalized or in an unusable condition? And who is most affected by these choices?

While out taking photos for this article, I was approached by a passer-by asking if I was documenting “the demise of the payphone.” I guess I am.

A lone, beat-up pay phone overlooks the high-traffic intersection at Chebucto and Connaught.

Two payphones that overlook the corner of Queen Street and Spring Garden Road downtown.

Two payphones, popular amongst local drug dealers and consumers, located on the corner of Robie and Charles

Two of the cleanest pay phones in the city stand outside CFB Halifax; no one wants to mess with those navy boys.

This payphone now serves double-duty; half phone, half garbage can.

A graffitied phone booth outside the Forum Ice Rink and Community Centre.

Despite these phones' location on "the busiest street east of Montreal", they are still branded with a pre-Aliant (read pre-1998) MT&T logo.

Two infamous, MT&T-branded telephones stand on opposite sides of Gottingen, at the corner of Cornwallis. Their branding is as neglected as the illegal activities that occur here day-to-day.

A yellow metal box marks the place where two phones used to stand in front of the public library on Spring Garden Road.

photos by Jessica Walker

7 comments

  1. I believe there’s a new payphone in Bishop’s Landing, complete with a BellAliant logo.

  2. This is really great documentation. I don’t have a cell phone, and when I was moving a couple of years ago–after our landline service was cut–we discovered a huge issue that needed to be taken care of by telephone, and the pay phone on the corner of Windsor and Chebucto (RIP) saved us. Also, the phone at the Oxford Theatre, which was taken down for several years–is it there now?–was our lifeline after Hurricane Juan when we were without power for 10 days.

    But really, I see it as a public safety issue too. Contrary to the commercials, a lot of people don’t have access to cell phones, and I know I’d feel much more secure that if I ever had to call 911, or whatever, that there was a working phone within a decent distance.

  3. Ha, I love this post. You never think of a payphone until your cell dies at the most inconvenient of moments, only to find your city probably has a dwindling number payphones, the majority of which will not work when you finally find them.

    that being said, i’ve never seen the cost to put one in or maintain, so I can’t say as to the benefits. The kindness of strangers is still your best bet in my opinion. Stores that wanna see you come their way will give you the 15 sec emergency call you need, so hit them up.

  4. Great idea for a post! You missed one of the scraggliest payphones in the city, though – the one near the entrance to the parking lot (near the port) at Point Pleasant.

  5. I think your photographs are magnificent and you have a keen eye for a story. GREAT WORK!

  6. This has got to be one of my favorite posts on this Blog so far about a trend going on throughout the mature developed world.
    I feel there is great legitimacy in the point that Sue Carter Flinn makes: there are both issues of safety and access. I would be interested to see if there are any cities out there who have framed policy around public phones with these issues in mind (beyond those that are required on the sides of highways for safety issues).
    Again great post, great photos, great job.

  7. Good post. I was in Finland this past August only to find that there is essentially not a pay phone left in the country. We looked everywhere and asked locals in various cities to no avail. A friend and I are convinced it was a Nokia conspiracy, by which they lobbied the government to rip out all pay phones to promote cell phone purchase. just saying

Comments are closed.