Brantford, Ontario is called “The Telephone City” for a reason! The Bell Homestead National Historic Site is the place to come and learn how one of the greatest inventions to ever come out of Canada, came to be.
One of the true benefits of travel is that we get to see what we only might have seen in textbooks or educational films with our own two eyes. Of course we all learned about the story of Alexander Graham Bell and his world changing telephone, but it totally changes everything when you finally have a clear picture of where, why, and how he did it.
We need places like the Bell Homestead National Historic Site to continue to share important stories for Canada’s history, and that’s why we were only too happy to visit when we were exploring Brantford, Ontario just a little while back.
One thing that became readily apparent – the staff are passionate about sharing and showcasing this story and, at least for us, that made it awfully easy to get swept up in one Canada’s greatest tales. Whatever the website equivalent of a standing ovation is – well, we give that to Addison, our guide when we visited, who was simply exceptional.
For those less familiar with this history and story, let’s back up a minute.
How Brantford Became “The Telephone City”
As we alluded to above, we do feel as if this is a history that’s best learned with your own two eyes and ears when you actually visit the Bell Homestead National Historic Site, but we do also think it’s worth giving a touch of context here for our readership.
The story begins when Alexander Graham Bell came to Canada with his parents and sister-in-law in the August of 1870, just outside Brantford, Ontario. Alexander’s brothers had recently passed away from tuberculosis while in Europe (the Bell family had connections to England and Scotland, specifically), so part of their move to Canada was to see if this small farm in Ontario could provide some fresher air for Alexander, and ensure he didn’t succumb to the same fate.
Whether it was the fresh Ontario air or not, Alexander was well again within a year of his move. So well, in fact, that he began teaching during the year at the Boston School for the Deaf in the United States. This, Addison would tell us, made perfect sense considering his dad was a renowned teacher of the deaf, and was the creator of what we now know as “Visible Speech.” In the summers, he returned to Brantford to mull over some of his other ideas and projects.
It’s a good thing he did because on July 26th, 1874 he invented the telephone. When you visit, you can actually see the models that he played with to get things just right, and how his mind worked to make an idea a reality (pictured above). About a year later, he got to work writing his telephone patent plans, and the year after that (in 1876) he made the world’s first successful long-distance telephone call.
This call was between Brantford and Paris, Ontario – and just like that, Brantford became known as “The Telephone City.”
The Bell Telephone Company came into being in 1877, and a few years later, the Bells actually sold the farm and moved to Washington D.C. However, the Homestead was eventually donated back to Brantford to ensure that this story could be preserved. By all accounts, the Bell Homestead National Historical Site looks much like it did when Alexander lived here. Addison even dressed the part for the tour, which added to the whole experience!
We thought it was utterly remarkable to be able to see the original furniture, belongings, and Alexander’s first telephones with our own two eyes and, ultimately, feel that more Canadians would benefit from taking a trip to the Bell Homestead.
It was on June 28th, 1997 that Queen Elizabeth II declared the Bell Homestead a Canadian National Historic Site.
As noted on the Parks Canada Directory or Federal Heritage Designations:
“Bell Homestead was designated a national historic site of Canada in because it is associated with consequential events in Alexander Graham Bell’s life, specifically the conception of and early long-distance trials of the telephone; it illuminates the formative influence of Bell’s parents, who stimulated his interest in working with the deaf – an interest that was fundamental to the development of the telephone; and it has also attained a symbolic importance as the Canadian site most widely associated with the telephone.”
Visiting and Experiencing the Bell Homestead
There are a number of ways that you can visit the Bell Homestead, and we’ll go through those options below.
Perhaps the most obvious way to visit this Canadian national historic site is with a tour. The homestead is open Tuesday to Saturday with one hour tours taking place between 9-11am and 1-3pm in the afternoon. At this time, tours cost $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 for students, $6 for children 7-12 and students under 6 are free. Full information here on tours, including contact information should you need it.
We had the chance to visit the Bell’s family home, as well as Canada’s first telephone business office while we were there on our tour. Both are very much worth the visit and, as far as we understand, are included in the standard tour. There’s also a parkland there with a carriage house, picnic grounds and perennial flower beds.
The museum itself is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9-4pm (but closed daily from noon to 1pm).
Between May and October, the Exchange Café is open, and they serve hot and cold beverages as well as ample home baking.
If you’re in education, you may want to take a look at their Education Programs. They offer a variety of virtual programming, as well as in-person half-day and full day programs. We must say, they’ve done a fantastic job of building out age appropriate content for students.
They also offer Day Camps inspired by different time periods, as well as programming associated with National Geographic. Fun fact – did you know that Alexander Graham Bell was among the original founders of the National Geographic Society?!
Finally, we’d urge you to keep an eye on their Special Events. If you’re in their neck of the woods, they’ve seemingly always got a little something going on, and perhaps you can be a part of the fun.
What Else Should You Know About This Historic Site?
For starters, if you visit, live fairly close and want an excuse to come again and again, they offer very reasonably priced memberships. As in, an individual only pays $25 for the year, or you can get a lifetime membership for $350.
If you want to be kept in the know, then you’ll probably want to throw your name in the hat when it comes to the Bell Homestead National Historic Site Newsletter. If that interests you at all, you can subscribe here.
Beyond the history, we also want to mention that the grounds and property itself is gorgeous. It really is like taking a step back in time, and that’s a testament to the people working here as well as the volunteers who keep this place running so smoothly.
As Parks Canada notes, “Bell Homestead National Historic Site of Canada is a suburban property featuring a typical mid-19th-century rural Ontario house influenced by the Picturesque aesthetic. One-and-a-half-storeys in height with a low-pitched gable roof, it features a central door, gable end chimneys, an attractive wooden front porch, a conservatory, and picturesque landscaping.”
Aesthetics aside, you’ll leave with a deeper understanding of Alexander Graham Bell’s story, which shines immense light on how this country came to be – and that’s precisely why stories like these need to be preserved forever more.
We want to humbly thank Discover Brantford for hosting us as media. All opinions are completely our own.
Christopher Mitchell is a Co-founder of We Explore Canada. He’s visited over 80 countries and has lived on 4 continents, but now has his eyes set squarely on exploring this incredible country and helping others do the same.