Skip to main content

Sit down, shut up, it's on. We're watching our favourite show on TV: Cable Signal Investigated, better known as CSI.

The question

Who built (or invented) the first Canadian cable-TV system? George Dunbar of Toronto wants to know.

The answer

"To the best of my knowledge," writes David R. Spencer, a professor with the faculty of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario, "the first commercial cable company in Canada was located right here in London, Ont., the invention of an entrepreneur named Ed Jarmain."

Prof. Spencer says London was an ideal spot because it was just on the fringe of being able to get good signals from U.S. TV stations. "American television came into being in 1948," he says, "a full four years before the first Canadian station signed on." This created a big demand for U.S. shows in Canada's border areas.

Partly because it is in a valley, London received unreliable signals from TV stations in Detroit and Cleveland. Mr. Jarmain realized that to ensure good-quality pictures and sound, something well beyond rooftop antennas was needed, Prof. Spencer says. Therefore, he erected a large diamond-shaped antenna in his and his neighbour's backyards and wired neighbourhood homes up to the antenna so they could enjoy clear signals.

"Mr. Jarmain's experiment was quite successful," Prof. Spencer says, "and the neighbourhood antenna … eventually grew into London Cable. It is now part of the Rogers empire."

However, there are other claimants to this piece of TV fame.

Henry Zilber of Toronto says that, according to the Canadian Communications Foundation, the earliest commercial Canadian cable TV service was Rediffusion in Montreal. The British company began experimental distribution by coaxial cable around 1950. "Other amateur, non-commercial systems may have preceded it," he writes, "but Rediffusion was the earliest commercial service."

Meanwhile, James A. Gow of Fergus, Ont., believes the first cable-TV system was built by Jake Milligan in Fergus in the late 1940s or early 1950s. He also built a large antenna and shared the signal with neighbours.

For a final word, Collected Wisdom turns to Canada's Telecommunications Hall of Fame, which agrees with Prof. Spencer and observes that Mr. Jarmain "is the acknowledged father and pioneer of cable television in Canada."

The question

Why do we itch? asks Mike Hutton of Ottawa.

The answer

An itch is the body's way of making you investigate the cause of the itch, writes Jason K. Lee, a clinical immunologist and allergist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

"Most people forget that we have evolved and live in an environment with plenty of critters, micro-organisms (parasites, bacteria etc.) and plants that can cause us harm," he writes. Investigating an itch "by scratching, looking or killing the mosquito on your arm likely saved your ancestor's life at some point, making it an essential primary defence against potential invaders and irritants," he says.

Help wanted

Does brainwashing really work? asks Deborah Smith of St. Andrews, N.B. "If so, could a terrorist be converted into a pacifist?"

Frank Durante of Edmonton says his son Gregory asked him how the video camera was set up on the moon's surface to record Neil Armstrong's historic step down the ladder of the lunar module.

"If I fire any gun as straight up from my body as I can manage," writes Paul Hughes of Toronto, "will the returning bullet likely hit me?"

Let's hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) send an e-mail to Please include your location and a daytime phone number.

Interact with The Globe