This payphone sits just east of TD Bank in Parksville, on Harrison Avenue. (Emily Vance photo)

This payphone sits just east of TD Bank in Parksville, on Harrison Avenue. (Emily Vance photo)

Last call for the ever-vanishing payphone in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Where many phones once resided, only memories remain

Growing up in the early 2000s without a cellphone, I always made sure to have a couple of quarters jangling around in my pocket so I could call my parents for a ride home.

But as smartphones entered the hands and the pockets of the nations, public payphones began their slow decline.

These days, encountering a coin-operated public phone is increasingly rare – but they haven’t all disappeared.

Stanley Q. Woodvine, a Vancouver writer and blogger who has been homeless for 14 years, has made headlines with his recent attempt to map the last remaining payphones in the Metro Vancouver area.

Woodvine says many of his friends who also live with homelessness are still avid users of payphones.

In 2015, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission documented a steady drop in payphone use before declaring payphones a non-essential service in 2018.

With this in mind, I set out on a journey to track down the remaining public payphones in Parksville-Qualicum Beach.

Liz Sauve, a media representative from Telus, says the company lists 16 payphones in the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area that she says should still be in working order. However, since they’re all located on private property, Sauve said she wasn’t able to pass on their locations.

Before leaving the office, I asked around to see if anyone knew where some might be. A co-worker circled the spots on a map where he thought there might be some, and I scrawl down a number of a fellow reporter so that I have someone to call when I get there. I root around in my car for change. How much does a phone call cost these days? I bring three quarters, just in case.

Paper maps, quarters, remembering phone numbers – these bits of life that were once so ubiquitous have quietly slipped away in the age of the smartphone.

A call to Deb Tardiff with the City of Parksville reveals that there are two payphones in the lobby they share with School District 69, the library, and VIU at 100 Jensen Ave E.

There are two – one upstairs, and one downstairs. The upstairs phone even includes a phone book, circa 2002, attached to the unit via wire.

Tardiff says the phones were put in when the building was constructed in 2001, and are maintained as a public service.

“Because it’s a public building, we put in public payphones. They’re still here… I am told by our facilities person that they are well-used,” said Tardiff.

READ MORE: RDN board topples cellphone tower plans for Coombs

A conversation with the security guard on duty confirms this – he says that the payphones and the computer libraries are a primary method of communication for homeless people in the area.

Two down – and 14 to go.

“El Jefe’s Pay Phone Directory” online lists one payphone in Parksville, at the “Co-op Mini Mart” on 1401 Alberni Highway.

Times have changed, though – it’s now called the Co-op Gas Bar, and there’s not a trace of the payphone that was once affixed to the wall outside.

A woman stocking said that the payphone was gone before any of the current staff started. It’s been so long that none of the staff remember it being there. A person came in asking for a payphone about a month ago, but other than that, she doesn’t recall getting any other requests.

I head to the next location on my hand-drawn map, the Errington General Store.

One lone payphone stands guard outside. It’s grubby and looking worse for wear, and the phone call (it cost 50 cents) I make to fellow reporter Karly Blats crackles with static, but Errington resident Laura Gatez says it’s relatively well-used.

I ask Gatez how long it’s been since she’s placed a call on a payphone herself.

“Oh. Well. Let me think,” said Gatez. “At least four years.”

Gatez thinks that this phone gets used more than most. She says cell service is poor in some areas of Errington, and economic circumstances make it difficult for some residents to afford mobile service.

I find another payphone on Harrison Avenue in Parksville, beside TD Bank. The booth stands amid a plot of dandelions, receiver hanging askew on the switch hook.

The call box is scrawled with graffiti and the buttons would probably benefit from a good wipe.

I raise my camera to take a photo when a voice across the street stops me.

“Are you taking a picture of all the antiques in Parksville?” asks a man from across the street, with a laugh.

“I’m taking pictures of the pay phones in Parksville,” I say back across the road. “When was the last time you used a payphone?”

He laughs. His name is Clare Cooney, and he says last time he used a payphone was about three-and-a-half years ago.

I call the Whiskey Creek Co-op and store manager Leslie Baynes picks up the phone.

Baynes said they used to have a payphone, but Telus took it out six months ago after it was repeatedly vandalized. She said she tried to keep it, but it was broken into so often that Telus removed it.

“I always saw people using it,” said Baynes. “Not everybody has a cellphone. We get people that report accidents – they come running in, and they don’t have a phone on them,” said Baynes.

Baynes thinks that was the last of Whiskey Creek’s payphones.

“There’s nothing out here any longer,” said Baynes.

The same story is true at the Qualicum Beach Visitor Information and Chamber of Commerce. After repeated vandalism, the phone was removed about three months ago. French Creek Marina used to have three or four, but they’ve vanished, too.

For those without cellphone service, there is a patchwork of courtesy phones throughout Parksville that can take their place.

The Society of Organized Services allows people to make calls to the government to check in on things like income tax return and disability checks. At the Parksville Career Centre, you can register for an account and make job-inquiry calls. The centre will also take messages from potential employers on your behalf. The Oceanside Health Centre has a courtesy phone for patients and visitors.

Do you know of a payphone in the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area? Send an email to

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

Parksvillequalicum beach

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
RDN Transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

The intersection at Moilliet Street and Despard Avenue where a 12-year-old boy was struck by an oncoming vehicle early November while crossing at a marked crosswalk. (Mandy Moraes photo)
City staff members, school district officials to discuss high-traffic Parksville intersection

Young boy suffered broken leg after being hit in Despard/Moilliet crossing

An acre of the former ‘Bus Garage’ property has been sold to Naked Naturals Whole Foods Ltd. (Town of Qualicum Beach photo)
Qualicum Beach sells prime downtown property to Naked Naturals for $2.75M

Town to retain more than an acre of land for development of public amenities

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Black Press file photo
Investigation at remote burned-out Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

Identity of victim not released, believed to be the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby

Angela Waldick is the new team photographer for the Nanaimo NightOwls. (Nanaimo NightOwls photo)
Half-blind photographer will help new Island baseball team look picture-perfect

Nanaimo NightOwls say legally blind team photographer is making history

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Dog owners, from left, Marlyn Briggs with Nayla, Marjory Sutherland with Effie and Mick, and Christina Godbolt with Conon walk their pets frequently at the Chemainus Ball Park but are growing increasingly concerned about drugs being found discarded in the area. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Puppy rushed to emergency 3 times after ingesting drugs in Chemainus public spaces

Dog owners walking in Chemainus parks urged to take caution

Most Read