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Area codes 514 and 438 are the telephone area codes for Montreal and most of its on-island suburbs. They cover the Island of Montreal, Île Perrot, and Île Bizard in the province of Quebec.

The main area code, 514, was one of the 86 original North American Numbering Plan Areas defined in 1947. 438 is an overlay area code covering the same area. The 514 area code has been split twice; in 1957 to create area code 819 and in 1998 to create area code 450.

The incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) for 514/438 is Bell Canada. The competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC's) for 514/438 are Vidéotron, Telus, Rogers, and some independent companies.



Bell exchange, Montreal, late 1890s

Montreal's local calls were originally handled manually by operators; a called party was requested by name before the first (four-digit) local numbers were assigned in July 1881. In 1898, exchange names ("Main", "Westmount", "Uptown" or "East") were added before the number. The initial rotary dial exchange, "Lancaster", was deployed April 25, 1925.[1] Subscribers dialled two letters of an exchange name and four digits (2L+4N), so "Lancaster 1234" became LA-1234 (or 52-1234).[2]

The initial area codes were created in 1947 as routing codes for operator-assisted calls. Québec and Ontario were the only provinces that received multiple area codes. Quebec was split between area codes 514 and 418. 514 originally covered the entire western half of Quebec, from the Canada–US border to the Hudson Strait. This area nominally included several remote areas in the far northern portion of the province which, at the time, didn't have telephone service. The first Bell System direct distance dial call was made in 1951, from Englewood, New Jersey to Alameda, California, using a system based on fixed-length area codes plus seven-digit local numbers. Montreal and Toronto, the largest Canadian cities, were six digits (2L+4N) at the time. Between 1951 and 1958, numbers were lengthened by adding a digit (2L+5N) in preparation for deployment of direct distance dialling.[3] The 514 area code was split in 1957 to create area code 819 for most of western Quebec, from Estrie (Sherbrooke) to the Ontario border, with the then-unserved far northern portion nominally added to 418 (and later moved to 819). 514 was reduced to the region surrounding Montreal.

Despite Montreal's rapid growth in the second half of the 20th century, this configuration remained unchanged for 41 years. In 1998, the off-island suburbs (Laval, Montérégie, etc.) became area code 450, which now completely surrounds 514. This left 514 as the Island of Montreal and a few surrounding smaller islands.

The 1998 split was intended as a long-term solution to a shortage of available numbers in Canada's second-largest toll-free calling zone. However, within less than a decade 514 was close to exhaustion once again due to Montreal's rapid growth and Canada's inefficient system of number allocation. Unlike the United States, Canada does not use number pooling as a relief measure. Every competing carrier is given access to blocks of 10,000 numbers—corresponding to a single prefix—in every rate centre, no matter how small. This resulted in thousands of wasted numbers, a problem exacerbated by the proliferation of cell phones. While smaller rate centres normally don't need that many numbers, a number can't be allocated elsewhere once assigned to a CLEC and rate centre. Many larger cities are split between multiple rate centres which have never been amalgamated. Montreal is an exception; it is Canada's second-largest rate centre.

The number allocation problem is not as severe in Montreal as in other areas of Canada, since numbers tend to be used up fairly quickly. However, it was obvious that the Montreal area needed another area code. By this time, overlay area codes had become the preferred relief measure in Canada, as they are an easy workaround for the number allocation problem. The 514 area was overlaid with area code 438 on November 4, 2006, making ten-digit dialing mandatory in the Montreal area.

Although the number allocation problem has never been addressed, under current projections Montreal will not need another area code until 2025.[4] Despite Montreal's continued growth, 514/438 is nowhere near exhaustion.

Area code 438 was considered for overlaying 450 as well, but a later decision determined that 579 would be the overlay code for that area.[5]

Communities in area code 438/514Edit

  • Montreal — most of (514)/(438) except as listed below

A few western on-island suburbs (the "West Island") were never combined into the main Montreal rate centre and therefore have a reduced subset of the Montreal local calling area. In some cases, the corresponding municipality disappeared in the 2002 forced amalgamation but the restricted local calling area remains. These arbitrary boundaries do not necessarily correspond in any way to the original boroughs, the "une île, une ville" municipal amalgamation or the subsequent de-fusion of areas like Westmount.

  • Île-Perrot(514) 320, 425, 446, 453, 477, 478, 536, 539, 612, 646, 681, 901, 902, (438) 257, 638, 700, 890
  • Lachine(514) 300, 307, 403, 420, 422, 469, 471, 492, 532, 538, 552, 556, 600, 631, 633, 634, 635, 636, 637, 639, 689, 780, 828, (438) 264, 600, 819, 891
  • Pointe-Claire(514) 319, 426, 427, 428, 429, 457, 459, 500, 505, 534, 541, 558, 630, 671, 674, 693, 694, 695, 697, 698, 782, 783, 900, (438) 265, 500, 538, 893
  • Roxboro(514) 309, 421, 472, 491, 533, 542, 545, 613, 615, 628, 676, 683, 684, 685, 752, 763, (438) 894
  • Sainte-Geneviève(514) 305, 308, 479, 535, 547, 551, 565, 620, 624, 626, 675, 682, 696, 700, 784, 785, (438) 818, 895

Due to Canada's number allocation system, when a CLEC reserves one prefix for each of the island's six rate centres (including Montreal), it has the effect of reserving 60,000 numbers before enrolling its first subscriber.


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