From the conversation The (co)inventor of the BBS has passed away
Post by @mbravo
I actually have a personal story linking BBSes and Montreal :) in early 90s I was running a BBS and Fidonet node out of a room technically belonging to the student union of the Lensoviet Institute of Technology but during the day occupied by a ragtag team of computer geeks who were running the institute's accounting (as in running the actual payroll, not doing the accounting) for thousands of faculty and students. I moonlighted there as an in-house expert on IBM PC compatibles and MSDOS/DRDOS/Windows, and in return was allowed to do whatever I wanted outside of work hours (including, very generously, use of the phone line). Modem was 2400 something, initially even without error correction. I often spent nights working on the station configuration, reading mail and generally tending to stuff.
I don't remember which year exactly that was, probably 1991, but to my utter surprise I got a direct (!) dialup call from Quebec. It turned out to be a retired radiologist with a curious mind, who learned computers on his own, learned about BBSes initially because someone told him there were nice crosswords on some of them. He had an interest in Russia and St.Petersburg especially, and so he looked up the Fidonet nodelist and found the entry for my node (there were just a handful at the time). He couldn't stay on for long, because international phone rates, but we kept in touch via Fidonet netmail, he eventually got a Fidonet address of his own, he learned about Linux from me (and set up a heterogeneous network of Windows PCs, Macs and a Linux box in his basement, I think he was well past 65 when he started, from scratch) and we had many a wonderful discussion. He would call directly from time to time and we would sit in sysop chat. Calling overseas to a 2400/no correction modem wasn't much fun though, and in a couple years to my utter embarrassment I got a surprise Christmas (well, New Year's) present - a USRobotics Courier DS (14400), the big flat black supercarrier of a modem that was almost an unimaginable luxury. Needless to say, quality of his direct connections improved to no end :) and so did the carrying capacity of the whole St.Petersburg Fidonet network backbone (our partners for international routing in Estonia have been running USR DSes for quite some time already, so we were suddenly able to receive and transmit vastly higher volumes of mail in the space of the same long distance call).
We kept in touch for a long time, and Jean-Pierre (that was his name) even visited St.Petersburg in person, and of course visited me and my family where we lived and we showed him around and had a great time. We continued to be long distance friends well into the Internet era, switching over to Skype and email, until somewhere in late 2000s he dropped off the radar and we learned from his relatives that he has passed away (old age).
It was one of those cases which to me prove the absurdity of the whole "Internet desocializes people" discourse, and it was especially obvious and magical for me because it started while the Iron Curtain was still very much in place. I have had many more experiences like that (e.g. me and friends turning up at a stranger's backyard in Alabama on three Honda cruisers, because an hour prior we called him out of the blue saying "hey we're three motorcyclists from Russia and we got your number on the Tent Map on AdvRider, can we, err, camp at your place overnight?" (hat tip to @Chris ) :)), but this one is both about BBSes and Canada/Quebec, so there you go.