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The End: Goodbye to the mail carrier

After centuries of strikes, slights and provincial squabbles, electronic mail spelled his death


 
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LEVI NICHOLSON AND RICHARD REDDITT

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LEVI NICHOLSON AND RICHARD REDDITT

In April 1754, five years before New France fell to the British, a birth notice appeared in the Halifax Gazette. The Canadian postman was born at the city’s south gate, in the country’s first post office.

In his youth, he was known more for enthusiasm than efficiency. His preferred mode of transportation was birch-bark canoe and his reliability was sporadic at best. Friends remember one route, upriver and through dangerous terrain, that took 105 days to move mail from Quebec to Halifax.

American uncle Benjamin Franklin, deputy postmaster for North America, intervened with some much-needed direction. He named Scottish-born Hugh Finlay as Canada’s first postmaster, stationed in Quebec City. He organized a weekly postal service between Quebec and Montreal, and a monthly post to New York and on to Falmouth, England. In 1774, Finlay left Canada to replace Franklin, who’d been fired for his questionable role in the upcoming American Revolution.

His absence left the postmen constantly bickering over responsibilities. A successful postal service needed to be directed by one person, Finlay reported—such as himself.

Finlay returned and, under his guidance, the letter carrier flourished. New routes included a stagecoach from Niagara, twice-a-week service from Quebec to Upper Canada, and “a courier between Kingston and York dispatched once a fortnight.” In their prime, the postmen sought freedom and independence from their guardian. Defiant, representatives from the provinces met in Montreal to discuss strategy. Like squabbling siblings, they agreed on a uniform postal rate and the first Canadian stamp (fittingly, a beaver), but each province retained distinct control. (Prince Edward Island was invited to attend, but every family has its black sheep, and it declined.)

The years leading up to Confederation were a golden age for mail service: Prepaid postage that cost a penny per half-ounce wowed users; free home delivery began in Nova Scotia; and mail cars on trains were moving mail faster than ever. Then, in 1871, pre-stamped postcards were introduced and Eaton’s first mail-order catalogue made its debut in 1884.

Increasing demands began to take a toll, and 1918 saw the first strike over pay. Postage fees were up—to almost 10 cents a letter—but wages and bonuses remained the same. The grumbling continued into the 1950s, when all parties agreed to a five-day, 40-hour work week.

Still, the health of the postman began to falter. Airmail service, electronic mail sorting, and bright red mailboxes were introduced. Mail volume had doubled by 1965, when letter carriers again illegally walked off the job in 30 cities. Unable to control the rebellious posties, prime minister Lester Pearson folded to their demands. He even allowed them to wear short sleeves, which were sloppy and unprofessional, but all the rage.

The surly postman, meanwhile, became synonymous with grievance and dissatisfaction. When an Oklahoma postman shot and killed 14 colleagues in 1986, “going postal” entered the public lexicon as shorthand for exploding with violence and rage. TV Guide referred to Seinfield’s Newman, a lazy and incompetent postman, as one of television’s nastiest villains.

Electronic mail signalled the beginning of the end. The World Wide Web went live in 1991 and, though symptoms were at first mild, email proved fatal. “It’s been a steady decline year over year and it’s not going to reverse itself,” Canada Post spokesman Jon Hamilton reported in October. Even though you can now order one with your face on it, the average Canadian household uses just two stamps a month.

So, facing a projected loss of $1 billion, Canada Post began a five-year plan to eliminate home delivery to five million Canadians beginning this year, with parts of Winnipeg, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax and Oakville, Ont. In 2015, one million Canadians will have to walk to a community mailbox to get their mail; by 2019, the letter carrier will be dead. After 264 years, the postman will never ring twice, or ever again.


 

The End: Goodbye to the mail carrier

  1. it may not happen in parts of Toronto.Sorry.

  2. So this is what amounts to journalism these days?
    Strikes were brought on not only for improved wages and benefits but for improved work place environment. Benefits that have since become commonplace in the marketplace for both union and non union workers.
    The end is far from being in sight for Canada Post. Lettermail decline has been gradual while parcels and flyers have more than filled the gap and continue to grow. CPC has seen profits in both the last 2 quarters. Their projected losses are a work of fiction to scare the taxpayer into thinking they will be on the hook for another non-profitable public service. This will help them hurry their goal to privatize and rob the Canadian people of yet another viable public service.
    I wonder if you right-wing rags ever get tired of spinning lies and half-truths?

    • Right, everybody is lying to you. Canada Post’s leadership, the author of this column, and even basic math are lying to you. Parcel’s are increasing, but it’s not mail carriers delivering them. Why do you think you see 3 UPS trucks for every Canada Post truck on the streets? You either need to get over your ideology, or start looking for a new career.

      • I, as Bill Brasky would have it, am a dinosaur, about to be wiped out of existence by the email.
        Horse shit.
        An email is nothing more than a fancy phone call.
        It isn’t the decrease in volume of envelopes that is driving this whole debate. It is simply the fact that too many in todays society are wired to the world electronically and are oblivious to the beauty of the real world that they are missing.
        And one more thing. We letter carriers and other delivery agents at Canada Post deliver way more parcels, of all sizes, than all the rest of them combined. See ya on the street Bill. I’m the guy that looks like a Velociraptor.

  3. So you have decided to attack the Postman, have you ? In doing so, you have done many things, one of which is to attack unions.

    Unions have provided a decent living wage for the average Joe and almost every single work rule that exists in the world today. Without unions there would be no “9 to 5” days, there would be no health benefits, paid lunch and/or coffee breaks, maternity leave or anything else that working people enjoy. These benefits have spilled over into the non-unionized segment of employers, so it’s not just “union shops” that enjoy this.

    That’s just taking into account labour unions…..lets talk about trade unions….

    Trade unions like IBEW ( International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ) have set standards for qualifications for their members for their different pay levels and the work that they are QUALIFIED to do. If you aren’t qualified or edjumacated enuf, you aren’t allowed to do the work. Your home ( house, condo , apt, whatever…) was wired by a qualified IBEW member who knew what she / he was doing.

    What if that job of wiring YOUR home went to the lowest bidder, regardless of qualifications ? ( Capitalism at it’s finest)

    Would you live there knowing that ?

    Before you write such slanted right wing drivel, you should think about what you are writing. Maybe try some facts, maybe try ALL the facts.

    R.Galayda
    Shop Steward, group 3&4 Trades, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
    Former Shop Steward, IBEW.

    • Heh, lots of people use non-unionized electricians. But I guess from your perch as “Shop Steward” you’d fail to realize that and think so highly of yourself that the others who aren’t like you can’t even exist in your mind.

      Just like the concept of pointing out how mail is dying is somehow, in your incredibly sensitive mind, an attack on all unions. Take off your ideological blinders and see the world for what it is. Or you can take your sense of superiority and entitlement and blow it out your ass.

    • Thanks for your support, I realize this is an old article, but the debate is now very much alive. So too is the letter carrier. I cannot understand where people get their train of thought. People still send envelopes of all sizes, with more and more different things everyday. And we all know how much money the post office makes in the flyer business, and addressed admail as well. Do people just think that Canada will stop producing postage?? NOT LIKELY YOU WINGNUTS!!!!! And yeah, if you had to walk forty five miles a week, through snow, rain, hail, traffic, dogs, dog shit, and all the rest, you would want seven weeks off too, which you only get after working there for 27 years.

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