As brave Europeans packed their belongings and made their way
across the Atlantic to settle in North America, the ideas of the
postal service were imported with them and slowly took hold in the
United States and Canada of the day. In Canada, the opening of a
post office in Halifax was announced by the Halifax Gazette in 1754.
Today, it is considered to be Canada’s first official post office.
In 1763, when New France came under attack by the Imperial
British Army, a rudimentary mail service was established from
Montreal to Quebec and Albany, New York. Private mail was accepted
but did not always arrive at its destination within two weeks, as
promised by the service. Mail was carried by foot and birchbark
canoe, and delivery depended entirely on weather conditions. When
Lake Champlain froze over in winter, canoe delivery was impossible.
By 1820, there were 52 offices working together throughout the
eastern part of today’s Canada: 23 in Lower Canada, 19 in Upper
Canada, and 10 in the Maritimes. Yet, the delivery of mail was
haphazard and the system as a whole unreliable. In the following
decades, new postal routes were continually being opened and postal
officials appointed in an effort to facilitate communication across
kilometres and borders, and to unite people across the vast land
mass of North America.
The inauguration of Canada’s first railway line in 1836 had a
very large impact on postal delivery and heralded a new era of
communication and movement throughout the country. The use of the
steamboat to carry mail did the same, but in both cases their value
was limited, as their use was centred in the more developed eastern
parts of the country.
As Canada’s history evolved and expansion to the West progressed,
new developments in the area of postal delivery were made to
facilitate communication. The same was taking place in the United
States: private companies capitalized on the introduction of
railways and steamships as a means of mail delivery. In response,
the American government provided steep competition by greatly
reducing its costs.
Transformations in the workings of the mail system in both the
American and Canadian West were constant, as the need for an
efficient, reliable service could not be underestimated.
For an 18-month period in 1860-61, the legendary Pony Express
connected the western state of California all the way to Missouri.
Young men on agile horses raced across rough terrain and passed mail
from horse to horse in a relay system. The delivery of a letter from
the start of the course to the finish took 10 days and the power of
numerous horses and riders, but helped unite the West with the East
and opened communications between the states. Though short lived,
the Pony Express perfectly portrays the extreme means that people
went to in order to facilitate communication.
Rail lines had yet to penetrate most regions of North America, so
that postal service was still largely limited by the maximum speed
of human carriers and their mounts. This was even truer in Canada
than in the United States; letters may have been circulated quickly
in the cities, but post on the frontier remained a dodgy affair.
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