Evolution Of The Victoria Post Office

The following article by Edgar Fawcett appeared in the Victoria Daily Times, 9 May 1908

Old timers and new timers look at the accompanying cut of an envelope! It was received from England in 1863 by my father. The three stamps on it show a value of 34c – one shilling, one four pence and one penny. It is only a single letter, and a small one at that. In fact, if it were any larger it would have had more postage on it. Just think of the difference between now and then.

The first postmaster I remember in Victoria was J. D’ewes. Something went wrong with the Victoria Postmasters finances during his incumbency and he suddenly disappeared with a large sum for a more congenial clime (Australia, I think). D’ewes had one clerk to assist him in the work of the post office, by name J.M. Morrison.

He was succeeded by Mr. Henry Wootton, father of Stephen Wootton, registrar- general and Edward Wootton, the barrister. Mrs. Wootton, senior, is still with us, hale and hearty, I am glad to say. The late J.M. Sparrow was also connected with the early Victoria post office with Mr. Wootton.

I well remember when the post office was on Government Street opposite the C.P.R. telegraph office in a small wooden structure with a verandah in front as was the fashion in those days for all business places. I also remember it when it was on Wharf Street north of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s store, occupying the lower floor, while Edward R. Marvin’s sail-loft occupied the upper.

Victoria Postmasters
Henry Wootton PM in 1872-1875
Robert Wallace 1876-1887
Noah Shakespere 1888-1914
Harry F. Bishop 1914-1928
George H. Gardiner 1928-1948
J.B. Sinclair 1948-1954
R.F. Reid 1954-
A.M. Davies PM in 1964-1964
J. Dean 1968-1975

The staff then consisted of Mr. Wootton, and J.M. Sparrow, as before stated with occasional extra assisants, say on the arrival of an English mail, which came then via the Isthmus of Panama and San Francisco. The ‘whole staff’ had to work hard then for long hours, even into the morning. I have seen a line of letter hunters reaching from the post office up Wharf Street nearly to Yates, waiting for the mail to be sorted and the wicket to open.

During 1862 and 1863 the gold mined from the Cariboo rush was passing through Victoria. Victoria boomed and it’s population grew rapidly. To serve the increased volume of mail passing through the Victoria Post Office additional help was required. John M. Sparrow was hired in 1862 to assist Henry Wooton and John L.Buckley in serving the long lines of miners waiting for letters on mail-days. Sparrow maintained his connection with the Victoria Post Office for several years.

I especially remember one evening in 1865. The San Francisco steamer had arrived in the afternoon at Esquimalt, and at 8 o’clock there had not been a letter delivered although the staff had worked like beavers to get the mail sorted.

The mails from Europe arrived about twice a month and not regular at that. The Colonist would state that ‘there was no mail again’ but that it might be expected tomorrow. It was a day of importance when it did arrive, and people naturally were anxious to get their letters, even if it necessitated their standing in the street in line, may be at ten o’clock at night. Many a time a dollar has been paid for a favorable place in line near the wicket by some one whose time was considered too valuable to spend in waiting for their turn.

A good deal of banter was indulged in by those in line. The anticipation of their hearing friends at home made them good natured, and brought out the best that was in them. And oh! when the wicket was at last opened and distribution commenced, the line moved on and up, there was a shout of joy and satisfaction. Those were memorable days in Victoria’s history, the good old days of long ago.

I remember again when the post office was on Government Street again. This time where Weller Brothers’ building now stands. Still in wood, and in no more pretentious a building than the former ones. From there it was moved again up Government Street to the ‘old site’ opposite the C.P.R. telegraph office, until that place got too small, and a final move was made to its present location, and a large addition is soon to be made to keep pace with the rapid growth of the city. Letters were an expensive luxury in the early days, as this table of rates will show:

To send a half oz. letter to Great Britain cost 34c., B.N.A. provinces 20c., France 50c., Germany 40c., Holland 57c., Norway 56c., Portugal 68c., Sweden 52c. and San Francisco 15c.

“In February 1871 a weekly mail service from Victoria to Metchosin was granted at an Annual cost of $300. John Parker was the contractor for the service and looked after the mails at Metchosin, but no Post Office was established there for several years.”

(from ‘The Colonial Postal Systems and Postage Stamps of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, 1849-1871’ by Alfred Stanley Deaville)

Most of the letters from the latter place were received by Wells Fargo’s express, and cost, I think, 3c., and special charge of 25c., on each letter. I have already described the receipt of Wells Fargo’s express from Esquimalt in the early times. How Jno. Parker, now of Metchosin used to meet the steamer at Esquimalt. When she was expected their messenger, whose name was Miller, and a colored man used to watch from Church Hill, and on her being sighted at Race Rocks, the express flag was hoisted in front of their office on Yates Street to let the citizens know the fact. Before the steamer made a landing the letter bags were thrown ashore to John Parker, were fastened on his horse and off he galloped to Victoria, the horse covered with sweat on arrival at the express office, where the letters were called off by Colonel Pendergast, or Major Gillingham, to a crowded audience.

On the death of Mr. Wootton, I believe Mr. Robt. Wallace was the next to fill the position, which he did for some years. When he retired he went to his former home in Scotland. On his retirement the position was offered to the present incumbent, Mr. Noah Shakespeare, who so ably fills it. I might say, to show the growth of the post office in this city since Mr. Wootton’s time, when he with two assistants carried on the work, that to-day the staff, including letter carriers, number forty-eight.

The registered parcels and letters for the last year were just twice the year before, with a large increase in money orders, and to show the large increase in money orders, and to show the large increase in letters, in one evening at Christmas, 12,000 were received and cancelled in the post office.

In conclusion I would ask, were not letters which cost 34c. postage in those days more appreciated than a lot of letters now at 2c. each? It is the old story again, that a thing easy to get is thought little of.

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