Victoria’s Window-Sill Post Office

Once upon a time, many years ago, when it was quite unthinkable to take anything that didn’t belong to you, there existed in Victoria a mail delivery system probably unique at that time.

In Victoria’s Chinatown in those days lived many elderly gentlemen, retired from long years toiling in the Island’s coal mines, along the railway, in the forests or anywhere else Chinese workmen were to be found. They received mail from their families back home in China, on quite a regular basis. (Probably thanking them for the large amounts of money they sent home to China, also on a regular basis!)

As this was in the days before we had bi-lingual letter carriers – English and Chinese-speaking, not English and French – and many addresses were written in Cantonese, with just the city name in English, the poor postman was at a loss to know just how to get the mail to its rightful owner. Rather than send the letters back to the Undeliverable Mail Section, the carrier, out of desperation (we won’t consider laziness here!) placed the letters on a convenient windowsill, by a notice board, at the corner of Government and Fisgard Streets, beside Quonley’s Store, and hoped the addressees would spot them as they passed by!

Sure enough, word came down that letters were being received. The Post Office must have heard about the practice, but closed one eye in the interest of “efficient” mail delivery, and it got to be such a common sight in those days while strolling through Chinatown – letters, bills, and yes, “junk mail” too, (no pun intended!), held down on the windowsill by a chunk of brick or a stone, to keep them from blowing away. No one even considered stealing the letters – they didn’t belong to you and you didn’t touch them.

Nowadays, sad to say, this unique method of mail delivery (or non-delivery) wouldn’t work – the letters would be gone by nightfall, and not to their rightful owners either!

The little Chinatown window-sill “post office” lasted quite a number of years, then became obsolete, as the Post Office hired Chinese letter carriers who could read Cantonese, and the numbers of elderly Chinese dwindled. However to those who remember the Chinatown of some 30 years or so ago, that unique mail-drop will always be a little bit of Victoria’s postal history.

From The Guideline, Journal of the VIPS, January 1986
by Robin Clarke

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