When settlers wanted to receive or send news from or to their loved ones, the method was to take pen-to-paper, if they were able to read and write. They kept in touch as best they could – although letters from “back home” in Ireland or elsewhere overseas, in the early years of settlement, would take weeks to make the sea voyage – and only in the spring to fall period – the North Atlantic was no place to be in the depths of winter.
If you weren’t literate, then you took your letter to be read by a trusted friend or neighbour and asked if they would write a reply for you. These pieces of paper were very precious – the only link to home. For some, they never were heard from again.
In the 1700’s in rural Quebec “the preoccupation of survival had taken its toll on the literacy rate and only one person in seven could sign his or her name.”
“During the 18th and early 19th centuries, the family remained the unrivalled setting for education; few children in what was then British North America received formal instruction either from tutors or in schools. The pattern began to change during this period, however, as the British government looked to education as a way of promoting cultural identification with Protestantism, the English language, and British customs.” from The History of Education, Canadian Encyclopedia.
For many in the frontier, there were no local post offices close by; so mail was often held at a central point. And for many others they lost all connection with their “Kith & Kin”; the acquaintances and relatives. In the Bathurst District of Canada West the main hub and capital was the Town of Perth and any local who went there on business would bring back community mail. It was best to not have any expectation of privacy as these early pieces of correspondence were without envelopes – the stamp went on the letter itself.
Historian Evelyn Moore Price prepared this document for Pembroke’s Champlain Museum on the early postal services: Early Post Offices.
By 1862 the postal service was vastly improved with the advent of the Age of Steam. Steam ships coming out from Europe weekly were regularly scheduled and steam trains here in Canada West provided scheduled postal transportation the settlers could count on.
Pauline Lacroix Johns has submitted the link to the 1862 Tackabury Brothers Canadian Advertising Directorywhich shows these schedules and the postal rates. This digitized Directory from the University of Alberta archive shows the local post offices as:
Westmeath Township Post Office Locations in 1862.
Beachburg Postmaster: George Surtees
Gower Point Postmaster: position empty
Westmeath Postmaster: M.M. Drew
The first P.O. was kept by Mr. M. Drew, above Goddard’s Corner. It later was moved into a grocery store at the corner, across from which was a carpenter and blacksmith shop. Mail came in about twice a week, and letters, – which were a rarity, – had to be paid for on delivery.
A letter written to George Washington Tucker and his wife Mary from his sister in Massachusetts in 1837, when penny postage was used and collected on delivery, is a prized possession of one of his grand-daughters.
Referring to Sir Wm. Mullock at a public function in Toronto, the late George W. Ross, then Premier of Ontario, said that he himself was a Scotchman, but Sir Wm. (the author of penny postage) could make 2 cents go farther than any Scotchman he knew. In fact, he made it go around the world.
For many years the Post Office was in Fraser’s store, where a Telegraph System was installed for Long distance Messages. .. the fastest communication with the outside world. Both were operated by Mr. Riley.
Setting out the various locations of the early post offices and the circulation of mail in this area of Upper Canada, is outlined in this undated Pembroke Observer newspaper article written by local historian Evelyn Moore Price.
By the early to mid-1800’s, traveling any distance in Westmeath Township was an arduous and lengthy effort, so Post Offices were located closer to the settlers – often on the same concession. By the late 1800s and early 1900s the children were being schooled, more often than not, and more letters were circulated. Letters to sweethearts, absent siblings and letters to and from “home”. The advent of regular steam locomotive train schedules through the Upper Ottawa Valley brought much faster movement of the post. Also commercial companies in larger centres like Ottawa or Montreal were able to receive mailed orders for goods and send out the parcels by return mail train. Catalogue shopping was an exciting possibility in a rural township where usually all clothes were home-sewn or sewn at the local tailor shop, and the local cobbler, (who often also made horse harnesses), made all the family’s shoes. Farmers in Westmeath could also buy new farm implements and the item was delivered by train.
The small settlement of Gower Point (LaPasse) had its own post office from 1852-1969; 117 years in total. Some early-settled rural roads had their own post office; and such was the case with the Bromley Line, Westmeath Township. It’s Post Office opened in August 24, 1895 and closed on May 19, 1922 – a total of 27 years.
Westmeath had postal services from the mid-1830’s with Caleb S. Bellows establishing the same at his farm on the Ottawa shoreline northwest of Front Westmeath; as he had served as Post Master in his former residence at Carleton Place, Lanark County. Because of his experience, Bellows was instrumental in having Westmeath become the terminus for mail destined onward to Pembroke and other northwest areas of the newly opened Renfrew County. In Beachburgh (then Westmeath South) David Beach had set up postal services at approximately the same time.
Evelyn Moore Price in her 1984 seminal work on Westmeath Township called “History of the Corporation of Westmeath Township” fully outlines the importance of rural postal offices to early settlers. The full book is available online as a free e-book. Here is her full chapter on post offices; “Communication by Mail“.
Gail Hennessy Ethier, who for many years had been the mail courier on the Westmeath Rural Routes, has generously submitted the 1922 Renfrew County Directory and Postal Guide to the HWTProject. The guide lists all the persons receiving mail on all the rural routes and villages in the county. Here are the 1922 listings for Westmeath Township Villages and Rural Routes taken from the guide.