EVOLUTION OF THE VICTORIA POST OFFICE
(from the Victoria Daily Times, 9 May 1908)
by Edgar Fawcett
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 (list of Postmasters) I remember in Victoria was J. D'ewes.
Something went wrong with the 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.
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.
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.
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.