A mail bag and the end of an era
Railway mail clerks hold impromptu ceremony to mark end of mail trains. (Ottawa Citizen)
Ottawa Citizen Monday 26 April 1971
The mail train doesn't stop here any more.
By Matt Hart Citizen staff writer
Most post offices don't sway, bounce, lurch, jerk or scream around curves. In fact, most just sit there like a good post office should.
So it wasn't always that way. At one time, the best training for a certain type of mail clerk was trying to sort letters while jumping up and down on a trampoline being dragged over a rough road.
Sound rather hairy? It was.
But those were the sort of conditions that coloured the daily existence of an elite band known as railway mail clerks.
As late as 1952, the post office operated 177 rolling post offices across Canada, employing 1,368 clerks. It was the clerks' task to sort mail en route between various points.
And the problem? When the train lurches, so does the sorting rack nailed to the floor.
But the clerks were the envied few. Their exams were tougher than those of the regular mail clerks. They were the "crème de la creme", if you will, as opposed to the skim milk that stayed behind.
Alas, no longer.
The post office has decided to eliminate the service for economic reasons, and the palace guard will be going on duty in the stables.
At 6:35 a.m. Saturday, April 24th, 1971, the last mobile unit rolled into Ottawa Station from Toronto, and tossed out is mail, itsclerks and 117 years' worth of nostalgia.
What the clerks will miss most is the relative absence of supervision on the runs. Sure, there were the occasional inspections, but, you know, when one has friends in the main office . . .
And where else would one find mail clerks setting their tables with linen and exquisite silver? Or carrying attache cases with the ingredients for martinis and singapore slings? Not at the corner of Alta Vista Drive and Industrial Avenue, that's for sure.
And that's where the 13 clerks from the Toronto-Ottawa run will be working from now on.
And the nicknames! Holy Zappata! Most you couldn't print. A mild example name for the train betwen Halifax, Bridgewater and Yarmouth --known fondly as "Hellish, Slow and Wobbly."
But that's finished for good now. The mail service may still be hellish and slow, but it won't be wobbly.
Ottawa Journal 26 April 1971
Mail Car Makes Last Run
By BOB AVERY
It always seemed when a train hit a skunk it was the clerk In the mail car that got the worst of it .
That is what Dave Calderwood remembers about his 11 years as a clerk on the mail cars.
But it won't happen any more. At 6.35 a.m. Saturday the last mall car made the run to Ottawa station. The 15 clerks that used to work the cars will go to work at the main. Ottawa post office and an era that began in 1854 will be gone,
A general decline in train service has led to the demise of the mail car.
But with the leaving of the mail cars a piece of old Canada has been sliced from the country.
"When we came into small towns it was a real event," said Mr. Calderwood.
The mail was sorted on the train and people followed the train to the local post office to pick up their mail, he recalls. Now what mail is carried by train will be confined to baggage cars.
"But the worst part was that the mail car was right behind the engine," explained Mr. Calderwood. "And with those steam engines we would be dirtier than the firemen."
And there was the skunk problem.
"We hit a lot of skunks in those days and it seemed that whenever we did it was always the mail car that suffered the most," he said.
But despite the aromatic problems, Mr. Calderwood said the clerks are sad to see the demise of the mail cars, adding the men would rather stay on the trains than go to the post office. "But I guess things change," said the former mail clerk.