Neither rain, sleet, nor snow deterred that first batch of Summerside mail carriers from their appointed rounds one fine fall day 50 years ago.
In honour of that inaugural day in mail service in 1962 that ushered in the five decades of door-to-door delivery in the city, the Summerside and Area Historical Society hosted a history circle at Eptek Art and Culture Centre recently to revisit those early days.
“This was a brand new exciting time in Summerside,” says George Dalton, who is past-president of the Summerside and Area Historical Society.
Before 1962 Summerside residents had to walk to their local post office to get their mail from their rented postal box. Those who could not afford a box picked up their mail at the general delivery wicket.
That fall a postmaster from Saint John, N.B. was appointed to set up a delivery system for Summerside.
He chose a staff of eight people; a supervisor, relief carrier and six mail carriers to service six walks or sections of town. An exam and an interview were given for the positions, as well as a finger printing.
Gerard Dalton of Summerside was one of the original staff members, as were Elmer Dennis, Roy Crozier, Kendall Godkin, Urban “Sparky” Cameron, Denis Dolan, with Don Harris as supervisor and Joe Cormier as relief carrier.
Dalton, who until that point had worked in the family drug store, remembers travelling to Charlottetown to see the official uniforms that the mail carriers would be sporting on their various routes.
“The uniforms were black with red stripes and they looked like a Salvation Army officer or a train conductor. That was the way you looked with the hats and everything. It was funny,” he remembers.
A ceremony with all the official pomp was held at the public square to mark arrival of this service to Summerside.
“They were really pleased to get this delivery to their door but there were a fair amount that liked the idea of going to the post office to their box and getting that. In fact there are still some people who do that,” Dalton says.
Postal personnel were expected to be on time for delivery duty and were “red-pencilled” if late.
Dalton remembers cutting it close more often than not, but never being late.
“It was always right on the mark - I shouldn’t have done that - but I knew that I could jog down to the post office from home in four minutes. So that is what I used to do,” he smiles.
Before embarking upon their appointed routes, the mail carriers set out to learn all the street names, house numbers and the names of the occupants on their walk.
“My nickname was Joe, so everybody called me Joe,” Dalton remembers.
“I went to door and I told the lady I was there from the post office and what I wanted. And she said, ‘Oh yes, Joe Hello.’ And I said, ‘Hello.’ This went on again until I figured out (Joseph Hello was her husband’s name).”
In those pre-union days the mail carriers had to make their rounds in all types of nasty weather.
“You had to make an attempt. The streets wouldn’t be (cleared) and the boats wouldn’t be running some days but you still had to walk outside that door and then come back in (if it was impossible to deliver),” Dalton remembers.
“And very few people had their walks shoveled out then. As a result of that I try to make sure mine is always shoveled out today because I know what it was like, tired out pretty good (before you were done of your route).”
The mail load was large in the early years as well.
“And the other things we had to deliver were the catalogs: the big Simpson’s and Eaton’s catalogs at Christmas. Those were heavy,” Dalton remembers.
Another weighty issue was their outerwear.
“I remember we had these big heavy coats for the winter and if you got freezing rain they were just soaked, and they were so heavily padded it would take a day to dry out it was so thick,” he says.
Biting dogs were part for the delivery course in the early years so the carriers had to learn how to avoid this.
Still Dalton was bitten three times.
“The little dogs were the worst because they’d be getting at your heels behind you,” he remembers.
Dalton worked for three-and-a-half years as a mail carrier and finished the rest of his lengthy career off with the postal service working indoors.
“For a long time after, even when I was working (indoors) at the post office I could walk around the streets and tell you everybody’s number of their houses,” he says.
“Like today I can go around and remember who lived there (years ago).”