What’s the last thing you mailed? Was it a bill payment? A Christmas card? Your census form? We receive things in our mailboxes almost daily, but actually sending handwritten letters for the sole purpose of “keeping in touch” seems to be a thing of the past now that we can make cheap long distance calls, or send a text message, an e-mail, or a message on Facebook. It’s easy to forget the vital role post offices used to play in our community!
In days gone by, many of Innisfil’s smaller communities had their own post office. Often these were run right out of people’s homes, and sometimes the position of Postmaster became a family tradition. In many towns this led to some post offices becoming known by a family name, which in turn inspired the name of the community itself. This is exactly what happened with Barclay in Innisfil, and if that doesn’t demonstrate just how important the post office was, then I don’t know what else would!
Photo of the Barclay house and post office, located near the intersection of what is today Innisfil Beach Road and Yonge Street.
In fact, the Barclay post office was the first in Innisfil. It opened in 1841 as the “Innisfil” post office and was originally run by the postmaster Benjamin Ross. Cookstown followed shortly thereafter in 1847, Cherry Creek in 1852, Lefroy in 1854, and Belle Ewart in 1855. The mid to late 1800s also saw the creation of post offices in Churchill (1858), Craigvale and Gilford (1863), Stroud (1873), Killyleagh (1879), Peninsular Park (1887), and De Grassi Point (1891) among many others. Even the ghost town of Lennox had its own post office from 1872 to 1880! (You can read more about Lennox here)
Original Cookstown post office
Lefroy Post Office in the late 19th century
The delivery of the mail to each post office was always a big event that brought the community together. Remember, you used to have to go to pick up the mail as there was no door-to-door delivery. So, not only would you hear news from relatives and friends from afar, but you’d also have a chance to catch up with neighbours, do some shopping, and post your own letters while you waited for the mail to be sorted. Evelyn Royce of Lefroy recounted the following memory for the Innisfil book Skunks and Scholars:
“The Big Cedar Point post office was part of the general store, and mail had to be in by 10:45 a.m. to go out that day. The post delivery arrived about 11 a.m. and it would be noon before all the mail was sorted into boxes. You could rent a numbered box or use the general delivery boxes, which were arranged alphabetically. At first the mail boxes were on a wall behind the store counter; later in a small room, almost like a small cupboard. Then a room was put on the side of the store, and one could actually walk inside and see into one’s box. The boxes were wooden frames, open on the post office’s side and glassed over on the public side. Box numbers were visible on the glass, so one could see if mail was there or not.
Every family would have someone there usually to post and/or pick up the mail, and the store profited well from the sale of sweets and candy and pop while everyone ate and visited for that hour. While she was sorting, the post mistress would chat to you through the window and tell you if a special letter (such as exam results) had arrived, but you had to wait ‘till it was sorted to get it.” (p. 190)
Additional post offices opened throughout Innisfil in the summer months starting in the 1930s and 1940s with Glenwood Beach (1939-1973) and Ballydown Beach (1942-1969) followed by a boom of several more opening in the 1960s to accommodate the influx of cottagers and holidaymakers. Many were located on or near beaches for the convenience. After all, Lake Simcoe remains the reason why so many people still love to spend their summers in Innisfil! Sandy Cove had one such post office that operated from 1966 to 1969 under Fred and Lillian Dallimore.
Sandy Cove Post Office
Ingram's Store, which housed the Ballydown Beach summer Post Office
Sister Mary Edmund (formerly Marie Gibbons) was the daughter of the De Grassi Point postmaster in the 1930s and 1940s. She recalls:
“Four trains ran through Lefroy from Toronto each day with passengers and mail. As my father was the postmaster for De Grassi Point during the summer months, I always went to wait with him for the mail to arrive. Nearly all the young people of the village would gather at the station for the 7 p.m. train and then go to the post office to wait for the mail to be sorted. It was a great time to meet all your friends each day.” (Skunks and Scholars, p. 194)
Now most of these post offices have closed, and the rise of door-to-door delivery and community mailboxes in individual neighbourhoods means we no longer have to wait together for our mail and parcels. However, there’s no denying that bubble of excitement when you receive a letter or card in the mail that you just don’t get when opening an e-mail message!