It's been nearly a century since the first Post Office wagon left Hamilton for Ancaster, Ontario, initiating a fine tradition of rural delivery service. This spring, Canada Post will pay special tribute to the colourful history of rural mail by issuing the four-stamp domestic-rate Rural Mailboxes commemorative set. This attractive collection, which blends the rustic charm of roadside mailboxes with a bold contemporary design, will be available in gummed booklets of 12 and on an Official First Day Cover. Release will take place on the opening day of Winnipeg's ROYAL*2000*ROYALE.
One man's crusade
Rural mail delivery in Canada resulted from the exhaustive efforts of George Wilcox (1846-1937) of Oxford County, Ontario. After witnessing what was known as rural free delivery in Michigan, he returned to Canada and began a campaign for similar service in this country. Rejected by both the government and opposition of the day, Wilcox began a letter-writing campaign directed at newspapers and politicians.
In his History of Rural Mail Delivery in Canada up to 1918 (revised and reprinted by Canada Post in 1975) Wilcox noted that he sent "as many as 40 or 50 manuscript copies" of his letters "to as many newspapers...to get my...articles read by as many people as possible." Finally, Postmaster General Lemieux announced his intention to establish rural delivery so Canadians could get their mail "without the necessity of sending after it to the village post office."
A tradition begins
The service began October 10, 1908, with a 37-box mail delivery and collection run between Hamilton and Ancaster, but not before the Post Office Department imposed certain preconditions. Delivery was established only on existing stage routes, and 50 percent of eligible residents had to sign a petition and agree to purchase and erect a mailbox known as the King Edward. The mailbox had to be located within easy reach of rural couriers so that delivery and collection could be done without dismounting from the horse or carriage.
After abandoning the mailbox distribution business in April 1964, the Post Office established specifications for the manufacture of rural mailboxes. Today, metal, wood and high-impact plastic mailboxes are readily available at numerous retail stores.
More than a mailbox
On this new stamp set, both the design of Raymond Bellemare, RCA (Royal Canadian Academy), and the illustration of Martin Côté celebrate the rural mailbox as vivid examples of folk art. For Côté, a freelance illustrator since 1984, mailboxes such as those depicted on this set hold special significance. They stand in stark contrast to their immediate rural surroundings, bold and expressive artistic strokes applied to an otherwise utilitarian object.
Bellemare carried this juxtaposition into his design. Mindful that Côté's illustrations recalled old monochrome prints, Bellemare skillfully contemporized the stamps with a metallic, silver-grey background. The typographic elements are understated, and the denomination of the stamps is rendered in a hand-written style typically found on many mailboxes.
With colouring reflecting the four seasons, and settings suggestive of the countryside's rich diversity, the Rural Mailboxes set articulates beautifully the splendor of rural Canada and Canada Post's honoured place within it.