COLUMN: Sarnia post office finally found permanent home in 1902

Phil Egan

Knowing the location of the post office in Old Sarnia meant knowing where the postmaster conducted his business.

The locations shifted during the community’s early days to various downtown addresses, usually on Front Street. That trend began in THE days of George Durand, our first postmaster, and continued through the great downtown fires of the 1860s.

Sarnia’s first federal building and permanent post office was built on the south corner of Front and Davis streets in 1902, on the previous site of the Alexander House Hotel.

It featured plenty of room out front to tie up your “horse and rig,” the preferred mode of transport of the day.

Six years later, during the tenure of Postmaster John P. Dawson (1886-1924) the first letter carrier service was started, with 10 carriers delivering the mail.

Some of those early posties included Charles W. Smith, Charles S. Duncan, Robert S. Symington, William Walker, Albert A. Bowles, George A. Galloway, Arthur Downing, Patrick J. Tobin, Gilbert Brown and George F. Hickenbotham.

The Province of Canada began issuing postage stamps on April 23, 1851, struck in denominations of 3 d., 6 d., and 12 d. (The British confusingly used the symbol d. for a penny, borrowing the Roman name for the coin – denarius.)

In London, prior to the introduction of the world’s very first postage stamp in 1840, Postmaster Henry Bishop created the postmark. Also known during the time as a “Bishop’s Mark” postmarks confirmed that postage had been paid and indicated the time and place from which a letter was sent.

On Nov. 1, 1924, Sarnia Postmaster Dawson was succeeded by his son George B. Dawson, who held the post until 1937. Thomas J. McCann then had the job until 1950.

By that time, the city had grown to a population of 31,000 and the number of letter carriers had increased to 22.

The current Federal building was constructed in 1958, bounded by Christina, Davis and Front streets, with the post office occupying the lower floor and a customer service area facing Christina Street.

Canada Post has had a long and close relationship with the stamp collecting (philatelic) community, especially in the 1950s when the hobby reached its zenith.

The Sarnia Stamp Club, founded on Dec. 6, 1951, is not only still active today but enjoyed a burst in membership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phil Egan is editor-in-chief of the Sarnia Historical Society. Got an interesting tale? Contact him at philegan@cogeco.ca