By Heather Snowdon, Durham College Journalism Student
When Bryan Jacula was ten years old his parents, Mary Nee Rudka and Michael Jacula, owned a store. Located on King Street and Westmount Avenue in Oshawa, it was a sub post office, which means it was a post office as well as a general store. Now in his fifties, Jacula still lives in Oshawa.
“It’s been so long since I’ve thought about that store,” says Jacula.
It was 1835 when Edward Skae came to Oshawa. Back then it wasn’t known as Oshawa, the town was small and was just starting to grow. Skae was well liked by residents and the town became known as Skae’s Corners.
As Skae’s Corners grew, there was a need for a post office and in 1842 Skae sent in an application to Home District in parliament, a form of government at the time, asking for one.
In the 1800s, it was common for residents to go to general stores to pick up mail. Many small towns didn’t have stand-alone post offices. Sub post offices, located in general stores, were the norm.
To avoid confusion, parliament told him he could have a post office if Skae’s Corners changed its name since there were too many towns in the area with the name ‘corner’.
The townspeople held a meeting and many wealthy residents in Skae’s Corners were in attendance, Moody Farewell was one of them. He was a farmer and large hotel owner in Oshawa. Legend has it he asked his Indigenous friends what the name of the town was and they told him it was called Oshawa.
Another legend says Farewell was angry with the First Nations for coming to the meeting and there was a confrontation between them. Jennifer Weymark, archivist at the Oshawa Museum, says one of the legends is likely true.
The Indigenous named the town Oshawa, which was translated from Ojibwa, an Algonquian language, means to portage or to take the canoe out of the water and go over land. Other translations include the crossing of the stream where the canoe was exchanged for the trail.
Skae opened Oshawa’s first post office in 1845, known as a sub post office, because it was located in his general store. He became Oshawa’s first post master. Skae was post master for three years, following his death at the age of 44.
In the 1800s, mail was delivered by sleighs and stage coaches, which are horse drawn carriages. Before that, men on horseback delivered mail from Kingston to Toronto on what we now know as Highway 2 or King Street. It took 18 days for mail to reach Quebec from Pickering, Ontario. Lake Ontario became a lifeline to early settlers who used it as their only means of transportation, and in 1822 settlers began to establish themselves along Highway 2.
It wasn’t until the 1850s that Canada would start the Trans-Atlantic mail delivery and in 1856 Canada opened the Grand Trunk Railway and mail was no longer carried by stagecoaches or on horseback.
The closure of Skae’s post office sparked a change in Oshawa. In 1872, a new sub post office was opened on King Street.
As Oshawa continued to grow, there was a need for a larger post office.
In 1907, Oshawa acquired its first stand-alone post office, located on 40 King St. E. It was running until 1950, when the City of Oshawa decided to sell it.
A fire in 1955 left no one to bid on the property and in 1957, the first stand-alone post office was demolished and left Oshawa forever. The actual whereabouts of Oshawa’s first sub post office, in Skae’s General Store is unknown. Myths surrounding its location suggest the building was put on the corner of King and Queen Street in 1825.
According to an archival article, written in 1949, by Oshawa’s Daily Times Gazette, was torn down for a grocery store in the early 1950s.
There was a demand for a post office in Oshawa after the closure of the 40 King Street’s post office in 1950. In March 1951, the Jacula family opened a sub post office in their convenience store, located at 399 King St. W.
“It was a tight fit, putting the post office in the convenience store,” says Jacula.
According to an article provided by Eva Saether, local history and genealogy librarian at the Oshawa Public Library, in 1950 two residents living on Church and William Street in Oshawa were asked to vacate their homes for a new post office. In 1952, the new stand-alone post office was built. But it was only temporary.
Many postal closures happened in 1986. In Oshawa, there were 5,955 rural and urban post offices. By the 1990s, there were 93 urban and 1,442 rural post office closures, leaving 14,000 workers in the postal services without jobs. From 1989 to 1992, 2,250 rural post offices closed and there were 153 urban closures from 1992 to 1993. Canada Post fired an average of 47 workers per month in 1992.
Canada Post was planning to shut down public post offices by 1996, saying it would make sense economically to have one public post office.
A new post office was opened at 47 Simcoe St. S. in 1954. This building is still being used today, and this location is the implemented plan from Canada Post. In Oshawa, there is now only one public post office.
Bryan Jacula says his parents were adamant about the importance of having a post office in Oshawa.
“I’m glad we were a part of it,” says Jacula.
The land where we stand is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.
Durham College‘s newspaper, The Chronicle, launches a new feature series called The Land Where We Stand, about the hidden stories that shape our region.
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