The sale of Toronto’s Postal Station K has recently made the news, with activists concerned the land could be used for a condominium development. Most of the argument is based on the historic nature of, not the building itself, but of the land, where Montgomery’s Tavern, site of a famous Upper Canada Rebellion battle, once stood. Essentially the argument boils down to the fact that the activists don’t want to see high-density development on a piece of land that once was the site of a historic building, now long gone. For me, the story has a very different meaning.
On one level is the fact that the Station K building is unique in that the royal cipher ER over the doorway is actually ER VIII, or King Edward VIII. Most of us know him better as the Duke of Windsor, the man who became King of England in the 1930s, and then abdicated to marry the woman he loved, a divorced American commoner. The Brits are pretty tolerant of their royalty, but apparently do have a three-strike rule. Although never actually crowned king, Edward did rule for a short period of time. During that time, Canada Post built Station K, and put his cipher over the door. It is, I am told, the only post office and possibly the only public building in Canada to bear this distinction.
Now to me that doesn’t justify preserving the building, which is not remarkable in any way, but it does justify saving that piece for future posterity. The bigger point is that yet another post office located in a downtown core is being closed. Now for the most part that makes sense. Main post offices were built in city centres primarily for one reason, and that wasn’t access to the post office by customers. Main offices were built downtown because it was close to the train station, and that is how most mail moved across Canada 70 years ago. Today, Canada Post has been closing post offices across Canada at an alarming rate.
Officially that isn’t the case; there is a sort of spin doctoring sleight of hand which argues that if a Canada Post building is closed, but replaced by a revenue post office in a drugstore or similar retail outlet, then it wasn’t closed, just converted. Personally I don’t buy that. When you shut down a post office, which traditionally also offered access to other government documents such as tax forms, and throw a local postmaster and dedicated staff out on the street to be replaced by a part-time worker in a big box store, you’ve closed the post office.
In the case of Station K, its days were probably numbered. It certainly had a chance of survival when it became the first Canada Post mega-store, with racks of coins, and stationery, even packing tape and shipping supplies. All alongside a room for post boxes (remember when we called them post office boxes?). I was there a few years ago, when Canada Post rolled out the new and improved Station K. At that time the audience was told by Canada Post officials that Station K represented the future. Today, with the building up on the block, those officials were certainly right.