By Jesse Robitaille
This is the second story in a multi-part series exploring Toronto’s postal history from the formation of York in 1793 through the present day.
James Scott Howard became York’s fourth postmaster in 1828, about a decade after arriving in the bustling capital of Upper Canada from Fredericton, N.B.
Six years after Howard came to the helm of York’s postal service – a role that also pegged him, albeit unofficially, as Upper Canada’s deputy postmaster general – the capital incorporated as the City of Toronto. Upper Canada’s first city – and its largest settlement after surpassing Kingston in 1832 – Toronto boasted a population of more than 9,200, including many immigrants who had recently left behind family and friends in their home country.
“But the new city was remote and isolated, and if these residents wanted to communicate further than shouting distance, there was only one way to do it,” said Zoé Delguste-Cincotta, curator of the Town of York Historical Society, which manages Toronto’s First Post Office (TFPO).
The geographic limitations meant Toronto’s inhabitants had to write letters, necessitating a proper postal system, if they wanted to keep in touch with family and friends living outside of the city.
“A lot of private money was being invested in Toronto,” said Delguste-Cincotta, who added wide roads, still unpaved and muddy, were built “in expectation of commerce, traffic and prosperity.”
Promised municipal upgrades were slow in coming, and there was growing and happiness and impatience with the colonial rule.”
Operating since 1833 from York’s fourth post office – which became Toronto’s first a year later – Howard oversaw the postal service amid the area’s greatest population boom. As the city grew from 9,200 people in 1834 to more than 21,000 by the end of the 1840s, Howard’s prominence grew with it.
“He held a monopoly on all official communication, including all newspapers, but despite the financial rewards that could come with such power, Toronto’s early postmasters and early post offices struggled.”