When the uprising broke out in Upper Canada, there was deep suspicion of potential sympathizers for the case, including Toronto’s postmaster
Toronto’s first post office
260 Adelaide East
Why you should check it out
Toronto’s first post office (also known as York’s Fourth Post Office) is not actually Toronto’s first post office. It is the first post office to open after Toronto was incorporated in 1834. Only it was not operational until 1836. And city records indicate that another post office was already in use. It’s weird that someone has received mail.
But the National Historic Site of Adelaide is an important landmark for more than just its Georgian stylings, and it is the longest-serving custom-built post office in the country. Its place in ancient Toronto history is especially notable for its second postmaster, James Scott Howard.
James Scott Howard
Howard was appointed postmaster of Upper Canada in 1828. He had only arrived in the colony from Ireland via New Brunswick a few short years earlier. It was a prestigious job to which only members of the Family Compact were assigned.
For his station in life, Howard had his father-in-law Archibald McLean to thank. McLean was a lawyer and influential member of the Upper Canada Legislature. He wanted to be a judge.
But as the revolt provoked against the autocratic rule in the Compact, there was deep suspicion in the colonies of all potential sympathizers with William Lyon Mackenzie’s case. Being Irish and Methodist in much of Anglo Upper Canada – not to mention politically neutral – made Howard’s allegiance to the British monarchy the subject of some scrutiny.
It became more and more the case after he was offered the job as Post Office Surveyor in Upper Canada and turned down the position.
It was apparently enough for the colony’s rulers that Howard had allegedly been seen associating with “those people” known as Mackenzie’s rebels.
He was no ally of Mackenzie, who wanted to lead the rebels in armed rebellion down Yonge Street in 1837. In fact, Howard’s house was fired by Mackenzie and his rebels. Howard’s wife would be terrorized and food and other provisions taken by his men. Perhaps Mackenzie sent a message to Howard’s father-in-law commanding the militia against him. They also tried to steal the nearby Bank of Upper Canada for its gold.
Still, Howard would be removed from his post by Lieutenant Governor Francis Bond Head after the uprising.
According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Howard would learn from Thomas Stayner in January 1838 that Head suspected him “of adhering to the rebels’ goals and plans.”
In February 1838, Howard appealed to Lord Glenelg, the British colonial secretary, whose report recognized Howard’s political neutrality. Howard was nevertheless removed from his position and lost his home and his farm in the process.
Howard’s biography notes that “Ultimately, the prevailing prejudices and self-interest of the ruling colonial elite, the Family Compact, conspired to deny justice to a man who was not part of the crowd.”
Howard struggled to clear his name and would eventually be justified when, in 1842, he was given a position as treasurer of the home district, after which he rose to the treasurer of the counties of York and Peel. He was later named to the General Board of Education, all positions he held until his death in 1866.
Toronto’s first post office, meanwhile, would be largely forgotten for history, and was used to be used as a school before being purchased by the United Farmers Cooperative in 1925, which used the building as a warehouse for cold storage until the mid-1950s. .
It was not until the building was purchased by private interests in 1980 that its history was rediscovered and it was designated a National Historic Site. It would be reopened a few years later as a museum.
Toronto’s first post office is today run by the Town of York Historical Society and recovers some of its past that provides postal service to the Canada Post.
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Hidden Toronto is a weekly feature that explores the city’s alternative history through contemporary landmarks.