Mail,  Rail,  and  Retail


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Mail, Rail, and Retail is a travelling museum exhibit featuring 150 artifacts on public display from 10 March to 29 May 2005 at the Vancouver Museum. The exhibit illustrates how Canada's postal service, rail transport, and retail commerce helped to shape the nation we live in today. The displays also show the interdependence of these three industries. They illustrate how the three sectors ensured each other's success.

Connecting Canadians

 Vancouver Museum Poster 2005 This exhibit at the Vancouver Museum tells the fascinating story of how mail, rail, and retail services developed into crucial communication, transportation, and commercial networks across Canada's vast expanse. Working together, these three sectors contributed greatly to the country we live in today.
Mail by Rail

Starting in 1854, rail was used for the transport of mail, packages, gifts, and moneybags. Specially designed cars served as mobile post offices with clerks sorting the mail en route. There were all kinds of ingenious methods for ensuring speedy delivery. For example, postal workers on trains picked up bags of mail with special catch-post equipment while their trains were still moving. People could even post letters through mail slots in the sides of special railway cars. The mail-by-rail service ended in 1971 with the introduction of mechanized mail sorting and the expansion of the national highway system.
A World of Goods

As Canadians became more urbanized in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they began to buy more goods, rather than produce them themselves. Retailers used the railways to transport products to postal offices in large cities and small farming communities. Canadians across the country thus had access to a world of goods, including the latest fashions, food, and household appliances.
Mail Order Catalogues

In 1884, the T. Eaton Company issued Canada's first mail order catalogue. The Hudson's Bay Company, Simpson's, and Woodward's soon followed with their own catalogues. The mail order catalogue made it possible for anyone with mail service or a nearby rail station to buy from the full range of a city store's products. This thriving partnership between transportation, communication, and retail networks gave people living in remote areas of Canada access to practically everything they might want to buy.
Come on Over

More than three million immigrants came to Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of federal government efforts, in cooperation with private-sector rail and retail interests. The federal government began the advertising campaigns designed to attract European immigrants to land available for settlement in Western Canada. Companies like the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Hudson's Bay Company later continued these campaigns, which included promotional pamphlets that tried to downplay the effects of bitter Canadian winters.
Montreal:  Canada's First Metropolis

The home of retail empires such as Dupis Freres and Morgan's, as well as an important transportation and business center, Montreal was Canada's financial, cultural, and industrial capital through out the nineteenth century and for most of the twentieth. By 1911, Montreal's main post office had walls of marble, a tiled mosaic floor, and an upper floor supported by huge pillars with classic capitals. By the turn of the century, the city's Windsor Station had an elegant five-arch open carriage way for passenger traffic, while Eaton's ninth-floor restaurant featured and art deco design inspired by a famous ocean liner.
The Insider View

Over the past 150 years, mail, rail, and retail services have employed thousands of Canadians with diverse skills, from rail engineers to letter carriers to store clerks. Railway mail clerks worked in dusty, jarring, and hot or cold conditions depending on the season, but there were compensations in the strong sense of camaraderie among workers. Railway firemen endured blisteringly hot conditions, shovelling coal into boilers, but their jobs were often a stepping stone to becoming an engineer.
Women at Work

Retail clerks were often women. Although they had little opportunity for advancement, they enjoyed clean, comfortable surroundings, and the assurance of steady employment. During the First and Second World Wars, women worked in jobs formerly dominated by men, many of whom were fighting overseas. In the 1960s and 1970s, women started to break down old barriers and occupy positions from train crew member to letter carrier to corporate executive.
Connecting in the Twenty-First Century

Today, Canadians continue to benefit from the partnership between mail, rail, and retail services. The growth of new technologies, including electronic communications, and the Internet, are revolutionizing the way all three services are delivered. This revolution builds on the story, begun in the 1850s, of the three essential, interdependent sectors that have made it possible for Canadians to connect throughout their nation's vast territory.
The Vancouver Museum - March 2005.
Associated Links

CPR web site - Mail, Rail, and Retail:  Connecting Canadians
Canadian Pacific Railway
Canadian National Railway
Vancouver Museum
Canadian Postal Museum
Hudson's Bay Company
Canadian Museum of Civilization

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