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Who was the first Black letter carrier in Canada?

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Born into slavery at Milford, Kent County, Delaware, USA during the late 1850s, Albert Calvin Whitley Jackson (2 November 1857 – 14 January 1918) became the first Black letter carrier in Toronto (Ontario) – and in Canada – and one of the few people of colour to be appointed a civil servant in Canada during the 19th century. Albert Jackson's two eldest brothers – James and Richard – were sold as slaves, which is said that this traumatic event had triggered the death of his father. After being aware that more of her children might be sold, his mother, Ann Maria, escaped enslavement from the United States to Canada with the help of the Underground Railroad network, first reaching Philadelphia, then crossing into Canada West (now Ontario) arriving in St. Catherines and then settling in Toronto in 1858 where Albert, a toddler at the time, grew up and was educated.

Despite the lack of work opportunities for Black men – other than labourers or in the service industry – Albert Jackson applied (by mail) to work as a letter carrier and was successfully appointed into this government position on 12 May 1882. Because of his race, Jackson's workmates refused to train him to deliver mail and as a result, his supervisor assigned him to an indoor lower position as a hall porter. Following a heated debate in the press about his appointment, Toronto's Black community organized support for Jackson and set up a committee on 29 May to investigate the matter thoroughly. The following day, a delegation of Black Torontonians met with Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald (11 January 1815 – 6 June 1891) and demanded that Jackson be trained as a letter carrier. Considering that a federal election was less than a month away and that Macdonald was courting black voters, Jackson was reinstated in his initial appointment three days later and began his training on 2 June 1882. He worked at the Toronto General Post Office for nearly 36 years, until his death in 1918 at age 60. Dr. William Hebert Carveth (18 October 1882 – 17 January 1968), a physician who had served with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force as a captain with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the Great War, was the medical attendant at Jackson's death which he attributed to heart disease, angina pectoris. A simple brown flat granite marker located at the Toronto Necropolis Cemetery and Crematorium marks the spot where he is buried along with his wife Henrietta Elizabeth Jones (5 March 1859 – 13 September 1958). The couple had four sons: Alfred, Bruce, Richard and Harold.

It wasn't until the Jackson's family began their archeological and historical research in 1985 that Albert Jackson began to be recognized and honoured as a pioneer within Toronto's Black community. He began to be memorialized almost three decades later when, in March 2013, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers presented a commemorative poster to Jackson's family. In July of that same year, a laneway behind his former home in Harbord Village was named Albert Jackson Lane. In 2015, "The Postman," an outdoor play, was performed on the actual doorsteps that Jackson delivered mail to. Also, after two years in the making, with family and supporters raising the necessary $6,500 – Heritage Toronto honoured his memory on 21 July 2017 by unveiling a commemorative plaque at the former site of the Toronto General Post Office (1873-1958), where Jackson picked up his deliveries. At the national level, Canada Post unveiled in St. Lawrence Hall, Toronto on 24 January 2019 – in the presence of many descendants of the Jackson family – a commemorative stamp in recognition of being the first Black letter carrier in Canada. Officially issued by Canada Post the following day, the stamp – designed by Andrew Perro and illustrated by Ron Dollekamp – depicts Jackson in his blue mail carrier uniform. Dollekamp said "I wanted to show him performing his duty with a slight smile and a spring in his step, as if he has stepped out of history to hand you your mail."

On this day, 2 November 2021, we commemorate the 164th anniversary of the birth of Albert Jackson – regarded as Canada's first Black letter carrier – and mark more than 139 years since he first reported for duty at Toronto's General Post Office.

André M. Levesque

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