The Letter Writing Revolution

Revitalizing a Lost Art One Letter at a Time

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Field Trip #3: Blessed Be The Letter Carrier Part 1

"We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever."
~ US Postal Service Creed (provided by TLWR follower, Celine)

Did You Know That Canada Post:
  • is the employer of more than 72,000 Canadians (Full and Part-time employees)?
  • delivers more than 11 billion letters and packages to 31 million Canadians and over one million business and public institutions?
  • has 6,600 post offices (of which 3,000 are managed by the private sector) and more than 17,000 stamp shops?
  • has more than 900,000 points of entry?
  • has in excess of 6,000 vehicles, which makes it one of the largest fleets in Canada. In addition, Canada Post has two DC-10s which fly across Canada everyday?
  • has one of the largest transportation networks in the country with letters and parcels travelling on more than 36,000 intercity trucks every year?
  • contributes more than $2 billion annually to the Canadian economy?
Something else you probably didn't know is that I have always thought that an awesome job would be that of Letter Carrier or what used to me known as The Postman. Since women deliver mail along with men, the term "Letter Carrier" is more politically correct and accurate, I suppose. In Ottawa, it is estimated that 30% of Letter Carriers are women and the rest are men.

After my tour of the Ottawa Mail Processing Plant (OMPP), I decided that I would like an even closer look at the journey of the letter and so I asked if I could job shadow a Canada Post Letter Carrier for a day. Lisa Dupuis, a Canada Post employee for the past 8.5 years, approached her Superiors with the idea. After some time, permission was granted and we picked the day (Thursday, October 7th). As I mentioned in my OMPP Tour report, Canada Post is a high security corporation. Although Lisa wanted me to join her at 7am at the OMPP to physically sort the mail and prepare the mail bags, the powers-that-be would not let me back into the plant for security reasons and so we made arrangements to meet at the start of her route in an area of the city known as The Glebe......a hip/trendy/somewhat wealthier neighbourhood of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Lisa has been working this route for the past year and a half. Routes are measured on distance and mail volume. It is quite a process and there are many factors involved. A mathematical equation determines the amount of time it should take to complete a route. This equation looks at your pace in which you sort and walk. Every little thing is counted......every stair, every door, every piece of mail. The routes change every 3-5 years to accommodate for growth or shrinkage.

I was told to wear comfortable shoes and to be prepared to walk......a lot. I was pretty excited especially when the forecast called for sunshine and 15 degrees. A perfect autumn day in Ontario. Lisa completed a couple of blocks prior to meeting me but I essentially accompanied her on the entire route. We started by going to a locked, grey mailbox located on a street corner which was loaded with four canvas mailbags. Each individual mailbag was filled with the pre-sorted mail from the earlier portion of Lisa's shift. She thought that I should wear the mail bag and actually experience it firsthand and allowed me to do the first short street. The bag weighed around 15 lbs, perhaps, and had two pockets with bundles of mail in each. Lisa adjusted the straps and made sure I was comfortable. Canda Postal Workers have pretty strict guidelines on worker safety and injury prevention.

Lisa Dupuis, Canada Post Letter Carrier
Ottawa, ON

Loaded up like a pack horse with the mail

I have to say, I felt really excited about getting to do the job even if it was only for one shift. I have always thought it to be a fairly positive job for several reasons. One is that you get your exercise in while working and so scheduling time for working out is no longer necessary. Two, you are working relatively independently and so while on your route you are not having to deal with a boss or gossipy co-workers. Granted it is extra convenient if you work in a "good" neighbourhood as opposed to the trashy/rough side of town. Three, you can get the one thing I have always longed for......tanned legs. You are allowed to wear shorts in the summer and warm weather. There are down sides to every job/career and this is also the case for Letter Carriers. I will get to those in a moment.

I learned very quickly that movement is standing on a customer's porch picking through the mail to see where you are going next and what letter belongs where. Always moving, always moving. But you must watch where you are going to prevent falling down the stairs, slipping on damp leaves, tripping over a rock or walking into a tree while sorting mail. There is indeed a skill involved in making the mail delivery efficient and smooth.
That's me actually delivering mail! C-O-O-L.....
This yard was so beautiful with the leaves, I had to have a photo!

I, apparently, lacked in those attributes as upon our return to the grey box for another load of mail, Lisa happily strapped on the mail bags and suggested that I observe while she delivered the mail to the businesses that are a part of her route.

I found it interesting to be in a city and yet so many people knew her. She would say. "Hello!" and then quietly tell me that he or she was a customer on her route. While she was getting more mail from the grey box, a man approached us who looked somewhat destitute and asked so politely if the GST cheques were in this day to which Lisa replied, "Yes, they are being delivered today." He seemed very relieved. For those of you who live outside of Canada, the GST/HST (Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax) program issues payments to Canadians with low and modest incomes to help offset all or part of the GST/HST they pay on the purchase of goods and services. My point with this illustration is that the Letter Carrier is such an important, trusted and constant fixture in the neighbourhood and community.

 I was grateful that the sun was shining and the breeze was cool. I have been a bit lazy in the exercise department and I was certainly feeling it on this day walking alongside Lisa observing the mail delivery. Again, I really think that having a job that forces you to walk for three hours or more per day is ideal.

Canada Post Letter Carrier in action!
Lisa has some interaction with her customers. A few of the letters required a signature before delivery and of course, anyone who was outside raking the leaves or doing autumn renovations, stopped for a moment to say, "Hello." As the bag was emptied and we filled up one last time, I was a bit relieved that the end was in sight. My legs were tired and I felt like having a nap. I asked Lisa if she had ever calculated how far she walked in one day and she told me that on average, she hits about 500-600 points of call (addresses), delivers approximately 10,000 pieces of mail and walks about 16km!!! Unbelievable!!

Lisa receiving a signature from one of her customers (by the way,
this customer gave me permission to take and use this photo in this blog).

Some of you live in small towns or out in the country and do not have this mail delivery service. For those of you in rural places, your mail may be delivered to your mailbox at the end of your laneway via car/truck. I walk to our town post office to get my mail from a post office box. If you live in a city and have door-to-door mail delivery service, there are some things you can do to keep your Letter Carrier happy and safe. Please consider the following:

  • Keep the walkway from the sidewalk to your mailbox clear of ice and snow. Clear it before you leave for work so that the Letter Carrier can deliver your mail safely during the day while you are away.
  • Use salt to keep the stairs free of ice.
  • Make sure that the icicles are cleared overhead. They are extremely dangerous.

  • Dogs should be kept where there is no chance of them getting at the Letter Carrier.
  • If your storm door is open, make sure that your screen door is locked, so your dog cannot push it open and that the screen is closed enough that your dog cannot come through it.
  • Make sure that if you keep your dog in your backyard and that the gate cannot be opened. Make sure that the fence is in good repair.
And a couple of more tips:
  • If you have painted stairs, put a carpet down. Wet painted stairs are incredibly dangerous.

    An example of a safe staircase.
  • Make sure your mailbox accommodates the type of mail you receive (ie. if you get a lot of magazines, you should probably have a bigger mailbox). Your mailbox should also be at a good height. The Letter Carrier's bags are not designed to allow for bending downwards.

Lisa having to bend down with her mail bag to place the mail
in the wooden box set out by the customer.
The difference between delivery in the summer as opposed to the winter is significant and not for obvious reasons (snow, ice, cold vrs. dry, sun, warm). Lisa says that the volume of mail is almost doubled in winter due to holiday catalogues and fliers and of course the increase in snail mail with the annual sending of Christmas/holiday greetings. This added volume of mail can add an additional 1-2 hours onto your route. The greatest seasonal hazards of the job are simple: dogs in summer and ice/snow in the winter. If you have the privilege of having your mail personally delivered, be aware of all of these things and be kind to your Letter Carrier as well. Keep him/her safe so that they can continue to do their job.

A re-enactment of what can happen if your property is unsafe
and hazardous to your Letter Carrier!!
I asked Lisa if she had any interesting stories to share and she told me the following:

"I found a lost dog and after knocking on all the doors in the area with no luck, I put him in my mail bag and finished my route. It was pretty cute. I walked him to his Vet's office, which was identified on his dog tags and he was reunited with his family later that night."

Job shadowing Lisa was a great experience. Originally when I asked Lisa if I could come along for a day, she agreed BUT there was a catch.................I also had to promise that I would return in the dead of winter to experience mail delivery in the blowing snow/ice and minus 25 degree Celcius weather. Of course, I have given her my word. Watch for Part 2 of "Blessed Be The Letter Carrier" coming to you this February!

A final photo Lisa,  Letter Carrier:


  1. Great Post. I have two letter carriers that deliver my mail, both females. One is quicker and one is slower, but they both get the mail here. If I were only a bit younger...

  2. I never thought of safety issues beside dogs, so this post was very helpful. We have our mail delivered at the end of our driveway, and our mail man always has to bend over to the right side to reach our mail box. I often wonder how sore and screwed up his back must be from the constant bending. It is a tough job for sure. Loved the pics too :)

  3. Great post!! I miss getting my mail delivered to our door. Looking forward to part 2.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post - what an interesting job! I remembered the US Postal Service creed, and wanted to share it:
    "We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever."

  5. What a great post! That would be awesome to be able to shadow like that. I learned a lot and cannot wait for Part 2! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Another interesting post, great pictures pics of you reading anyone's postcards either. This job is a workout for sure, but I don't envy you in February! We have rural mail delivery, i.e. a mailbox at the end of our lane, and our mailman has a sidekick who puts the mail in the box.

  7. I don't envy me in February either.........
    Should be interesting experience!

  8. I greatly enjoyed this story and look forward to the second installment. I don't often think of the dangers to mail carriers, I suppose I take it for granted that they're out delivering my mail in summer days in 104 degrees (down here in California). Thanks for the story. I'll bee on the look out for part 2 :o)

  9. I loved this post especially the re-enactment of the fall. too funny( only because it was made up).

  10. Hey! Congrats on getting over 100 followers!

  11. Looks like you had a lot of fun. The post mistress at the post office I visit most is trying to get me to become a letter carrier. I just might try it!

  12. Well done Julie! Can hardly wait for part two!! Was so nice to have the company!!

  13. Great post!! Last year I got a notice saying that they wouldn't deliver to me if the snow wasn't cleared around the mailbox...I'd go out and shovel in the evening, then the plow would go by in the morning and snow me in...and me up the laneway with three very little kids...sigh. I called the post office and assured them I wasn't inconsiderate...just thwarted by the snowplow driver! I love our mail lady...that's what she calls herself...for bringing me letters!

  14. I remember getting mail delivered in the winter by our postman riding on a sleigh covered with furs and a beautiful horse.Of course I was a child then, the post man was my godfather and I received a dollar every Christmas in the mail.I would buy all my presents with the money.God bless all the mail carriers.

  15. Julie! What a great posting! Do you mind if we summarize and link back to you for the Letter Writers Alliance blog?
    Let me know and keep up the good work.

  16. That post was so interesting! Thank you for writing it! :)

  17. I like that mailman always say hello to me and ask me how my dad is. They are all very polite and happy.

    -Zane of ontario honey


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