The Letter Writing Revolution

Revitalizing a Lost Art One Letter at a Time

Monday, February 28, 2011

Blessed Be the Letter Carrier~ Part 2

"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

You may recall my field trip in September 2010 when I accompanied a Canada Post Letter Carrier on her 16km route in the Glebe neighborhood of Ottawa. It was a glorious, sunny, autumn day and aside from the fact that I was severely out of shape (making the 14 km walk that day a challenge), the experience was very positive and I thought how wonderful this job would be. The catch was that if I was willing to experience the route in the fall, I had to commit to coming back in the winter months to experience the harsher side of delivering mail.

We made a plan that I would join Lisa on Thursday, February 24th. Let's just say that I couldn't have picked a better winter's day to do it although I really didn't get the true experience of some of the hardships of the mail carrier in the Canadian winter months. For the followers who live in sunnier climates, you may shudder at the thought of walking around in -10 degree Celsius (14 Degrees F) weather but we have had days this winter when the temperature dropped to -30 degrees Celsius which ends feeling more like -42 degrees Celsius with the windchill. On this particular day, we were blessed with a balmy -2 degrees Celsius and clear, dry sidewalks. I wore my running shoes and a couple of light layers. I even had to remove my hat as it was getting too warm after a while.
Lisa loading up her mail bags!

And on top of that, Lisa had a very light mail load compared to the rest of the week. For example, the day before, she had fourteen of the large grey, canvas mail bags containing six bundles of mail each and it took her over four hours to complete her mail route. On this day, she had only six canvas bags with each one containing only two bundles of mail. Although I slowed her down, we still managed to complete the route in just over two hours and I only walked about 10km (6 miles).

I did learn some of the interesting aspects of mail delivery in the winter compared to the warmer months. The most obvious one is the responsibility of the home owners to keep their walkways, steps and driveways clear so that the mail can be delivered safely. I was appalled at the conditions of some of the homes and how treacherous it was for Lisa and I to navigate the walkways. I took some photos of some of the better  examples of poor maintenance on the part of the home owners.
Lisa "Tsk! Tsk! Tsk-ing" this home owner's driveway.

This doesn't look treacherous at all (enter sarcasm)

Canada Post provides their mail carriers with warning cards to leave for their customers as a gentle reminder that their walkways/steps need to be cleared. They look like this:
Sorry, folks! Can't get it to rotate.
 This winter Lisa estimates that she has handed out about 500 warning cards. Lisa tells me that she always gives customers one day's grace after a significant snowfall to clear their walkways. Then she starts handing out the warning cards. If she feels that it is too dangerous to attempt, she will immediately suspend service to that point of call. For example, if she is unable to see the stairs due to snow or if they are covered in ice or if a customer has not cleared after a heavy accumulation, then a warning card will be left. Although Canada Post mail carriers are equipped with cleats, they do not always work as they can get compacted with snow and no longer catch the ice. Walking with cleats is very hard on the feet and knees, as well.Lisa has not had any major injuries this winter although she has fallen around twenty times. She visits her Chiropractor regularly in the winter.
Lisa re-enacting a slip and fall!

If you get your mail delivered to your door, check your property and make sure you have cleared and salted the areas that your mail carrier may walk on. Give yourself extra time in the morning to shovel before your leave for work as your mail will be delivered while you are away from home. And if you fail to clear your walkway and you are left a warning card, do not yell obscenities at your mail carrier. Take responsibility and show some respect.
One of Lisa's favourite customers who gives her a daily kiss!
 One more tip for those who receive mail delivery is to make sure your mail slot/box accommodates the type of mail you receive. Lisa finds it very frustrating when a 140-year old house still uses the original mail slot which was designed for smaller envelopes of the time. It wasn't expected to accomodate magazines, small packets, etc. I think these are simply oversights and something that is easy to resolve to prevent your mail from getting dented and bent. Some of Lisa's customers provide an alternate mail box in the winter to save her from having to come up their long driveways to their back entrance where they normally receive their mail.
This slot is too small for the mail that this household receives.

I'll give Lisa the last word for this post:
"Winter can be a frustrating time to deliver mail: 
harder to walk, cold temperatures, wet feet, having to stop customers mail, heavier clothing and even handling the mail with gloves on. That being said, it is our job and winter is part of living in Canada. I love my job and always know that spring is just around the corner."


  1. I'm curious to know the average salary of a mail carrier, especially with everything they have to deal with!

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  3. Hourly wages for letter carriers range from $22.46 to $24.01 an hour (2009 figures). Benefits for permanent employees include a disability insurance plan, dental plan, vision care and hearing aid plan, group surgical and medical plan, supplementary death benefits plan, superannuation plan, minimum of three weeks vacation each year and paid sick leave.

  4. We live rurally and so our mail is dropped into a mailbox on the shoulder of the road. John always makes sure to snow-blow all around that area so our mail carrier can pull right up safely and reach in without getting out of their car.
    Thank you, mail carriers!

  5. We are on rural road and do the same as Lana mentions, the snow in front of the mailbox is kept plowed. For those people who get the warnings, they would be "up in arms" if they were told they have to go to community mailboxes at the end of their street. That might be the answer!! Sounds like you had a good day Julie..and you didn't need to go to the gym that day.

  6. Our mail has been privatized and the mail carrier turnover rate is exceptionally high. Service is pretty bad. No idea why because we have cluster boxes.

    The sorters mix up mail so often we have to deliver the wrong mail to the right address ourselves. Too often someone opens someone else's mail. Guess they don't think to look before opening. If it's returned to the out box, it comes back a day later to the same wrong address.

    Sometimes we get mail in the morning and other times it comes as late as 5 PM. Our local post offices (2) are pathetic. If someone in line complains about how slow the postal workers are, they work even slower. So, two weeks ago, instead of feeling fed up and getting angry at the four or five regulars I've seen for over a decade, I went out and bought them gourmet cup cakes from a new bakery. You cannot imagine how things have changed. I actually feel sorry for them now!

    When they asked why I did it, I simply said, "I wanted you all to know how much you are appreciated." My favorite postal worker said no one had ever done such a thing. Since then their attitudes have changed.

    Gone are the days when I used to leave a tip in a Christmas card for the postman, because I knew him, and wanted to thank him for doing such a great job all year long. One summer I left a dollar in the mail box with a note telling him to buy a cold Coke. Texas summers are killers! Now I get magazines with torn, wrinkled covers, opened envelopes, dirty mail, someone else's mail, packages left on the front porch . . .

    Julie sounds like my kind of mail carrier. You've done her a great kindness by showcasing her! I wish thousands could read this. I think we often forget that mail carriers are people too.

  7. This is important information! Thank you for posting. It's good to have this type of source for what goes on in the world because so often the general news sites are so stinky and unhappy.

  8. And I loved this post as well! Lisa seems like such a fun person... :)

  9. Hi There very nice blog
    I just recently passed the assessment at Canada post, but unfortunately i failed the interview. I think the some of the questions got me. Why are they making so hard to work at Canada post. I am a nice person and have common sense. This is my 3rd attempt at getting the job, DO you have any tips or anything that may help

    Thanks really appreciated.

  10. I find a lot of mail man are skinny. Now I know why. They walk a lot. I knew they walked a fair amount but I thought that they spend more time driving.

    -Zane of ontario honey

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