Saturday, May 21, 2011

Province of Canada
1851 - 1859

Postage Rates Within the Province of Canada

In 1851, Great Britain granted control of the Post Office to the colony of the Province of Canada. On April 6, 1851, the Post Office Law of 1851 passed by the Canadian Provincial Parliament, came into effect. Significant rate changes for letters transmitted by the post of the colony of the Province of Canada were introduced.

This article deals with the basic rates in effect from 1851 to 1859. Although Canada's first postage stamps were issued in 1851, their use to prepay postage was not compulsory until 1875. The rates in this post are shown with the more common "stampless" rate markings of the period.

1. Letters

a) Prior to April 6, 1851 : Rates based on distance

Rates within the Province of Canada prior to 1851 were based on the distance to be carried and weight.

The pound was the unit of account for currency of the Province of Canada until 1858. The pound was subdivided into 20 shillings (s.), each of 12 pence (d.). Canadian money was called "Currency". The British pound (Sterling) was equal to 1 pound 4 shillings 4 pence (Currency).

The rates for single letters ( 1/2 ounce or less) are summarized in the table below.

Postage Markings

During this period, letters could be sent paid or unpaid:
  • Paid letters had the postage rate written in red ink on the front of the cover along with the word "paid", which was often handstamped.
  • Unpaid letters had the postage rate written in black ink without additional notation. If the word paid was not on the cover, it was taken to be unpaid.. Recipients of unpaid letters could refuse the letters.
Two covers are shown below which illustrate the markings typically seen on paid and unpaid letters during the 1843 to 1851 period.

The first cover, shown below, is a paid letter mailed from Ancaster to Chippawa, a distance between 61 and 100 miles. The single letter rate for that distance was 7d.

The Ancaster town postmark was applied on April 7, 1846.

The 7d. postage rate was written in red ink in the upper right hand corner of the cover and a "PAID" handstamp was applied next to the rate marking:

Paid 7d. (61-100 mile rate)

The second cover, shown below, is an unpaid letter sent from Drummondville (later the Village of Niagara Falls) to Kingston.

The Drummondville town postmark was applied on March 2, 1844.

The postage rate was 11 1/2d., the single letter rate for a distance between 201 and 300 miles. Since this was an unpaid letter, the rate was written in black ink.

Unpaid 11 1/2d. (201-300 mile rate)

"TOO LATE" was stamped on the cover because the cover was delivered to the Postmaster too late to be included in the mails last made up and closed for despatch.

b) From April 6, 1851 : 3d. Uniform Letter Rate Regardless of Distance

In 1851, the Canadian Provincial Parliament introduced a uniform letter rate of 3 pence per half-ounce, for all distances conveyed within the colony. Letters could still be sent paid or unpaid.


A large number of handstamps with figures denoting amounts paid or due were manufactured during this period.

Postage Stamps

Postage stamps were first issued in 1851, but postmasters did not like using the new adhesives, as Fred Jarrett explains in his 1929 reference book Stamps of British North America, at p. 465:
"Postmasters, did not take kindly to the use of adhesive stamps which had to be cut from the sheet, sold to the customer, and then defaced with a cancelling instrument.They claimed a commission on stamps sold, and not receiving it they preferred to collect the rate in cash and stamp the letter "PAID" opposite the amount of the postage. This meant less bookkeeping for the postmaster. "

Paid Letters

The letter rate was 3 pence for each one-half ounce.

Fenelon Falls to Toronto, June 3, 1859
Paid 3 pence letter rate
"Paid 3" handstamp

Winchester to Toronto, June 12, 1858
Paid 3 pence letter rate
Seaparate "PAID" and "3" handstamps (both in red)

Quebec to Toronto, February 8, 1859
Paid 3 pence letter rate
PAID 3 handstamp

Quebec "City Type" Paid Postmark

Goderich to Cornwall, December 10, 1857
Paid 3 pence letter rate
Circular "PAID 3D" handstamp

Wallacetown to St. Thomas, July 5, 1855
Paid 3 pence letter rate
Manuscript "paid" and "3" in red ink

Gananoque Pentagon Paid 3

Gananoque to Brockville, June 22, 1859
Paid 3 pence letter rate
Pentagon "PAID 3D" handstamp
Original rating 6d. was crossed out

6 pence paid marking crossed out
Gananoque pentagon PAID 3D handstamp

Unpaid Letters

Steamboat Letter, Quebec to Montreal, October 5, 1852
Unpaid 3 pence letter rate
Circular 3d handstamp (black ink)

Mourning Cover
Niagara to St. Catharines, April 1, 1854
Unpaid 3 pence letter rate
Circular 3d handstamp (black ink)

Manuscript Unpaid Rate

Dewitville to Montreal,
Unpaid 3 pence letter rate
Manuscript 3d

London Numeral Rate Handstamps

London to Toronto, October 9, 1854
Unpaid 3 pence letter rate
Circular 3d handstamp (black ink)

London to Toronto, August 13, 1858
Unpaid 3 pence letter rate
"3" handstamp in black ink

Double Weight Letters

The one ounce letter rate was 6 pence.

Belleville to Kingston, October, October 25, 1853
Unpaid 6 pence letter rate
Circular 3d handstamp (black ink)

St. Marys Blanchard to Stratford, June 27, 1856
Unpaid 6 pence letter rate
"6" handstamp in black ink

2. Drop (Local) Letters

The local letter rate was 1/2 pence.

Local Toronto letter addressed to Joseph Workman M.D., Provincial Insane Asylum
Toronto, C.W. postmark
(Docket receipt )
1/2 pence local letter rate

Dr. Joseph Workman (1805 - 1894) was a physician, merchant, politician, teacher, and asylum superintendent. Dr. Workman served as the superintendent of the Provincial Insane Asylum form 1853 to his retirement in 1875.

3. Money Letters

A system of recording letters containing money was in operation from 1826. The sender was not given a receipt but the recipient had to give a receipt to the Post Office. "Money" or "Money Letter" was written on the letter. There was no charge for this service. No compensation was paid for loss.

"Money Letter" Niagara to Guelph, December 1, 1853
Paid 3 pence letter rate

"Money" written in black ink

Niagara "MONEY-LETTER" handstamp

Montreal "MONEY-LETTER" handstamp
The letter had been missent to Montreal

4. Registration

The registration system of valuable letters was introduced in 1855. Although no indemnity was provided for loss, registered letters were separated from unregistered letters in transit. The fee for registration was 1 d. which had to be prepaid. However, postage could be left unpaid.

Paid registered letter, Whitby to Toronto, July 3, 1857
3 pence letter rate paid
2 pence registration fee paid (no marking of amount paid)

Whitby "REGISTERED" handstamp