General Post Office – A Gem That Once Stood at Adelaide & Toronto Sts

1910 - The General Post Office once stood at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St
1910 – The General Post Office once stood at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St (Toronto Public Library R-6523)

The General Post Office was once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E (opposite Toronto St on the north side) in downtown Toronto.

The History of Toronto’s 8th Post Office

In 1869, the government began acquiring lots for the city’s 8th post office. It was Toronto’s first public building commissioned by the federal government. The property extended from Adelaide St E to Lombard St. It was a stunning piece of Second Empire-style architecture designed by Henry Langley. When looking north on Toronto St, the street once ended with a beautiful view of the former post office.

The Architecture of the General Post Office

Completed in 1874, the 3-storey structure was faced with Ohio sandstone, had corner pavilions and a Mansard roof. The imposing frontispiece featured three entrances, paired columns, and recessed windows with finely carved bearded man keystones.

A portico supported by columns and topped with the Royal coat of arms covered the central doorway. The lofty Mansard roof featured a large triangular pediment, an illuminated and framed clock and a 36 ft high central dome crowned with a curved pediment and flag pole. The pavilions featured richly ornamented dormers with cast-iron cresting and initially had entrances from Adelaide St E.

The double-height ground floor of the main building was for customers. Along with regular postal services, there were also bronze post office boxes and money-order and registered letter departments. The second and third floors were offices, including that of the Post Office Inspector and other officials.

The rear of the building, off of Lombard St, was one-storey. It was used for sorting letter mail and newspapers.

2019 - The Royal coat of arms that adorned the General Post Office that was once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E. This artifact is on display on the south side of Lombard St, just west of Victoria St
2019 – The Royal coat of arms that adorned the General Post Office that was once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E. This artifact is on display on the south side of Lombard St, just west of Victoria St

Through the Years

The post office departments moved out of the Adelaide St E building in 1921. However, it remained open for general post office business, known as the Adelaide Street Postal Station, until 1958. That same year, the beautiful building that brought some Parisian splendour to Toronto’s streets was demolished. All that was saved from the Toronto General Post Office was the Royal coat of arms.

The Site Today

The Mackenzie Building replaced the grand post office in 1960. Named after Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, the glass and aluminum structures cost $13 million. They brought almost all the federal government departments in Toronto under one roof and included the post office.

Albert Jackson, Toronto's first Black letter carrier
Albert Jackson, Toronto’s first Black letter carrier (McCord Museum MP0000.25.168, photo from heritage plaque)

Albert Jackson – Toronto’s First Black Letter Carrier

In 1857, Albert Calvin Jackson was born in Delaware. After his two eldest brothers had been sold into slavery and his father’s passing of grief, Albert’s mother Ann Maria and her seven remaining children escaped to Canada with the help of the Underground Railroad. They arrived in Toronto in 1858 when Albert was just a toddler. He grew up and was educated in the city.

On May 12, 1882, Mr Jackson was appointed to a letter carrier position. He was one of a few people of colour to be appointed a civil servant in 19th-century Canada. When Mr Jackson arrived for work, white postal workers refused to train him because of racial discrimination. His supervisor reassigned him to the job of indoor hall porter instead.

Toronto’s Black community rallied around Mr Jackson, arranging a public meeting and advocating for him. His appointment made headline news, and a fiery debate ensued. During this time, support also came from Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald, who was courting Black voters. Sixteen days later, Mr Jackson began his training as a postman.

In 1883, Albert married Henrietta Elizabeth Jones. They had four sons together.

Mr Jackson picked up the mail for his delivery at the General Post Office on Adelaide St E. He worked there for 36 years until his passing in 1918. His final resting place is at the Toronto Necropolis.

In 2013, Albert Jackson Lane in the Harbord Village area was named in his honour. Mr Jackson, a trailblazer, lived and delivered the mail in the west-end neighbourhood. His family went on to own homes in the area.

In 2017, the City of Toronto paid tribute to Albert Jackson with a heritage plaque. His proud descendants attended the unveiling. The plaque is located on the south side of Lombard St, just east of Victoria St, on the former post office site. Behind the plaque, the Royal coat of arms that once adorned the post office is also installed.

In 2019, Canada Post honoured Mr Jackson with a commemorative postage stamp.

1880 - Looking north towards the General Post Office on Adelaide St E, from Toronto St
1880 – Looking north towards the General Post Office on Adelaide St E, from Toronto St (Toronto Public Library R-5944)

Did You Know?

  • The 17th-century Colonnade de Perrault at the Louvre Museum in Paris, inspired Langley’s design of the 8th post office.
  • In the 1890s, there were six daily mail deliveries to the business portion of the city, four in the thickly populated residential areas and two in the outside neighbourhoods.
  • The Masonic Hall, once at 18-20 Toronto St, was torn down a few years after the General Post Office.
  • Just 100 m south of where the General Post Office once stood is Toronto’s 7th Post Office at 10 Toronto St. Now a National Historic Site of Canada, the 7th post office was completed in 1853. It’s a 3-storey, Greek Revival-style building designed by architects Thomas Ridout and Frederic Cumberland.
  • There are over 3,600 laneways in Toronto. Many of them are in the city’s downtown core and were once used to deliver coal and groceries. To help reduce response times for emergency responders, a police officer suggested naming the laneways.

General Post Office Photos

1910 - The General Post Office once stood at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St
1910 – The General Post Office once stood at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St (Toronto Public Library R-6523)
2021 - Looking north from Toronto St towards Adelaide St E and the former site of the General Post Office. Today the land is home to the Mackenzie Building
2021 – Looking north from Toronto St towards Adelaide St E and the former site of the General Post Office. Today the land is home to the Mackenzie Building
1873 - The General Post Office during construction, looking north on Toronto St towards Adelaide St E
1873 – The General Post Office during construction, looking north on Toronto St towards Adelaide St E (Toronto Public Library E2-25B)
1874 - Looking north up Toronto St towards the General Post Office at 38-42 Adelaide St E
1874 – Looking north up Toronto St towards the General Post Office at 38-42 Adelaide St E (Toronto Public Library R-5946)
1880 - Looking north towards the General Post Office on Adelaide St E, from Toronto St
1880 – Looking north towards the General Post Office on Adelaide St E, from Toronto St (Toronto Public Library R-5944)
Albert Jackson, Toronto's first Black letter carrier
Albert Jackson, Toronto’s first Black letter carrier (McCord Museum MP0000.25.168, photo from heritage plaque)
1890s - Albert and Henrietta Jackson with their four sons
1890s – Albert and Henrietta Jackson with their four sons (courtesy of Lawrence Jackson, photo from heritage plaque)
Circa 1892 - A group portrait of Toronto's letter carriers. Mr Jackson is in the 5th row, the 8th from the left
Circa 1892 – A group portrait of Toronto’s letter carriers. Mr Jackson is in the 5th row, the 8th from the left (Kennedy & Bell, Library and Archives Canada e010963829)
2019 - Albert Jackson commemorative stamp
2019 – Albert Jackson commemorative stamp (Canada Post)
2019 - Albert Jackson heritage plaque on Lombard St, just west of Victoria St
2019 – Albert Jackson heritage plaque on Lombard St, just west of Victoria St
2022 - Albert Jackson Ln on the south side of Harbord St, between Brunswick Ave and Major St
2022 – Albert Jackson Ln on the south side of Harbord St, between Brunswick Ave and Major St
1888 - Watercolour of the General Post Office at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St
1888 – Watercolour of the General Post Office at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St (Toronto Public Library R-5195)
Late 1800's to early 1900s - The General Post Office at 38-42 Adelaide St E, looking northwest
Late 1800’s to early 1900s – The General Post Office at 38-42 Adelaide St E, looking northwest (Library and Archives Canada a026037)
1901 - The General Post Office is decorated to mourn the death of Queen Victoria
1901 – The General Post Office is decorated to mourn the death of Queen Victoria (Toronto Public Library R-5937)
1907 - Looking north on Toronto St from King St E. In the distance is the General Post Office once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E
1907 – Looking north on Toronto St from King St E. In the distance is the General Post Office once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1176)
1915 - Looking north on Toronto St from Court St towards the General Post Office once at 38-42 Adelaide St E
1915 – Looking north on Toronto St from Court St towards the General Post Office once at 38-42 Adelaide St E (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1668)
1915 - Looking north on Toronto St from King St E. In the distance is the General Post Office once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E
1915 – Looking north on Toronto St from King St E. In the distance is the General Post Office once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1667)
Circa 1919 - The inauguration of parcel post in front of the General Post Office once at 38-42 Adelaide St E
Circa 1919 – The inauguration of parcel post in front of the General Post Office once at 38-42 Adelaide St E (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 8055)
1925 - Originally the General Post Office, it was renamed the Adelaide Street Postal Station. The building once stood at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St
1925 – Originally the General Post Office, it was renamed the Adelaide Street Postal Station. The building once stood at 38-42 Adelaide St E, opposite Toronto St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 9749)
1927 - Looking northwest on Toronto St towards Adelaide St E. On the left Post Office #7 and next to it is The Masonic Hall. The tall building is the Excelsior Life Building and in the distance is the Adelaide Street Postal Station
1927 – Looking northwest on Toronto St towards Adelaide St E. On the left Post Office #7 and next to it is The Masonic Hall. The tall building is the Excelsior Life Building and in the distance is the Adelaide Street Postal Station (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2166)
1955 - Looking north on Toronto St towards Adelaide St E. On the left is the Excelsior Life Building, in the centre, is the Adelaide Street Postal Station and on the right is the Consumers' Gas Company building
1955 – Looking north on Toronto St towards Adelaide St E. On the left is the Excelsior Life Building, in the centre, is the Adelaide Street Postal Station and on the right is the Consumers’ Gas Company building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 492, Item 200)
2019 - The Royal coat of arms adorned the General Post Office that was once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E. This artifact is on display on the south side of Lombard St, just west of Victoria St
2019 – The Royal coat of arms adorned the General Post Office that was once located at 38-42 Adelaide St E. This artifact is on display on the south side of Lombard St, just west of Victoria St
2019 - The Albert Jackson heritage plaque and the Royal coat of arms from the former General Post Office. They're located on Lombard St, just west of Victoria St
2019 – The Albert Jackson heritage plaque and the Royal coat of arms from the former General Post Office. They’re located on Lombard St, just west of Victoria St
2022 - Looking north on Toronto St from King St E towards Adelaide St E
2022 – Looking north on Toronto St from King St E towards Adelaide St E
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