In 1846, the election to power in England of a new Whig government opened the door to postal reform and responsible government in British North America. In 1847, representatives from each of the colonial governments met in Montréal to hammer out a common platform of postal reform and postal home rule. The resulting report was subsequently approved in the respective legislatures. Each province was to control its own post office department. The arrangement also called for a uniform rate of postage between the provinces.
Final imperial approval came in July 1849. It took about two years to implement the transfer. Beginning in 1851, the Postmaster General, who was a ranking member of cabinet, took over the management of postal affairs in each of the three provinces. The provinces of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia each introduced their own postage stamps. After many decades of agitation and reform, these little pieces of paper represented a significant political achievement.
The demand for an efficient postal system controlled by the colonies had come after decades of cultural change, economic growth and transport development. During the first half of the 19th century, the colonies of British North America were gradually tying themselves together. They read each other’s papers. They traded and often visited with one another. Their transportation system aided integration and moved the mail. To some extent, expectations of the postal system undermined their unquestioning loyalty to Queen and England.
The inhabitants of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Upper and Lower Canada, or their elites, were involved in wresting power from British officials. The result was neither predestined nor inevitable. Some of these colonial building blocks could be fitted together with ease. Others less so. Today, we are still living with the consequences of this imperfect process. On the other hand, the confrontation with the imperial power—played out on the postal level as well as on the political level—was both irreversible and perhaps inevitable. The post played an important role in this exercise of colonial self-awakening. It was very much a part of the effort to become something other than a mere dependent of Britain.