Heritage Lives: The Old Post Office and Customs Office.

Postcard of South Main Street, showing Post Office/Customs Office (second from right) and Town Hall, (right), in Welland. (Supplied photo)

By Terry Hughes

After posting the story about the town hall, corner of King and Division streets, some interest was shown about the structure next door that served as the post office and customs building and today sits vacant.
The accompanying picture, above, shows the waterfront along what was known as Muir Street. Starting on the left the Ross building was much smaller than it is now and a smattering of small buildings occupy spaces between the Imperial Bank, the post office/customs building and town hall. A band stand sits by the canal and a small dock is near the swing bridge, partially seen at left.

Postal boxes inside the Customs and Post Office, 1910. (Source: Celebrating 150 Years)

Welland was considered a port of entry at the time and required a customs outlet. When the federal government built the structure for a post office, they included the customs office. Notice that each office has its own entrance on the extreme left and right of the building.
During the Second World War my grandparents became caretakers for the building. It gave me opportunity to experience the inside workings of the office. I must admit that some of the operations inside were not totally understood by me.
When entering the post office there was a wall of letter boxes and cage where you did your postal business (inset photo). Everywhere you looked you saw heavy paneling and high ceilings. I can’t recall what the entrance was like at the customs office. Back at the post office entrance, a door took you down stairs to a mammoth King Brand coal furnace with huge pipes curling out of its top sending heat to the remainder of the building.
A staircase near the entrance served the upper floors. The second floor contained office space and may have been for customs business. Finally, the third floor was an apartment for the caretakers. It contained kitchen/pantry/dining rooms as well as two bedrooms, laundry and bathrooms and a living room. It provided a great view of the Main Street Bridge and the many ships passing by.
After the building was used for unemployment services, it was closed and has sat in deteriorating condition ever since. Broken windows allowed water damage and mold infestation. It may still be owned by federal authorities.

Note: Some questions were raised about the photo taken of the swing bridge placed at Bald and Division streets in the previous column. The photo came from a booklet that was published as a promotional tool for the town of Welland around 1901. Along with this picture were photos of industries that had set up along the third canal but were not at all related to the influx of industries that would arrive here later on in the century. It also showed homes of people of importance. The late Bill Lewis let me borrow the booklet and I later returned it to him.

(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

 

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