Lost at the Dead Letter Office?




In the years before World War I thousands of letters handled by this country’s postal service went undelivered. They ended up in the waste bin because they were addressed improperly or incompletely, or were illegible. When local postal workers were stumped about what to do with a letter they couldn’t deliver they forwarded the stray mail to the Dead Letter Office.

Only the Dead Letter Office had the authority to open letters which couldn’t seem to get delivered. Once opened, the contents of letters were considered sacred, so much so that the dead letter clerks were—and still are—forbidden to read any more of the communications than absolutely necessary to determine where the letters should go. The Post Office preferred to hire women or retired clergy, whom they felt could be trusted with items of value.

If something is lost in the mail, it feels like it has disappeared into the ether, like it was sucked into a black hole, like it no longer exists. But, it turns out, a lot of the mail we think is lost is actually in a designated place.  The Mail Recovery Centre is the contemporary name for the Dead Letter Office.  It’s where our lost mail ends up. And eventually, if our mail doesn’t find its way back to its rightful owner, it’s auctioned off to the highest bidder.




It used to be that once the Post Office deemed they were out of room in the Dead Letter office they would auction off what they had to resellers that sold on EBay. But now like libraries, and other collectible businesses they have cut out the middleman and are selling online the dead mail  themselves.

Material from Canada’s Dead Letter Office continues to arouse the interest of a diversity of collectors of Canadian postal history.  So what did they find in the Ottawa Dead Letter office in February 1892 according to the newspaper?

$18,000 in cash, 4 writs, 6 mortgages, 8 waistcoats, 4 vests, 100 railway tickets, 85 railway passes, 16 neckties and 4 sets of false teeth-as well as a host of mail that could not be delivered.




Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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