Ideas | March 9, 2016
Photos Courtesy of the Cambridge Archives & Records Centre
Address: 12 Water Street South, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
The old Galt Post Office is one of the most impressive buildings in Cambridge. Location accounts for some of it: it sits on a busy street and the views of the river and from across the river are spectacular. Size accounts for some of it: it’s a 3 storey building with plenty of features that make it stand out. The clock tower is the most outstanding feature, but the large arched windows and the juxtaposition of two different kinds of local stone, yellow limestone and various coloured field granite is also eyecatching. It is one of the few major buildings left in Cambridge with a slate roof.
When it was built in 1885, this building was deliberately constructed in such a grand fashion so as to be a visible statement about the prosperity of Canada, now a united dominion worthy of such important public buildings. It also showed the importance of Galt, so well-known in that era for its manufacturing that it was nicknamed the Manchester of Canada. It is no surprise that this fine edifice has been designated by the City of Cambridge’s Municipal Heritage Committee and is also designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.
The first Galt post office was so unimposing that there are no records of what it was like or even where it was located. Since the first post master was Absalom Shade, appointed in 1825, it seems likely that the post office was contained within his Red Store, a general store located at the corner of Water and Main, where the CIBC bank is now located. Before Galt was called Galt, it was first known as Shade’s Mill, a tribute to Shade’s influence over every part of this growing town. His brother-in-law, John Davidson, became the postmaster when Absalom died in 1862.
According to research done by Cambridge archivist Jim Quantrell, the next post office was likely a frame building erected in 1833, on the site of the present stone structure. When construction began in 1884, a temporary location was required. Not for the first time or last time were post office customers aggravated. Interim accommodation, according to the Galt Reporter, was at “the rear portion of the premises occupied by Mr. Simon Metcalfe on the corner of Main and South Water Street with the entrance on the former street. There has been difficulty in securing first-class premises for the temporary office and consequently this, the place selected, is probably as advantageous as it was possible to obtain.”
In the meantime, the foundation was being dug and walls were going up according to plans drawn by Chief federal architect, Thomas Fuller. Fuller was also the designer of the first Parliament buildings and the Parliamentary Library in Ottawa. Fuller’s man on the site was builder Michael Piggott. Once completed, each of the three floors had separate functions. The first floor was the post office, the second housed the Customs and Inland Revenue Office, and the 3rd floor was home to the postmaster’s family. The Customs office dealt with the local brewing and distilling manufacturers, and according to the Cambridge Times’ Ray Martin, when dry laws were introduced, they still kept busy with locally produced cough mixtures.
This old post office served until 1936. In that year a new, larger post office, designed to meet the needs of a growing community, was built at the corner of Water and Dickson, and is still operational. The Customs Office moved down a floor until 1963 when they too moved into the new post office. The building now being empty, the City of Cambridge bought the property for a 23 car parking lot. Thanks to the concerted efforts of conservation groups and concerned citizens, the parking lot never materialized and the building was saved.
The building then became used for various City departments (Engineering, Planning and Traffic) as well as by other organizations (the Ministry of Correctional Services and the Parole Board, the Reid Gallery and the Galt Little Theatre). After the City sold the property in 1979, the building was used as a series of restaurants: The Old Post Office Restaurant, the Time Club, and most recently as Fiddler’s Green Irish Pub. It was during the time of the Fiddler’s Green Irish Pub that stories emerged of the post office being haunted by a ghost named Emily, who reputedly had an affair with a postmaster and was later found suspended from the clock tower.
After Fiddler’s Green closed in 2007, the Post Office was purchased by the Landmark Group which intended to renovate it as a restaurant. Instead they ended up renovating another historic riverside building just upstream, the Dickson Mill at the Parkhill Bridge, that has become the Cambridge Mill restaurant. The City of Cambridge became the owner of the old post office once more.
Luckily for this historic building, it will soon be turned into part of Idea Exchange. Under the lively direction of CEO Helen Kelly and with the enthusiastic co-operation of the City of Cambridge, the building will be imaginatively reused to provide library space and dining facilities. Teens, small children, families – Cantabridgians of all ages will be able to read, create, have a look at the river and have a bite to eat in this renovated and nationally important historic building.
1. Historical walking tour of Galt. Cambridge, Ont. : Heritage Cambridge, 1998.
2. Picturesque and industrial Galt. Galt, Ont. : Jaffray Bros., 1902.
3. Quantrell, Jim. A part of our past : essays on Cambridge’s history. Cambridge, Ont. : City of Cambridge Archives, 1998.
Identities of the People in the fourth Photo above: First Mail Carriers on the first mail delivery day of August 12, 1912 in front of Galt Post Office from a Black & White Postcard Collection. Left to Right Top Row: J. P. Jaffray, W. S. Turnbull (barely visible) and Thomas Barrett (Caretaker); Middle Row: Russell Wells, Jack Pratt, George Scott, Fred Needham, Joseph Spooner and Walter Ritz. Front Row: Inspector Roos of Toronto, Harry Mills, William Durstner (Superintendent of Letter Carriers), Benjamin Whittington (Collector), The Hon. George Clare M.P. and F. S. Scott (Mayor of Galt)