Appointment of Elora postmaster caused stir, controversy in 1929

Through most of the 19th century the appointment of postmasters in Canada was a valued and well-guarded perk of politicians.

When an opening occurred through death or resignation, the local Member of Parliament had a great deal of influence in the selection of a replacement.

In a number of cases a sitting postmaster could be fired to make a place for a political crony.

This system resulted in many problems and inefficiencies. Politicians, when they were out of office, demanded reforms, but those demands evaporated when their party returned to government.

In the late 1890s, when the wily old Liberal politico William Maalox served as postmaster general, there was a strong redirection of the post office to greater efficiency and better service.

Maalox was a champion of the old system of political favouritism, but he introduced a new wrinkle. He would issue a statement that he was appointing someone as a local postmaster, but doing so on the personal recommendation of prominent local Liberals, who he would name.

The result was that the new postmaster would have an unofficial supervisor looking over his shoulder, and any problems would first be directed to the local MP rather than Maalox.

Following World War I there was a modification to the system of appointments. Returned war veterans had the inside track for such openings, particularly if they had a war injury or disability that prevented them from seeking more rigorous work.

In 1928 Elora was on the list for the appointment of a new postmaster. The long-standing incumbent, Thomas Godfrey, had died on July 16 of that year, ending a term that had begun in 1893 when he succeeded his father, John Godfrey, who in turn had been appointed in 1884.

Though the position had not been advertised immediately after Godfrey’s death, a number of men had submitted applications, including several veterans. Public sentiment in Elora favoured the selection of a returned World War I soldier.

The appointment of a new postmaster was in the hands of the Civil Service Commission, rather than the post office, and the Commission took its time in naming a successor to Godfrey.

About the beginning of November 1928 the announcement came. The new Elora postmaster would be Harvey Bell, proprietor with his brother Nick of a dry goods store on Geddes Street in Elora.

Bell set about arranging his affairs in preparation for his new job. The announcement had not stated when Bell would take over the position, but he wanted to be able to assume the job whenever a date was announced.

In appointing Bell, the Civil Service Commission passed over two applications from Elora men with war disabilities. J.K. MacDonald was rated as having an 80% disability, and I.C. Bricker, a trained pharmacist and operator of a drug store, had a 15% disability.

With the announcement of Bell’s appointment, Bricker offered his congratulations, and wrote to the Civil Service Commission withdrawing his own application. Many Elora people thought it unusual that MacDonald and Bricker, both with war disabilities,  would be passed over.

Men with a high disability, such as MacDonald, rarely received appointments, as they were recipients of pensions.

As 1928 stretched into 1929 and the months continued to roll by, there was no announcement as to the date when Bell would commence his duties.

Then, near the end of October came word from Ottawa. All Elora was shocked, and none more so that I.C. Bricker. He had received no word from Ottawa after he sent his letter of withdrawal more than a year earlier. The new announcement from Ottawa named him, rather than Harvey Bell, as the new Elora postmaster.

Bell had difficulty believing the new appointment. He had no hint that his appointment would not be made official, and he had gone to considerable trouble in preparing to take up his duties. Bricker was equally surprised. A post office inspector arrived in Elora the day the announcement was made, expecting to swear in the new appointee at once.

Suddenly, Bricker had to re-arrange his own affairs. Expecting to be in the drug business for the foreseeable future, he had recently purchased the building containing his store. He now had to sell the structure along with his drug business. The Civil Service Commission gave no hint of why they had changed the appointment.

The situation perplexed much of the population of Elora, and angered quite a few, who believed that Harvey Bell had received a very bad deal. Several influential people requested an explanation but none was ever forthcoming.

Bricker himself stated publicly that Bell had received a bad deal at the hands of the government. But he made no effort to have the matter reviewed, or to turn down his own appointment. He officially assumed his duties on Oct. 20, 1929.

Bricker was not an Elora old-timer. He was from Espanola, and had taken over Hewson’s Drug Store in late April of 1927. Previously, the business had been owned since 1901 by F.J. Capell, and before that, by R.D. Norris.

In 1910 Capell had joined the Rexall chain, and the business remained a Rexall store during and after Bricker’s proprietorship. In April 1931 Bricker sold the store to J.M Schreiber, who operated the business as a Rexall pharmacy for more than three decades.

Bricker relished his job as postmaster. Over the years he became increasingly eccentric, and would often answer what he deemed to be absurd requests with caustic replies.

He regarded the post office as an important service, and had little patience with staff whom he believed were not doing their best.

Bricker was also a well-known stamp collector, and gladly gave special service to other collectors. From time to time there was grumbling that he reserved new stamp issues for himself and his cronies. He was a member of the old Centre Wellington Stamp Club during the 1930s and 1940s. A major project he undertook was the preparation and use of a special handstamp marking the official opening of the Shand Dam in 1942.

There were versions for both the Elora and Fergus post offices, and collectors could send the postmasters at Elora and Fergus envelopes to which the markings would be applied and then returned. At his own expense Bricker prepared and sent envelopes bearing the handstamp to all subscribers of the magazine Popular Stamps. Those envelopes are still treasured by collectors today.

 Bricker was a frequent sight on Elora’s main street, well known for his habit of wearing trousers with short legs that exposed his ankles. Wags nicknamed him “High Water Bricker” due to the habit.

I.C. Bricker died in office on Nov. 23, 1945. He was only 52 years of age.

Harvey Bell, the original appointee as Elora postmaster, continued as co-proprietor of the Bell Brothers store until selling out in 1938.

The circumstances surrounding Bricker’s appointment were both unusual and controversial. No one can argue that he did not make a personal impression on the position, and few would argue that he does not belong on the lengthy list of Elora eccentrics.


Stephen Thorning