This year, to celebrate Black History Month, Canada Post is paying tribute to one of its own. In 1882, Albert Jackson became the first Black letter carrier in Toronto, and likely in Canada. But the reason Jackson is being commemorated is not the job itself – it’s the many challenges he, along with his family, had to overcome that makes his story special.
“It’s a story of resistance and of standing up,” says historian Karolyn Smardz Frost, author of I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad, which includes some of the Jackson family history. “It’s about succeeding despite the presence of barriers.”
Albert Jackson’s journey is rooted in Delaware, 1858, the year his mother, Ann Maria, fled slavery through the Underground Railroad with seven of her children. She made the decision to flee after her two eldest sons had been sold, an event that is reported to have caused her husband to die from grief.
Upon learning that more of her children would be sold, Ann Maria embarked on the perilous journey, finding refuge north of the border. Albert was just a toddler at the time.
In Toronto, she found work as a laundress, a job that allowed her to raise her family and to eventually send Albert, who was her youngest, to school.
After completing his education, Albert applied to be a letter carrier, a job that until then had only been held by white Canadians. While he succeeded in getting the job, when he arrived at work on his first day, his would-be colleagues refused to train him. As a result, he was assigned a lower position.
But members of the Black community in and around Toronto protested the injustice. They wrote numerous letters to the editor and approached Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald.
As it was an election year and Macdonald needed to secure the Black vote, the Prime Minister eventually intervened and insisted that Jackson be allowed to do the job for which he had been hired.
Jackson returned to his job as a letter carrier, and held it for the next 36 years until his death in 1918. During that time, Jackson pursued further opportunities for success, and had accumulated nine properties across Toronto.
“When speaking of the era of the Underground Railroad, I always say that America’s loss was Canada’s gain. Look at the courageous, industrious and accomplished people like Ann Maria Jackson and her children,” says Frost. “They fled slavery, came to this country, and went on to help create our cities, our provinces, and our nation as we know them today.”
The stamps and all related products are available at retail outlets and online at canadapost.ca/blackhistory