Newfoundland dogs and the Royal Mail are closely connected in Canadian History.
In British Columbia in the 1880’s, a Newfoundland named Jim led a team of dogs carrying Her Majesty’s mail from Canmore to Golden City and then to Farwell (now Revelstoke), a distance of 186 miles. This wasn’t a walk on a plowed sidewalk for this mail dog, but a death defying trek through rugged canyons and over steep mountain trails where one false step meant instant death. There was even a chasm bridged only by a fallen tree. The Canadian Pacific Railway was laying tracks between these points, but until they did, Jim and his team mates avoided the grizzly bears and wildcats to deliver things like a huge Christmas pudding mailed all the way from London, England.
The late 1890’s saw the advent of the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. The first post office opened in Dawson in 1897 and the key method of delivery in this harsh land was the dog sled. Local dogs were too costly and couldn’t breed fast enough to meet the demand, so dogs were imported from further south, and, you guessed it, the imports included Newfoundland dogs.
However, it was in their native home, the Island of Newfoundland, that the breed became most associated with the Royal Mail. Their honours for the role that they played included being the first dog to ever be on a stamp and later, the first and only dog to share a stamp with a member of royalty. Dog sled teams made up of Newfoundland dogs took the Royal Mail where the railway left off to a chain of settlements over frozen trails where horses couldn’t travel. In addition to the inter-settlement delivery by dog sled, other Newfs worked in town delivering the mail with special wooden wagons. It has always been my dream to have one of these wagons as a lawn ornament and whenever someone going to Newfoundland asks me if there is anything they can bring back for me, I always ask for a Royal Mail wagon. Unfortunately they seem to be all gone except for the one in the Canadian Postal Museum in Gatineau, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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