(published in the Montreal Gazette on December 21, 2012)
I got up very early this past Wednesday, as I personally wanted to give my end of the year ‘holiday and thank you envelope’ to my Gazette deliveryman. Our brief encounter took place at 5:00 A.M. (about the latest I have known him to pass) on the small veranda gracing our city centre townhouse. As hard working and reliable as any I have known, I felt he deserved this small token of our appreciation for his many seasons of faithful conveyance to our portal of Montreal’s long established English – language morning daily.
Travelling each day from his home in Laval to downtown Montreal, I can barely imagine at what time of the morning his day starts. Despite that, the only instances I have known him to be late is when the Gazette itself has experienced, for one reason or another, distribution problems.
There was a time, of course, when the ‘to-your-door’ delivery of newspapers was virtually the exclusive realm of relatively young boys and financially strapped teenagers. Indeed, a half century ago, as an adolescent myself I engaged for a brief period in the gallant endeavour. However, as I was attending high school at the time, the very inopportune morning Gazette was not in actual fact a realistic option, or at least my parents didn’t think so!
No, my exposure to the trade was with the archrival of the Gazette – the early evening daily, The Montreal Star. For those who don’t remember, The Star ceased publication in September of 1979, long after I had abandoned my fledgling career as a local newspaper delivery boy.
Unlike today, however, delivering broadsheets was a many facetted job. Immediately after the end of the regular school day (it was very important NOT to get detentions), my friends, who were also involved in the venture, and I would report to our neighbourhood dispersal centre where we would gather up the bundled newspapers that had been put aside for us by a district manager. We then transported them on foot, from door to door, usually with the assistance of a pull wagon. That same-wheeled cart was indispensable on Saturdays when the newspaper was considerably bigger, and much heavier.
Once a week, we would set out (usually on a Sunday) to gather in the money that was due to us from each and every residence. Equipped only with our subscribers’ cards assembled on a metal ring and a hand – held punch device to record payment on the individual cards in question, the collection process was always much more time consuming than the actual delivery of the newspapers themselves. Frequently, customers were not home, which habitually necessitated a second or even a third visit. Often people were home but without money thereby requiring an agreed upon time for another rendezvous.
Of course, the best part of the job was the tip. With the innocence of childhood reflected in our seemingly virtuous eyes, most customers could not resist, although occasionally a few regularly managed to do so – much to our chagrin!
In short, like my Gazette deliveryman today, we worked hard for our earnings in what is, and was, a time-consuming enterprise. I don’t know about today but in 1962 there was no vacation and certainly no holiday pay!
Going further back in time, there was less and less home delivery as vendors in the streets commonly sold newspapers throughout the town. In fact, in the Edwardian period, it was not unusual for boys as young as five, and even girls the same age, to hawk Montreal’s dailies from the sidewalks of the city. However, the presence of these very little girls in particular disturbed many who felt that they were perhaps in ‘moral danger’.
One man, reported the Star in June of 1909, devoted essentially his entire life to the selling of newspapers in the city’s streets. Starting at the age of five in 1859, Peter Murphy observed his fiftieth anniversary in the trade in 1909!
So this holiday season, do remember your Gazette delivery person. They are performing a very important task that is steeped both in the history and customs of our beloved town.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it.”