William Caithness has certainly put his stamp on the community in the last few decades.
The longtime St. Boniface resident recently retired from his position at Canada Post after 37 years on the job.
And in a classic case of coming full circle, Caithness finished his career in the same place as it began — St. Boniface Post Office. In May 1979, he started as a letter carrier at the historic post office, which is located at 208 Provencher Blvd. and first opened its doors in 1907. His tenure ended in the same building as the lead hand clerk at the end of June. The post office serves customers in both official languages.Caithness — who is fluent in French — was at the forefront of spearheading a campaign to keep the building open in 2010, after Canada Post indicated that it may relocate the facility a short distance away because it was more a cost-effective option than building a wheelchair ramp at the existing building. The Crown corporation proposed the change after it received a human rights complaint that the building wasn’t wheelchair-accessible. In the end, Canada Post chose to renovate the historic building, which turned out to be a happy ending for all parties concerned.
“I was elated that the building was saved,” said Caithness, noting that he spent the bulk of his career working in St. Boniface.
“My wife, Gisele, did a lot of committee work, and organized many meetings, so we were very elated, as the building is one of the centres of the community that everyone can relate to and is historically so important. When it first opened more than 100 years ago, there was actually a public demonstration because there was no French signage. And think about all of the wives and mothers during the First World War and Second World War that relied on the post office to send letters to their loves ones.”
Raised in Weston, Caithness developed a passion for St. Boniface and its francophone culture at a young age.
“I’m a real Francophile. When I came to St. Boniface as a child, it was like going to Paris,” he said, noting Gisele is originally from Quebec.
“St. Boniface is such a hub, so I feel lucky and blessed to live there.”
While he is looking forward to the next chapter of his life, Caithness said he will miss the day-to-day interactions with members of the community. Listing one of many examples, he recalled when he would regularly see a pair of three-year-old twin girls on his mail route.
“When they would see me, they would hide behind a tree and say ‘coucou’ and, in response, I’d stop and look left and then right and pretend to be all tensed up,” Caithness said, with a laugh.
As adults, the twins would come into the post office and still remember Caithness, which he finds both touching and characteristic of people in the neighbourhood.
“One thing about St. Boniface is that the people have a lot of heart. I have a lot of good memories of from my career,” he said.
Caithness is already into the swing of his new part-time job at the Liquor Mart on Marion Street, not least because it’s keeping him connected with the community, and he is thinking about a future trip to Europe to explore his Scottish roots.
He also continues to be involved with La Compagnie de La Vérendrye, a locally-based living history group and has also been involved with the Old St. Boniface Residents’ Association.