Post Office Partnership

The postal rate story

Books for the use of the blind shall be entitled to free transmission through the mails
— Sir William Mulock

In 1898 Canada became one of the first countries in the world to allow books for blind readers to be sent through the mail for free.  On April 1st of that year, the Postmaster General stood in the House of Commons in Ottawa and introduced a bill to amend the Post Office Act.  Sir William  Mulock explained to the House that raised print allowed “the unfortunate blind who have lost the priceless treasure of sight” to read, but the postage for sending these “large and bulky and very heavy” books was prohibitive.  When prepared for blind readers, the Bible, he noted, would cost “nearly $4.80,” and thus he moved his amendment:  to ensure that "books for the use of the blind shall be entitled to free transmission through the mails.”

Debate to amend the Post Office Act, Friday 1st April, 1898 (Transcription included below)

The words recorded in Hansard read: “I am sure every member of this House will approve of this suggestion.

Sir CHARLES TUPPER.  Hear. Hear.”

Sir William moved the amendment to the Post Office Act that allowed the “franking exemption,” as it was called.  Mulock had personal reasons for backing this initiative.  He was motivated by memories of two close friends from his youth who were blind.  “As soon as I entered the government I began to give attention to the problems of blind people,” he said in an interview, adding that his two blind friends later became piano tuners “and very proficient ones, too.”  The franking exemption was supported as well by the heads of schools for the blind in Halifax and Brantford.  Another voice of support may have been Edgar Robinson, founder of the Canadian Free Library for the Blind; his widow maintained that it was actually the persuasive eloquence of her husband who had won free postage for embossed literature.

Sir William was honoured by the CNIB Library on the 40th anniversary of the amendment with a silver statuette of a mail carrier carrying a Braille book.  Library users had donated the money and had written letters to acknowledge the importance of allowing free postage for books for the blind. One hundred of the best letters, bound in a leather volume, were presented to Mulock along with the statuette.

Mail and talking books

In 1934, Canada Post offered an opinion that the brand new reading technology, talking books, would not qualify as “books” under the meaning of the Post Office Act, and proposed a discounted rate, “merely a nominal charge.”  But by 1942 CNIB had persuaded the post office to drop the charge completely.  That year, free postage on talking books for the blind was granted by the Canadian Government.  Now, talking book records could be sent to any part of Canada, Newfoundland, the U.S. and Mexico, without the payment of postage. An interesting family link existed with the original franking exemption from 1898:  Sir William Mulock's grandson, Col. The Honourable W.P. Mulock, K.C. was Postmaster General at the time of the 1942 decision.

W.J. Turnbull, Deputy Postmaster General, to E.A. Baker confirming that in future "books printed in raised characters and sound reproduction records, mailed in Canada for delivery in Canada, are to be accepted free of postage..."

Four years later, the post office addressed needs of blind Canadians in remote parts of Canada.  Being “desirous of lightening the burden of the blind in any way possible,” Canada Post agreed to provide free air transport for talking books to post offices served solely by plane, extending the Library’s service to the Yukon, NWT, Eastern and Western Arctic, Northern Quebec, and the Magdalen Islands.