Elastic bands snapping. The faint sound of music streaming from a boom box. Chit-chat among colleagues about the upcoming holiday potluck and their future far beyond that.
These are the sounds of a Canada Post mail depot in east Toronto, where Donna Yerxa, a 59-year-old mail carrier – or "delivery agent," as the Crown corporation now calls the position – starts her day at 9:30 a.m. The 28-year veteran handles walk No. 430, a route she took on about a year ago and with which she has grown familiar.
She knows people's names. She knows when a letter doesn't belong in her sorting tray. She knows who's a "snowbird" spending the winter in Florida, and when people are receiving more or less mail than normal.
Though the modernizations here last year mean she no longer sorts nearly as much mail by hand, she still sorts larger mail and adds in the day's advertisements. With her glasses drawn to the tip of her nose and her thumb clad with a yellow rubber thimble for easier separation, Ms. Yerxa inserts mail into labelled slots within a cubicle-like space. She can't see who's working beside her, but she knows it's Bruna Rea, a friend she trained 14 years ago.
The chatter among and around them, at times, is about Canada Post's "scary" announcement this week: The decision to phase out urban home mail delivery.
Down the row, one man is overheard asking another, "Hanging in there, with everything that's going on?" And a woman selling 50-50 tickets nearby shouts, "Our proceeds are going to the food bank! And we may be on the food bank."
Ms. Yerxa, who earns $24 hourly and gets seven weeks vacation, described Wednesday's announcement as "scary," although she herself will likely be retired by the time Canada Post converts to community mailboxes. She has already adapted to several changes over the years: a later start time, the use of scanners, driving a truck and delivering packages herself – 52-inch televisions and seven-foot Christmas trees included. But the move to community boxes might be one she experiences only as a customer.
As she stuffs slots with magazines and ads, she discusses how she predicts things will change, particularly for seniors who have come to rely on the personal contact. One man who recently lost his wife, she explains, has asked her to stop delivering his spouse's quilting magazines and crafting flyers because it "breaks his heart" to receive them. Ms. Yerxa, a quilter who knew his wife, obliged.
Once the mail is slotted (alphabetically by street, with addresses in descending order and evens separate from odds), Ms. Yerxa "ties off" bundles with the snap of an elastic band. She then rolls her dolly to the "staging area," where her parcels are stacked on a cart. Then it's out to the truck, which she loads deftly, knowing what will need to come out first.
"I'm not this organized at home," she jokes, her cheeks growing rosier from the cold.
Ms. Yerxa, now wearing a green elf hat, started driving a truck and delivering larger parcels just over a year ago, when "we went postal," she says. She is wryly referring to Canada Post's "postal transformation," a modernization strategy that is ending separate parcel-delivery work forces and moves toward new equipment that presorts and pre-sequences the majority of letter mail. Those changes, she says, were the most significant she'd seen since she started her job in Ajax, Ont., where she met her "former postie" husband, Bob "Boo" Burke.
After driving to the start of her first loop and then packing her double-sided satchel with bundles, she starts the outdoor portion of her shift. Up and down the driveways she walks, sporting the Canada Post coat she bought with "points," which are allocated to carriers.
It is a cold afternoon, with few people on the streets. When she reaches the apartment portion of her walk, though, she delivers a package to a familiar face: a woman who used to live on a street Ms. Yerxa serviced years ago, and who laments Wednesday's announcement.
"I know everything is changing, and I understand what Canada Post is having to do, but I think [mail carriers are] an important presence in our community," Allison Turpin, a long-time Scarborough resident, said later in a phone interview.
After handing Ms. Turpin her Christmas package and finishing off the rest of her deliveries, Ms. Yerxa returns the truck to the depot and goes home, where she has a rum and eggnog to "wind down."
"My walk," she says at the end of her day by phone, "is not a walk in the park."