Canadian postal code

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A Canadian postal code is a string of six characters that forms part of a postal address in Canada. Like British and Dutch postcodes, Canada's postal codes are alphanumeric. Most other postal code systems use only numbers, including the U.S. ZIP code system. Canadian postal codes are in the format ANA NAN, where A is a letter and N is a digit, with a space separating the third and fourth characters. An example is K1A 0B1, which is for Canada Post's Ottawa headquarters. According to Statistics Canada, about 850,000 postal codes exist in Canada.[1]

Canada Post provides a free postal code look-up tool on its website[2], and sells hard-copy directories and CD-ROMs. Many vendors also sell validation tools, which allow customers to properly match addresses and postal codes. Hard-copy directories can also be consulted in all post offices.


[edit] History

[edit] City postal zones

Numbered postal zones were used in certain Canadian cities by the 1940s. Mail to a Toronto address in zone 5 would be addressed in this format:

Firstname Lastname
9999 Streetname Avenue
Toronto 5, Ontario

As of 1943, the City of Toronto was divided into 14 zones, numbered from 1 to 15, except that 7 and 11 were unused, and there was a 2B zone.[3]

In the late 1960s, the Post Office began implementing a 3-digit zone number scheme in major cities to replace existing 1- and 2-digit zone numbers.[4] For example, zones numbered from 100 to 799 were assigned throughout Metropolitan Toronto, with a goal of sorting mail addresses into smaller districts. Toronto's renumbering took effect 1 May 1969, accompanied by an advertising campaign under the slogan "Your number is up".[5] The system was introduced during 1968 in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Ontario, Montreal, and Windsor. Besides Toronto, the system was to have expanded in 1969 to London, Ottawa, Quebec City, and Vancouver.[5]

With impending plans for a national postal code system, Postmaster General Eric Kierans announced that the Post Office would begin cancelling the new 3-digit city zone system. Companies changed their mail addressing at their own expense only to find the new zoning would prove to be short-lived.[6]

[edit] Planning

As the largest Canadian cities were growing in the 1950s and 1960s, the volumes of mail passing through the country's postal system also grew, reaching billions by the 1950s, and tens of billions by the mid 1960s. Consequently, it was getting progressively more challenging for employees who hand-sorted mail to memorize and keep track of all the individual letter carrier routes within each city. New technology that allowed mail to be delivered at a faster speed also contributed to the pressure for these employees to properly sort the mail. Canada was one of the last western countries to get a nationwide postal code system.[7] A report tabled in the House of Commons in 1969 dealt with the expected impact of "environmental change" on the Post Office operations over the following 25 years. A key recommendation was the "establishment of a task force to determine the nature of the automation and mechanization the Post Office should adopt, which might include design of a postal code".[8][9]

[edit] Implementation

In February 1970, Communications Minister Eric Kierans announced that a six-character postal code would be introduced, beginning with a test in the City of Ottawa on April 1, 1971.[10] Coding of Ottawa was followed by a provincial-level rollout of the system in Manitoba, and the system was gradually implemented in the rest of the country from 1972 to 1974.[9] The rollout was marked by a large advertising campaign, costing some C$545,000.[11]

The introduction of such a code system allowed Canada Post to easily speed up, as well as simplify, the flow of mail in the country. However, when the automated sorting system was initially conceived, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and other relevant unions objected to it, mainly because the wages of those who ran the new automated machines were much lower than those who had hand-sorted mail. The unions ended up staging job action and public information campaigns, with the message that they did not want people and business to use postal codes on their mail. March 20, 1974 was declared "boycott the postal code day" and the union promised that letters without postal codes would be given preferential service.[12] Eventually the unions started being compensated once the automated system was put into use and eventually generating significant revenue for Canada Post. The boycott was called off in February 1976.[13]

One 1975 Toronto ad generated controversy by showing a man writing a postal code on the bottom of a thonged woman with the ditty We're not 'stringing' you along/Use postal codes—you'll 'thing our 'thong'/Don't be cheeky—you've all got 'em/Please include them on the bottom. The ad ran only once before being accused of sexism by NDP MP John Rodriguez. Postmaster General Bryce Mackasey later apologized for it.[14]

Today, mail without a postal code is very uncommon, though it will usually still reach its intended destination.

[edit] Components of a postal code

[edit] Forward sortation areas

 ┌─ Postal district
K1A 0B1
Sortation Area
Local Delivery

A forward sortation area (FSA) is a geographical region where all postal codes start with the same three characters. The first letter of an FSA code denotes a particular "postal district", which, outside of Quebec and Ontario, corresponds to an entire province or territory. Owing to Quebec's and Ontario's large populations, those two provinces have three and five postal districts respectively, and each has at least one city so large that it has a dedicated postal district. On the other hand, the populations in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories are small enough for those two territories to share a postal district. The digit specifies if the FSA is urban or rural. A zero indicates a wide-area rural region, while all other digits indicate urban areas. The second letter represents a specific rural region, entire medium-sized city, or section of a major metropolitan area.

Map of Canadian postal districts.FSA lists: A • B • C • E • G • H • J • K • L • M • N • P • R • S • T • V • X • Y
Map of Canadian postal districts.

A directory of FSAs is provided to the right (below the postal district map), divided into separate articles by postal district. Individual FSA lists are in a tabular format, with the numbers (known as zones) going across the table and the second letter going down the table. The FSA lists specify one representative community located within each rural FSA. Medium-sized cities may have one dedicated FSA, while larger cities have more than one FSA within their limits. For FSAs that span more than one city, the city which is allocated the most codes in each such FSA is listed. For cities with a small number of FSAs (but more than one), the lists specify the relative location of each FSA in those cities. For cities with a large number of FSAs, applicable neighbourhoods and boroughs are specified.

[edit] Local delivery units

The last three characters denote a local delivery unit (LDU). An LDU denotes a specific single address or range of addresses, which can correspond to an entire small town, a significant part of a medium-sized town, a single side of a city block in larger cities, a single large building or a portion of a very large one, a single (large) institution such as a university or a hospital, or a business that receives large volumes of mail on a regular basis. LDUs ending in zero correspond to postal facilities, from post offices all the way up to sortation plants. In urban areas, LDUs may be specific postal carriers' routes. In rural areas where direct door-to-door delivery is not available, an LDU can describe a set of post office boxes or a rural route. LDU 9Z9 is used exclusively for Business Reply Mail. In rural FSAs, the first two characters are usually assigned in alphanumerical order by the name of each community.

[edit] How many postal codes are possible?

No postal code includes the letters D, F, I, O, Q, or U, as the OCR equipment used in automated sorting could easily confuse them with other letters and digits, especially when they are rendered as cursive handwriting. The letters W and Z are used, but are not used as the first letter. This scheme allows for a maximum 3,600 FSAs: with 2,000 possible LDUs in each FSA, there is a theoretical maximum of 7.2 million codes. The practical maximum is a bit lower, as Canada Post reserves some FSAs for special functions, such as for test or promotional purposes, as well as for sorting mail bound for destinations outside Canada. The current Statistics Canada estimate of over 850,000 active postal codes[1] represents about 12% of the entire postal code "space", leaving more than ample room for expansion.

[edit] Postal barcodes

When a piece of mail reaches its first major Canada Post sortation facility, a multiline optical character reader system looks at its destination address, translates its postal code into a barcode, and prints that barcode on the faced envelope. For regular-size mail, a UV-fluorescent barcode is applied to the lower-right corner of the envelope; for larger envelopes, a special four-state barcode known as PostBar[15] is applied, which encodes additional relevant information along with the postal code. The four-state barcode is put on a sticker, which is then applied to the envelope either on its lower-right corner, or just above the destination address. The complexity of the symbologies used does not make manual pre-printing of the barcodes practical, especially since the special ink used in the fluorescent barcode is not normally available to the public. However, businesses that want to reduce costs by pre-printing their own barcodes can enter into a licensing agreement with Canada Post, which includes either existing computer software for printing barcodes or the symbology specifications for businesses that wish to develop their own software. Pieces of mail that are hand-sorted instead of machine-sorted are not barcoded. This is usually the case when sender and recipient are geographically close.

Canada Post also uses a simpler optical mark recognition system for encoding postal codes, which is printed to the right of the destination address on an envelope. This code, three rows of four marks each, is always applied before the envelope enters the postal system, and is simple enough to be printed manually with just a template and a pencil.

[edit] Urbanization

Urbanization is the name Canada Post uses to refer to the process where it replaces a rural postal code (i.e., a code with a zero as its second character) with urban postal codes.[16] The vacated rural postal code can then be assigned to another community or retired. Canada Post decides when to urbanize a certain community when its population reaches a certain level.

[edit] Santa Claus

In 1974, staff at Canada Post's Montreal office were noticing a considerable amount of letters addressed to Santa Claus coming into the postal system, and those letters were being treated as undeliverable. Since those employees did not want the writers, mostly young children, to be disappointed at the lack of response, they started answering the letters themselves. The amount of mail sent to Santa Claus increased every Christmas, up to the point that Canada Post decided to start an official Santa Claus letter-response program in 1983. Approximately one million letters come in to Santa Claus each Christmas, including from outside of Canada, and all of them are answered, in the same languages in which they are written.[17] Canada Post introduced a special address for mail to Santa Claus, complete with its own postal code:


H0H 0H0 was chosen because it looks like "Ho ho ho".[18]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Statistics Canada (March 2006). Postal Code Conversion File (PCCF), Reference Guide (PDF). Retrieved on 2007-01-07.
  2. ^ Canada Post. Postal code lookup - Advanced search. Retrieved on 2007-01-22.
  3. ^ "Urge citizens include zones in addresses Would Speed Delivery of Mail, Postoffice Department Contends", The Globe and Mail, 26 August 1943, p. 4.
  4. ^ "Postal zones going to 3 digits", The Globe and Mail, 25 September 1968, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Picton, John. "Post Office's numbers game shifts to public phase in Toronto area", The Globe and Mail, 30 April 1969, p. B3.
  6. ^ Belford, Terrence. "Costs of postal zone changes hit some companies second time", The Globe and Mail, 4 June 1969, p. B4.
  7. ^ Rolfe, John. "Cote denies conflict between ITT contract and personnel exchange with Post Office", The Globe and Mail, March 4, 1972, p. B3.
  8. ^ "Technical advances in communications will erode Post Office work, report says", The Globe and Mail, May 6, 1969, p. A3.
  9. ^ a b Canadian Postal Museum (September 16, 2001). A Chronology of Canadian Postal History: The Postal Code. Retrieved on 2007-01-07.
  10. ^ "Postal Code", The Globe and Mail, February 20, 1970, p. B1.
  11. ^ "6-figure cost to advertise 6-figure code", The Globe and Mail, February 20, 1973, p. A2.
  12. ^ List, Wilfred. "For good service, do not use code, postal union says", The Globe and Mail, March 13, 1975, p. A1.
  13. ^ "Postal union ends boycott of code system", The Globe and Mail, February 6, 1976, p. A8.
  14. ^ "MP cites 'sexist' ad, Mackasey apologizes", The Globe and Mail, June 18, 1975, p. A10.
  15. ^ United States Patent 5,602,382 - Mail piece bar code having a data content identifier (Assigned to Canada Post Corporation) (February 11, 1997). Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  16. ^ Christie, Bob (January 6, 2006). Bulletin - Rating Territories and Postal Code Changes by Canada Post (No.A - 02/06). Financial Services Commission of Ontario. Retrieved on 2007-01-06.
  17. ^ Tourisme Montréal (2006). Santa's Montréal Mailbox. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.
  18. ^ Canada Post Media Relations (October 28, 2004). Newsroom - Letters to the Editor. Press release. Retrieved on 2006-11-06.

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