New owner will fight for post office

FITZROY HARBOUR – After only three weeks of proprietorship, new Harbour Store owner Tejal T.J. Marfatia says he will fight to keep the Canada Post office.

Less than a day after the community said goodbye to former store owner Kai Zhang last week (sept. 15), talk of the Canada Post depot housed within the story took over the conversation. Community fear Canada Post would work to remove the post office from Fitzroy Harbour grew to a fever pitch on Facebook community pages.

The fear is founded. In fact, it’s déjà vu for many Fitzroy Harbour residents. When Zhang bought the Harbour Store roughly 12 years ago, she fought the same battle. She was told by Canada Post the postmaster had to be fluently bilingual. Zhang had to apply for the job for a position based out of the store she owned, with the knock against her she wasn’t bilingual in a community decidedly English speaking. In the 2016 census of the Kanata-Carleton Riding (which includes roughly 80,000 Kanata residents), of the 110,315 residents, only 415 speak French only.

Currently, Canada Post has the job of Fitzroy Harbour postmaster posted on its careers page. In the posting the position is declared bilingual imperative under its language requirements.

Marfatia says he will be applying for the job later this week.

“I want the post office to stay as it is,” Marfatia told West Carleton Online this afternoon from his new store (Sept. 21). “I will take it over. It’s not rocket science.”

Marfatia has a master’s degree in nuclear physics, he knows of what he speaks. He says in his three weeks as store owner many members of the community have dropped by to talk about the issue.

Marfatia says he met with representatives with Canada Post early in September and told them the same thing. They stressed it was a bilingual position.

Marfatia speaks several languages – English, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, a little Spanish – but he doesn’t speak French.

“I told them Kai didn’t speak French,” Marfatia said. “The previous owner before Kai didn’t speak French. Why do they now need someone bilingual now? There is nobody here who speaks French. Zero.”

Marfatia says the Canada Post representatives said they had to meet with their team, and they would get back to him with some options. That was a couple of weeks ago.

When Marfatia first looked over the business last January, he wasn’t concerned about the post office being part of the operation. It was not part of his negotiation with Zhang because she did not have a say in it – she was merely an employee of Canada Post.

“One month ago, I wasn’t sure,” Marfatia said. “But now, the kids going down the street, are just like my kids. Just imagine your mom and dad living in the community. How difficult it will be for them if the have to travel to the post office. If they move the post office, it will hurt the community more than it will hurt me. I want to support the community. If they move the post office out of town, it would be cruel. I want the post office to remain here as it is.”

Unfortunately for the roughly 1,000 people the Fitzroy Harbour depot serves, Marfatia doesn’t have a say in the decision, but he will do what he can.

“The welcome here has been very good,” he said. “I’ve only been here for three weeks and it seems like 70 per cent of the community knows me already. It’s very heartwarming. If Canada Post says they are going to take it away, I’m going to fight for it.”

West Carleton Online reached out to Canada Post on Sept. 18 for comment on the “future of the Fitzroy Harbour post office in rural west Ottawa.”

While our interview request was denied, Canada Post did provide a statement to us.

“Thank you for your inquiry,” Canada Post’s Valérie Chartrand replied Sept. 18. “Canada Post is currently working on finding a new postmaster. As we are in the preliminary stages, we are not yet able to speak further about our plans. We anticipate no interruption in postal services to the residents of Fitzroy Harbour and will provide any updates when available.”

West Carleton Online will have more on The Harbour Store’s new owner later this week.