Eli Corbiere, 19th Century Mail Carrier in East Gwillimbury
Soon we will arrive at the time of year where parcels and packages will be sent to friends and loved ones across the country. However, in the early days of settlement in this area, mail delivery was considered a challenging expedition through the wilderness. Only a certain type of person would be willing to take up the task; that person was none other than Eli Corbiere (b. 1818).
His family was originally from Drummond Island, which is now a part of the state of Michigan. His father, Louis Corbiere, was a French-Canadian voyageur who had traveled up and down the Great Lakes, and he had married an Indigenous woman whose name is unfortunately not known to us. Many of the people on the island, including the Corbieres, moved to Penetanguishene when the British garrison relocated there in 1828.
In his youth, he apprenticed as a shoemaker and later moved down to Holland Landing. Eventually, he became a clerk with the firm Borland & Roe, who specialized in fur trading. Now, during the 1840’s and 50’s, the mail route ended at Holland Landing, since that is where the terminus of Yonge Street was located. When the mail route was opened between Orillia and Penetanguishene and volunteers were urgently needed, he promptly agreed to deliver mail to those far-flung locations.
Eli was reputed to be lean, strong, and possessed of great endurance; he earned the name “Fleetfoot” Corbiere by the speed of his mail delivery. One story relates that he once made the trek from Holland Landing to Penetanguishene (which is 60 miles or approximately 96 kilometers) within the course of a day from sun-up to sun-down. Having delivered the mail across harsh cross-country terrain for many years took their toll on his body, and he ended up being afflicted with lameness in his later life. A neighbor named A. E. Coombs said that he became a cobbler and lived in Holland Landing ““just west of and quite close to the Grand Trunk Railroad, close to the road which now leads to Bradford.” His son, Carlos Corbiere, changed his name to Charles Kirby and moved to Newmarket and lived most of his life there.
Figure 1: Line drawing of Eli Corbiere passing by a bear on the way to delivering the mail. Drawing by Creighton Henry; found in "Stories of Newmarket: An Old Ontario Town" by Robert Terence Carter.
Eli Corbiere passed away in June 1910 at the venerable age of 91. He and the other members of his family are buried in the pioneer Methodist cemetery on the hill north of the village of Sharon.
 Trewhella, Ethel Wilson. (1967) “History of the Town of Newmarket”. Newmarket: Anon. Page 111. Retrieved from https://news.ourontario.ca/newmarket/3535420/page/125?n=.