Wilberforce lost in virtual shuffle

By Darren Lum

It’s hard to imagine there would be any confusion at the post office in Wilberforce where postmaster Mary Barker has worked for the past 15 years, following in her father’s footsteps leading the delivery outpost – but that’s exactly what’s happening with residents becoming befuddled by mistakes companies and websites are making. 

Standing at the postal outlet counter within Agnew’s General Store in Wilberforce, Barker points to her rental house across the road, listed on Airbnb. 

“When you go on [the site], it says it’s in Tory Hill. People that moved in on a street behind there on Clement Lake Road … when they moved into the house and tried to get hydro and Bell they were told they lived in Tory Hill. They came in to [see] me and said, ‘Isn’t this Wilberforce?’ ‘Yes, you live in Wilberforce,’” she said.

Wilberforce and other areas in the municipality are also sometimes referenced as Highlands East.

“It’s either Tory Hill, or Highlands East is the other problem … I’m getting a lot of mail that’s coming in addressed to Highlands East with Wilberforce’s postal code, but Highlands East has several towns in it. It’s quite often they’ll have the wrong postal code,” she said.

When incorrectly labelled mail comes to her, she makes the correction, but it takes time. In addition, if Tory Hill mail is processed in Haliburton and the correction isn’t made there, the mail will be returned to the sender, she said. 

And while Airbnb made the correction from Tory Hill to Wilberforce, Barker said she’s since had guests tell her that the incorrect information has returned.

She wonders what will happen during the weeks leading up to Christmas when deliveries ramp up for the busy time of the year. Parcel mail volume is already high due to COVID-19 demands.

Barker said she noticed the problem for the first time more than a year ago.

At first she thought it was strange, but the number of incidents have steadily grown. Another instance she’s heard of is in the online game Pokèmon Go, which also labels locations in Wilberforce as Tory Hill.

The mix-up can sometimes disrupt marketing and promotion, particularly with geocaching (a type of GPS treasure hunt) being a popular pastime in the municipality. 

Barker and her friend Joanne Vanier, Highlands East economic development coordinator, are both promoters of geocaching in the area. They said searching through the geocaching.com Wilberforce yields incorrect results or no results at all. Vanier said it’s difficult situation.

“When I search Wilberforce, Ontario, I get a place in California,” she said. “I search Wilberforce, Ontario, Canada, and I get nothing.”

After she reached out to geocaching.com, little help was forthcoming, she said. They called it a “complex situation” in an email. The short-term suggestion was to adjust marketing to focus on Highlands East rather than a specific village and reference specific links in their social media posts. 

“It was very frustrating,” Vanier said. 

People do continue to find the area anyway, whether it’s through searching for the area’s Geotour, “geocaching capital of Canada,” or by using Tory Hill as the search term. 

Highlands East fire chief Chris Baughman said there hasn’t been cause for concern dispatching the department. However, he has personally experienced a few GPS issues with addresses that say Harcourt when they should be Tory Hill.

“One address doesn’t even come to mind, but I’ve had that before where I know where an address is, but it’s showing up very wrong on a map as far as GPS,” he said. 

Although Haliburton County uses the municipal 911 system, which is the standard in Ontario, private companies such as Google, MapQuest, and Bell Canada are not required to use it, said the county’s director of planning Charlsey White. 

“There is/used to be a difference between the county providing a property with a 911 number, Canada Post providing the property a mailing address and a web service creating a directions tool,” White said in an email. “The County’s recent partnership with Municipal 511 has led to greater consistency between the County, Google and Waze.”

The same address on the Barry Line, for example, could be classified as Dysart et al by the county, Google and MapQuest, but would be labelled Haliburton by Canada Post. 

“Wilberforce does come up in Google Maps, as do similar place names like Eagle Lake or Tory Hill. But these are not addressed places, they are not towns, cities, municipalities in the legal meaning of those terms which may be why companies do not use them and instead use Highlands East or Dysart et al,” she wrote. “I note some places on Essonville Line come up as County Road 4 and others come up as Tory Hill. A person would really need to connect with the specific company to find out how they ‘address’ or ‘map’. These nuances are outside the jurisdiction of the County of Haliburton.”

Belinda Gallagher has lived in the Tory Hill area for the past decade and said she was made aware of an issue when her subscription to a U.S.-based magazine wasn’t renewed even though automatic billing was set up.

A week before it was due to renew, she received notice indicating there was a problem with the credit card. Around the same time, an online purchase with a feed company in the Maritimes led to an alert about her credit card. 

She called her credit card company to inquire and their response was that the information the businesses had wasn’t aligning with their records.

“When you do things over the phone you usually have to give them your address,” she said. “They will run the postal code and if the postal code address doesn’t match the address they have on file they will decline the card. And that’s what had happened because my mailing address had been Tory Hill and all of a sudden it was coming up (when they ran the address) as Highlands East so the data wasn’t matching.” 

The situation reminded her of an email she’d received from the networking website LinkedIn, which had said her address had changed to Highlands East. At the time, she didn’t think anything of it, but the credit card customer service representative said that change could prompt a declined card. 

The LinkedIn example was disconcerting because they changed her address without notification.

A few weeks later, she checked in with LinkedIn to see if it had worked itself out. It had not. 

Gallagher said she wonders what this could mean for others who may not have the same kind of diligent followup she received. 

“I think of people [who] maybe have stuff in storage, you know, and they leave their credit card there and if it doesn’t renew. I thought of all the places where it might run into a problem where these people immediately got back to me that [their] card hadn’t gone through. One, because I was purchasing something and the other is they’re just efficient,” she said. “But there are loads of places that aren’t that quick on the draw to track you down.”

In some cases, not having an automatic renewal go through could pose a significant issue. Gallagher gave the example of CAA. 

“I can’t imagine being out on the highway broken down and calling up CAA and then they say, ‘sorry we haven’t renewed your membership because [of] the card’ – now a company like that probably does follow up, but you don’t know,” she said.