Canadian provincial and territorial postal abbreviations are used by Canada Post, currently in code system of two capital letters, to represent the 13 provinces and territories on addressed mail. These abbreviations allow automated sorting. The current codes replaced the inconsistent designation system used by Canadians until the 1990s.

Current abbreviations[edit | edit source]

The sources of the current abbreviations vary. Some are from the initials of two of the words in the name of a province or territory, while others are from the first and final letter or from the first and some other letter in the name. All of these names are based on the English form of the name, though they also correspond to their French equivalents in various ways (for example, NT could be read for the first and last letters of Nord-Ouest, instead of Northwest Territories). For Quebec and New Brunswick, the two provinces with large numbers of French-speakers, the initials in both languages are identical. French equivalents of each abbreviation once existed: see Traditional abbreviations. Manitoba's abbreviation is due to U.S. states already having abbreviations in all of the letters of the province's name besides "B".

These abbreviations are fully compatible with the equivalent two-letter codes used for states and territorial areas of the United States, because no abbreviations overlap. The policy of not overlapping adjacent-country abbreviations effectively precludes use of NV (Nevada) in Nunavut and T-N as « Terre-Neuve » (Newfoundland). This policy later became a formal agreement between Canada Post and the USPS.[1] The USPS changed the abbreviation for the U.S. state of Nebraska from NB to NE in November 1969 to avoid a conflict with New Brunswick.[2]

There are no Canadian provinces with names potentially overlapping any other adjacent-country territorial abbreviations, such as SPM and GL, so the issue is currently confined to U.S. addresses.

Abbreviation English name French name Source (English)
AB Alberta Alberta First letter of first two syllables
BC British Columbia Colombie-Britannique Initials
MB Manitoba Manitoba First letter of first and last syllables
NB New Brunswick Nouveau-Brunswick Initials
NL Newfoundland and Labrador Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador Initials
NS Nova Scotia Nouvelle-Écosse Initials
NT Northwest Territories Territoires du Nord-Ouest Initials
NU Nunavut Nunavut First two letters
ON Ontario Ontario First two letters
PE Prince Edward Island Île-du-Prince-Édouard Initials of first two words
QC Quebec Québec First and last letters
SK Saskatchewan Saskatchewan First letter of first two syllables
YT[A] Yukon Yukon Initials of "Yukon Territory"

(Note: The Canadian policy of adopting non-overlapping abbreviations to adjacent countries was opposite to the policy adopted by Mexico, where the most convenient two-letter combinations were chosen, regardless of whether that combination was already in use in the United States or Canada, e.g., CO Coahuila, MI Michoacán, MO Morelos, NL Nuevo León, BC Baja California.)

Newfoundland and Labrador's abbreviation became effective 21 October 2002 to reflect the provincial name change from "Newfoundland" to "Newfoundland and Labrador" on 6 December 2001.

In 1991, the code for Quebec was changed from PQ to QC.

Nunavut's code became effective 13 December 2000; before this date, but after Nunavut's creation on 1 April 1999, the abbreviation "NT" was used for Nunavut as well as the Northwest Territories. Canadian postal codes begin with "X" for both NT and NU, the only two territorial or provincial jurisdictions to share the same initial postal code letter. However, the new code NU was chosen to stem possible confusion and to reflect the new territory's creation.

These abbreviations are not the source of letters in Canadian postal codes, which are assigned by Canada Post on a different basis than these abbreviations. While postal codes are also used for sorting, they allow extensive regional sorting. In addition, several provinces have postal codes that begin with different letters.

A sample of a proper address:[3][4]

27-1643 DUNDAS ST W

For International mail:


Note that the street type, unit type, and city quadrant, if applicable, are abbreviated, without periods (though using periods, or even spelling out every word in its entirety, is unlikely to affect delivery in any way). Note also, for domestic mail, the lack of a comma between municipality and province/territory, the double space between the latter and the postal code, and the single space between segments of postal code, all on one line. Note as well, the listing of Canada in a separate line on International mail, followed by the same double space and Postal Code format which would follow the province/territory in domestic mail. Finally, note that regardless of whether it is domestic or international mail addressed to Canada, the Postal Code is always the last item in the address. Addresses should be done in all-upper-case without punctuation, and the unit number may follow street number, with a suitable unit identifier, e.g., "1643 DUNDAS ST W APT 27" using the above example.[4][5][6]

From the USPS Web Site Addressing International Mail - Address your mail correctly to be sure that it gets there

The last line of the address block area must include only the complete country name (no abbreviations) written in uppercase letters. Foreign postal codes, if used, should be placed on the line above the destination country. The following shows the order of information for the destination address

LINE 3: CITY OR TOWN NAME, OTHER PRINCIPAL SUBDIVISION (such as PROVINCE, STATE, or COUNTY) AND POSTAL CODE (IF KNOWN) (Note: in some countries, the postal code may precede the city or town name)

From the USPS IMM 122.1 Destination address
To Canada, there must be two spaces between the province abbreviation and the postal code, as shown below between “ON” and “KIA 0B1”:
The following format should always be used for destination addresses to Canada:


Traditional abbreviations[edit | edit source]

Though deprecated as postal abbreviations, the following are still often used as abbreviations in other contexts. Some of the abandoned French versions included a hyphen. The eventual goal became to standardize all abbreviations into two-character units. In French, with the hyphen, it became a three-character abbreviation, yet, without it, conflict arose with US state abbreviations, e.g., a hyphenless T-N became TN (a duplicate of Tennessee); N-E became NE (a duplicate of Nebraska). Over time, the English forms became standard. Nunavut (created in 1999) does not have a former abbreviation because it did not exist when these codes were phased out, though some abbreviations can be found in other works.

  • AlbertaAlta. [C]
  • British ColumbiaB.C. and C.-B. (the latter is the French version, for Colombie-Britannique)
  • LabradorLB This appeared in Canada Post publications (e.g., The Canadian Postal Code Directory) for the mainland section of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • ManitobaMan.
  • New BrunswickN.B.
  • NewfoundlandNfld. and later NF (the two-letter abbreviation used before the province's name changed to Newfoundland and Labrador) and T.-N. (French version, for Terre-Neuve) [D]
  • Northwest TerritoriesN.W.T. and T.N.O. (French version, for Territoires du Nord-Ouest)
  • Nova ScotiaN.S. and N.-É. (French version, for Nouvelle-Écosse)
  • NunavutNun. and Nvt.
  • OntarioOnt.
  • Prince Edward IslandP.E.I. and Î.P.É. (French version, for île du Prince-Édouard);
  • QuebecQue. and P.Q. (French version, for Province du Québec); later, PQ evolved from P.Q. as the first two-letter non-punctuated abbreviation. Later still, QU evolved as the second two-letter non-punctuated abbreviation, making Quebec's abbreviation consistent with other provinces insofar as using letters solely from the name of the province, but not the word "province", as PQ did. There may also have been political considerations, as "PQ" was and is common shorthand for the Parti Québécois. New York State and New York City have decided arbitrarily to use "QB" to identify Québec Vehicle Licence Plates.
  • SaskatchewanSask.
  • YukonYuk.

Notes[edit | edit source]

A. ^ Commonly though unofficially YK (also used in the second-level country code domain name space ISO-3166-2 lists YT as official [1].
C. ^ Also commonly, but unofficially Alb. in French.
D. ^ LB was commonly used for Labrador prior to 2002. It was an official code available for optional use in lieu of NF, and was listed in the Canada Postal Guide.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ S18, ID-tagging of letter mail items. Universal Postal Union. Page vi. Accessed June 2, 2011.
  2. ^ USPS Postal History: State Abbreviations Accessed June 2, 2011.
  3. ^ "Canadian Addressing Guide", Canada Postal Guide, Canada Post, 2006; accessed July 19, 2006
  4. ^ a b " Addressing Guidelines", Postal Guide, Canada Post, 2007; accessed December 20, 2007
  5. ^ "Addressing", Postal Standards, Canada Post, 2006; accessed July 19, 2006)
  6. ^ "Civic Addresses", Postal Standards, Canada Post, 2007; accessed December 20, 2007)

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