B.C. Post Offices: Calgary & Vancouver R.P.O.

In Biblical times, God wrote messages on stone to His people and laid down instructions and guides for those generations.

In comparatively modern times, man was to write in steel on mountain passes, across chasms, in valley beds and through the wildest country in southern Canada, in winter and in summer. Twin bands of steel were to be the guide and progress in the late nineteenth century, to be called the Canadian Pacific Railway. Onderdonk working from the west met Van Horne from the east, and the work cars at “End of Track” finally forged the link at Craigellachie, B.C.

Today a road of asphalt parallels this twin steel line and in comparative ease we can trace the path of the heroes who defied nature, past and present. Many times the railroad story has been shown in Pierre Berton’s series on TV and I have no intention of repeating a well-told tale.

Rather, I am interested in the post offices that lay along the route. Many were born as the steel advanced across the prairie and into British Columbia. Other post offices, going back to Colonial days before Confederation, were linked together. Finally with the goal reached at Port Moody, the dream came true. The last leg finally extended to Vancouver on Burrard Inlet.

This link, promised to B.C. as a condition for entering Confederation, caused the Post Office to adopt a new idea for handling the mail to the west. Mail cars and clerks were established. The postmarks resulting from this procedure are a different tale.

The Post Office established runs known as divisions, and western division ran from Calgary to Vancouver, and in postal jargon was called the Cal & Van R.P.O. (Calgary and Vancouver Railway Post Office). The B.C. area is the part to be discussed here. It is at Stephen that the railway enters B.C.

The first post office reached was called Ottertail. An abundance of otters in the area suggested the name. It was short-lived as an office, lasting only a year; opened 1-5-1903 and closed 31-3-1904.

Golden in the Selkirks has had a long existence. The early trails of the explorers came up the valley from Cranbrook. For many years only the railway connected that town with Revelstoke in the west. Spiral tunnels in this area were an engineering marvel. Golden was founded 1-4-1887 and is an anchor town through the Rogers Pass.

Donald is northwest of Golden – opened 1-4-1886 and closed 1-2-1903. Today the station is in a position a few miles away from the original site, and is still a post office.

With the train passing through this wild country it is only natural that many small settlements sprang up and withered away, with no post office established.

Beaver was named after Canada’s national animal. It had a long life. It was opened 1-3-1890 and closed 2-6-1954. In later days the name was changed to Beavermouth. Six Mile Creek, in the same area, opened 1-4-1913 and closed 31-10-1932.

Glacier is high in the mountains, and early in the century Glacier House was the epitome of society, somewhat in the style of Banff in Alberta. It was located 30 miles northeast of Revelstoke. Opened 1-3-1899, it saw three score years of life, closing 10-6-1960.

Illecillewaet is an unusual name and is First Nations for ‘swift water’. This village lies in between Albert Canyon and Glacier – opened 1-8-1887 and closed 31-12-1923.

Albert Canyon lies off the highway deep in the canyon. It got its name from Albert L. Rogers, nephew of Major A.B. Rogers. This office opened 1-11-1897 and closed 4-3-1966.

Revelstoke was founded as Farwell after A.S. Farwell, surveyor-general of B.C. Made a divisional roundhouse for repairs of C.P.R. engines and rolling stock, today with the new highway to Golden, Revelstoke has become a stop-over point before the Rogers Pass.

Craigellachie is the historic meeting place of railway construction gangs from east and west. Donald Smith drove in the symbolic golden spike here. A large cairn by the roadside commemorates this event. The post office was near the railway station. It opened 1-2-1895 and closed 22-9-1970.

We are now well out of the mountains, nearing the beautiful Shuswap Lake country.

Sicamous is one of the larger towns on this part of the rail line. It is the indigenous word for ‘place cut through’. Opened 1-11-1887.

Salmon Arm is on the eastern part of the lake system, opening 1-11-1890. The country around here is treed, and lovely vistas open up as the road skirts the lakes. It is a great fishing area and the Adams River run of salmon numbers tens of thousands as the fish return to the spawning grounds.

Along the railway, sidings were established for the passing of the east and westbound trains. Tappen Siding was one such place, eight miles from Salmon Arm. There was a post office established here: opened in 1-7-1892 and closed 1-2-1898. Notch Hill is also in this area and is one of the longer-lived offices: opened 1-4-1893 and closed 8-2-1969.

Shuswap, the town itself, was named in the indigenous language adapted from the words ‘Seh-haup’. It was an early office, opened 1-3-1895 but not closing until 21-5-1957.

So many of the early offices have closed down as the motor roads developed.

One of the oddest named post offices in B.C. was called Duck & Pringles after a pair of early settlers in the district. It was an old colonial office established 13-6-1870. On 1-10-1896 the name was changed to Monte Creek, an office still open just east of Kamloops.

Kamloops, today one of our larger interior towns, is the heart of vast cattle ranches in the district. Situated at the junction of the North Thompson and the Thompson, it was the meeting place of the early explorers. The name is from the local First Nations ‘meeting of the waters’.

Cherry Creek is only a wayside stop. The post office was established 1-11-1895 and closed 30-10-1899.

Savona’s Ferry, a village on the opposite side of Kamloops Lake, was the point where people were ferried across. Again a colonial post office opened there on 2-7-1866. The name has since been shortened to Savona.

Ashcroft Station is an early settlement. Before the railway was established, Ashcroft Manor was a stopping point on the Cariboo Road. The post office was originally in the local store but was moved to the station. It was established 1-3-1886. The name was shortened to Ashcroft 1-4-1899.

Drynoch was named after Drynoch on the Isle of Skye, and was of short duration: opened 1-10-1862 and closed 1-11-1885.

The Thompson River meets the Fraser at Lytton. The waters of the Thompson are crystal blue but the Fraser is usually grey with silt, so for a few miles below Lytton you have the blue and grey until finally the grey prevails. It is at Lytton the railway turns south towards the canyon country, and here the worst part of the construction was along these walls. Lytton was one of the colonial offices, established in 1859 and named after Sir Bulwer-Lytton, Secretary of State in the Colonial Office.

Keefers is named after G.A. Keefer, C.P.R. construction engineer. It was opened 1-8-1895 and closed 10-6-1965.

North Bend, a village on the west side of the Fraser River, was the original Boston Bar. It was opened 1-7-1887 and closed recently.

Spuzzum is a First Nations word meaning ‘flat head’. It is 22 miles north of Hope, and was established 1-5-1897. It is still open.

Yale for years was the head of navigation on the Fraser in the early colonial days, and was established in 1858. It is still a post office, but very much smaller.

Emory Station was just a whistle stop south of Yale: established 1-11-1881 and closed 30-4-1890.

Ruby Creek is a siding for the trains and got its name from the rubies found locally: opened 1-11-1899 and closed 30-6-1940.

Agassiz was named after Lewis Agassiz, first settler in the area. This office was opened as Fernie Coombe but changed to Agassiz 1-5-1888.

Nicomen, named after the First Nations Ni-Kaomin, meaning ‘place cut through water’, was established 1-11-1890 and closed 10-6-1911.

Mission City was named because of the presence of the St. Mary’s Indian Mission. Established 1-10-1891 and still a thriving centre.

Port Moody was the first suggested terminal for the railway, opened 1-10-1882. If one visits the Heritage Museum in Victoria, the original waiting and telegraph room has been set up on the top floor in the historical area.

Vancouver today is the third largest metropolitan conglomerate in all of Canada. The founding name was Granville with the post office opening 1-4-1874. Victoria, the capital, looked upon this upstart with disdain, little dreaming that within a century it would dominate all the cities in B.C. and become one of the largest seaports on the Pacific coast. So with such a harbour and centre this would become the final western terminal of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

So the C.P.R. became a story of twin steel across Canada and on entering B.C. faced its greatest challenge, an important part of its history told by its many post offices past and present.

I wish to give thanks to George Melvin’s The Post Offices of British Columbia, 1858-1970 for parts of the information in this article.

Cover postmarked on the Calgary & Vancouver R.P.O. run (C. & V. R.P.O.), Vancouver to Savona. April 27, 1905. (G. Scrimgeour)

First published in The Guideline, Journal of the VIPS, January 1987 and March 1987
by Lester Small

About Lester Small
From 1984 to 1988, there were a number of articles about Canadian postal history (most of them about British Columbia) in The Guideline, the newsletter of the Vancouver Island Philatelic Society. Almost all of these were written by Lester Small (Member #341). Lester – a clerk at the Victoria Post Office – was also active in the Greater Victoria Philatelic Society. He organized the junior programme of the GVPS, and looked after the junior stamp club for 35 years.

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