B.C. Post Offices: Sayward Valley

In an isolated area approximately sixty miles from Campbell River on the Eastern side of Vancouver Island, lies Sayward Valley. For years it was cut off with no road connection. In this area were three post offices: Port Kusam, Sayward and Kelsey Bay.

Port Kusam was a small spot under snow-capped Mt. Kusam, snuggling in a little cove just around the point from Kelsey Bay. It was isolated from Sayward Valley itself by a 4½-mile trail over a thousand-foot ridge that dropped sharply to the sea. Today only a single deserted farm and a small silent mill stand giving a modern touch but ceasing to be inhabited when a trail was blasted around the south side of Kelsey Bay giving easier access.

There is still evidence of the early days of Port Kusan. T. Petersen, a Dane, founded his store there in the late nineties. It was March 3, 1899 that a post office was opened in his store.

The dock site still partially stands and runs out from a small rocky promontory into the sea. Here small coastal vessels could put in with urgent supplies for the few settlers in the valley, who came by foot or on horseback to get their meagre supplies. Facing the sea, on the side of the store in free hand and black paint are inscribed ‘GASOLINE’ and ‘STORE’.

Next to the store for the accommodation of travellers is the Ruby Hotel. it is a two-storey building with a high false front with ‘RUBY HOTEL’ in two lines. Both of these buildings are intact today due to their remoteness. Just above the front double doors is written ‘PORT KUSAM’ in black square letters l identifying the tiny settlement. If any homes existed, there are no signs left.

According to post office records, Peterson sold his store for on July 1st, 1903 Otto Sacht, a German immigrant, became the new postmaster. He also pioneered the first store at Sayward on the Salmon River. Finally when the road around Kelsey Bay was blasted from the rocky cliffs, Port Kusam was deserted for the safer bay anchorage. The post office was closed December 1st, 1911 and a new office was opened on that date with Otto Sacht as postmaster at Sayward. As one approaches the bridge over the Salmon River at the Armishaw stone gates, a small sign by the roadside reads: “The H’Kusam Trail”.

The first post office was a small board shack for quite a few years. As the area prospered, Sayward grew and a much larger post office was built across the road in the village. When Otto Sacht retired, Mrs. Armitage was the postmistress for the next twenty-five years.

Finally a good paved road from Campbell River opened up the valley. Kelsey, four miles north of Sayward grew rapidly. Fishermen patronized the store and the marina. A large sawmill was built here. Kelsey Bay became a ferry terminal for local isolated villages around. It was the Prince Rupert terminal for a while. As the population grew a post office was opened January 16, 1926 and Mrs. I. Kelsey was postmistress.

For economic reasons, the post office at Sayward was closed January 1st, 1970. But to the complete surprise of everyone when the new larger post office was built at Kelsey Bay, the name ‘Sayward’ was chosen. It was so named to honour William Parson Sayward, an early pioneer of the valley.

Originally published in The Guideline, Journal of the VIPS, June 1984
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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