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Post Office Inspectors Reports

October 17, 2014

1892 map location of proposed South Westminster Post OfficeThe Post Office Department Divisional Inspectors Reports newly released online, are a valuable resource for anyone researching local history or family history in Canada.  The database carries advertising but is unrestricted in access. 

(Our Post Office Research Quick Guide provides links for navigating through the British Columbia reports year by year.)

In the reports are copies of petitions signed by local residents and sketch maps showing the location of post offices in far flung communities across the country.  As it sometimes took only a handful of families to be deserving of postal service, localities are wonderfully magnified in the records.

There are also many unexpected gems: arrangements for the exchange of mail between British Columbia and Washington State communities,  agreements for the "transmission of newspapers,"  correspondence with steamboat companies regarding mail transport contracts, railway service contracts and  timetables, complaints about service and interesting letterheads.

Maps of all kinds are included, from sketches, to town plans, regional maps and cross-border maps showing post offices in Washington State. There are many maps of coastal island locations and descriptions of service to Alaska and the Yukon.

1892 South Westminster Post Office petition

The records include applications that were not approved and some interesting names that never made it into the gazette, such as “Surrey Mills,” "Whitedale" or "Birmingham," all in the Fraser Valley.  We learn of a proposal to change the name of Port Moody to "Alexandra" and that the first choice of a name for Clayton was "Rosedale."

Of local interest is an 1892 petition to establish a Post Office at South Westminster.  This was disallowed on the grounds that Brownsville P.O. was just half a mile away and New Westminster P.O. 20 minutes distant via the Surrey ferry.

South Westminster did not get a Post Office until 1908.

John George, who built and ran a hotel at South Westminster, has his name on three post office petitions, beginning in 1889 at Port Kells and Clayton, then at South Westminster,  in 1892, where he operated the the Surrey Hotel.

(In the earlier post we incorrectly located the first Clayton Post Office on the hill. It was moved there by Cameron when he took over from John George. George’s place was along the trunk road on the flats beside the railway,  later known as Fry’s Corner. See application for Clayton Post Office.)

Below, sketch map to accompany the application for a post office at Port Kells, 1889.

1889 02 01 Port Kells Post Office application sketch map

1890 Map of New Westminster Southern Railway and Post OfficesMail travelled up and down the Fraser River on steamboats and from the various landing places was carried by mail contractors. 

Captain John Irving did not want to call at Port Kells without a subsidy. It was 1891 before a Post Office was established at Port Kells.

The opening up of the New Westminster Southern Railway from Brownsville to Blaine WA in 1891was the impetus for a number of new offices.

 From correspondence of HT Thrift, an early  mail contractor serving post offices at Surrey Centre, Hall’s Prairie and Langley, we learn that he had worked for the railway in securing rights of way and locating stations. On his own property he  allowed a right of way and provided 5 acres of land for the railway station at Hazelmere.

Below, map provided by HT Thrift showing location of Post Offices in Surrey and Langley in relation to a proposed Post Office at Walworth.

1890 04 24 sketch map of post offices in Surrey and Langley with Walworth PO application

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When the NWSR trains began regular service in 1891, mail from Vancouver BC  southbound was sent by train to New Westminster, ferried by the Surrey to South Westminster and transported by the New Westminster Southern to Blaine, where it was exchanged for BC bound mail.
  Time from Brownsville to Seattle was about 7 hours and a further 9 hours brought the mail to Portland.

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