Every day, from the 1930s to the 1960s, the loud, mournful howl of the train whistle brought excitement to the people of Snowden hamlet and surrounding area.
It meant new products coming to the stores, perhaps a passenger or two arriving or leaving, maybe a new truck for the Ford dealer, large parcels or furniture to fill someone’s household order.
But the greatest source of expectation and curiosity every day was the mail. A crowd would gather at the Post Office, children giggling and shouting, adults catching up on the local news and gossip, everyone waiting for the sorting to finish and the wicket to open. Letters from distant relatives, important business communication, pay cheques, parcels with long-awaited treasures inside. Magazines, newspapers, books--something for everyone.
Those happy occasions occurred in hundreds of small towns throughout the province and beyond. I once lived across the street from the post office in Naicam, where a crowd of seniors usually arrived to visit, long before the mail would be sorted. Our dog Queenie remembered the time they would be there every morning. She’d have us let her out and trot over to enjoy the company of those seniors, who always greeted her warmly.
There were no government services more important in those years than the post office. More small-package consumer goods, documents, necessary communications, news and information services were delivered to consumers, organizations and businesses than any other method.
For many decades city dwellers have had their mail delivered directly to their dwellings daily. When, in 2013, Canada Post began to use community mailboxes instead, their was an immediate outburst of angry protest. “Imagine having to walk maybe half a block to get your mail! What an inconvenience for the elderly!” I found the outrage hilarious. Half a block? On the farm where I was raised a mailbox half a MILE from our house would have been a wondrous luxury. We and all our neighbours, had to go to the nearest town or village to get our mail. Often due to snow-drifted or rain-soaked roads we’d have to wait a week, maybe two, to get it.
Now, of course, many of the necessities once delivered only by mail have been taken over by other services: telephone, fax, couriers, TV, email and other social media. But it’s still there, and to get an idea of how important postal services are, even now, let’s look at earlier forms of filling those needs. Centuries ago sending a message or parcel to someone a distance away from your home meant you had wait to send it with someone travelling that way. Or you could hire someone to take it--far too expensive for most people. And of course the farther the distance the more the expense.
In Britain the Penny Post was introduced in 1840, whereby for one penny, using a postage stamp, you could send a letter anywhere in the nation. Similar systems were soon developed in other countries, including Canada. It proved to be a fast, inexpensive way for anyone, rich or poor, to send messages to almost anywhere in the world.
Currently the U.S. Postal service is, tragically, facing political barriers. Because of the pandemic it would be safer for voters to use mail-in ballots than to gather at the polls. President Donald Trump is trying to discredit that method, claiming it is vulnerable to cheating. There is no evidence of that in any significant numbers where it has often been used in many states and municipalities. Many fear damage to the postal services will be a result of the conflict.
But that’s another story. Esther still likes to pick up the mail soon after the truck arrives and seems a bit disappointed when, as never occurred in the “old days”, the box is often empty. “Does no one like us any more?” My uncle Geordie was a mail carrier in Prince Albert during, I would guess, the 1960s and ’70s, and possibly into the ’80s. He was a World War II veteran, an active man with the active job he loved. To all those carriers in the postal service’s glory days, and today as well: we owe you our greatest respect.