Bringing the Mail to Brackendale

By Ellen Grant
Published: Dec 23, 2015
 
AS I WATCHED a U.P.S. Truck deliver items to a neighbour for the third time in a week, I reflected on the 125 years of postal service in the valley. brackendale
My grandfather, Harry Judd, had probably written the first letters from the region in 1889-1890. He wrote them to his mother in Ontario but he had to wait until he returned to Vancouver before they could be sent via the new railroad to eastern Canada. His chums in the great pioneer spirit had come out to the west coast from England, thus their communication with relatives and friends had the further distance to travel as the mail was transferred to a steamer for the last part of its transatlantic crossing. Weeks may pass before anxious parents learned of the adventures of their teenage sons. For the next few years the valley pioneers relied on individuals, travelling by canoe,(often navigated by the expert native voyagers), to mail and collect letters from the city. Communication was slow and the mail was often lost or forgotten. 
When, by 1894, a fairly regular steamer service had been inaugurated to ply the waters of Howe Sound, then a post office was established at Squamish for the growing population. This post office changed locations and even its name, Squamish to Newport then back to Squamish,  as it struggled to service the far-flung area. Since most of the residents lived in the northern regions, the mail service was again reliant on neighbours helping neighbours. The trip from Judd Road to Squamish took longer than a present-day trip to Vancouver, while from the growing settlements in the Upper Squamish it usually took the best part of two days for the round trip. The Government Road was just a wagon trail marked by deep muddy ruts. With an expanding farming, hop ranching, logging and tourist industry, the residents decided a post office was an economic necessity further from tide water. 
Mr. Bracken, the local entrepreneur, offered space in his new store situated eight miles from the dock and insisted that the post office should bear his name. This did not sit well with the original settlers. A diplomatic compromise was reached when someone suggested that since the fern, that grew so well on the southern edge of the Cheekeye fan, was called ‘bracken’ perhaps by adding ‘dale’ to the name they could find agreeable compromise. And so the new area had a name. 
The Brackendale post office was located for the next six decades at the rear right-hand corner of the store, and it was good for business! The mail was brought up by boat to the Squamish dock. From there it was loaded on the new Brackendale Stage and delivered to the store. It seldom arrived on time due to road conditions and the delays on the ship’s schedule. Much of the community’s business, political debates and gossip occurred around the pot-belly stove, which heated the store, as residents waited for the mail to be sorted. The staff even served tea on cold days. Neighbours still collected and delivered mail to their neighbours. The post master or mistress acted as a semi-official community leader, witnessing passport applications, verifying people’s status, and even notifying next of kin in the event of a death. One of my mother’s first jobs was to work for the Bonsons in the store and care for their children. She sometimes was called upon to take groceries to elderly or ailing customers on her way home. Tucked in with the necessities was often the accumulated mail. She later would recall with laughter that she conducted the only home mail delivery in the valley’s history. 
Several outside events changed the mail delivery. After the Second World War, air mail became increasingly popular. First on this continent and gradually for overseas communication. The stated delivery times for Christmas mailing to England decreased from three months to three weeks. Sears opened an office near the Squamish office and siphoned off the delivery of their catalogs and parcels. As the area’s population soared the growth of speciality services — banks, retail outlets, etc. — made the postal service less vital. First the telegraph, then the telephone encroached on the written communication. Strangely, when my parents took over the Brackendale store and post office in the early 1950’s, it was still regarded as the hub of activity in Brackendale. School buses loaded and unloaded students at the store as the Brackendale Elementary School and then the high school had yet to be carved out of the forest. The Art Gallery was still just a dream in Thor’s mind. So the pot-belly stove still served as historical focus for mail waiters. By this time, the post master had assumed the role of delivering the mail to the office from the dock. It was quite a job just to keep a car on the muddy, rutted road for six days a week. With the completion of the railroad and then the highway to Vancouver, the mail arrived by mail van and was delivered on a regular schedule to the outlying offices and complexes. 
Soon the post office was moved to the front of the store into a room once used to store kerosene for oil lamps. Then, with the expansion to the store, the restaurant and washroom, the post office added the first boxes and its own entrance.  The rest of the valley was also growing and asked for mail service closer to their homes. Valleycliffe and Garibaldi Highlands achieved this in the 1970’s which also relieved the pressure on the downtown post office. 
Probably the largest change in the mail delivery is now unfolding. The electronic age with its televisions, computers, iPads, Skype, social media and emails has had a profound effect on how we communicate, do business, learn and relate to the world around us. We read our books, listen to music, attend concerts and plays, watch sporting events all without leaving our homes. Or we take it wherever we go. We pay our bills, do our shopping and banking, check on our home and children, instantly keep in touch with family and friends around the world and yes, even send our Christmas cards on the internet and cell phone. While citizens still meet each other at the post office and stop to chat or ask about one’s health and comment on the weather or politics, somehow after 110 years of continuous service to the community, much of the romance has gone out of bringing the mail to Brackendale.

Comments

  1. Muriel Shephard says:

    mshephard@shaw.ca
    Thank you Ellen, for this piece of history. After years of home mail delivery in Toronto I enjoy the fact that we pick up mail at the Brackendale Post Office. We know the post mistress, Janice, and knew Joyce Berg before her. It’s nice to be known in this way and feel part of the community because one always meets someone…