This summer as lead hand in the Quesnel post office in central B.C., I made a trip to the small town of Historic Barkerville, one hour from Quesnel. this past winter the post mistress, Saya Woods, made a blouse out of Canada Post shirts to depict the era of the 1800s. She made one for herself and one for me. She wears hers daily and mine was to be worn at work during the annual Billy Barker days community event.
My trip back in time was very memorable. As soon as you step through the gates, you are back in time and dressed to suit the era, well that just added to the ambiance. I was taken by carriage to the post office and observed the loading and unloading of the mail. The Barkerville post office is open from May to October every year from noon to 2 p.m.
The following is from Saya Woods regarding the history and current operation of the Barkerville post office.
– Wendy Reynolds
Hi everybody, welcome to the Barkerville post office, serving the merchants, actors, administration and local residents of B.C.’s largest historical site. This is where it all began – the populating of New Caledonia, the establishment of an economy and community. “There’s gold in the Fraser River” was the news that mobilized dispirited miners, marginalized Chinese and a black community fearful that California would soon become a slave state, to jump on any ship in San Francisco Bay that would take them North forever, with the hopes of finding their fortunes.
From Upper Canada, the brave souls known as the Overlanders, endured many months of hard travelling and massive insect populations to make it to this little town named for an English sailor, Billy Barker, who jumped ship in Victoria and founded this town after hand-shovelling down 52 feet to finally hit pay dirt.
Meanwhile in Victoria, Governor Douglas was thinking hard about the future of this vast territory. Like all good politicians, Sir John A. MacDonald was thinking “ah taxes” thus an agreement was struck to bring a railway west and would send tax money east. We joined the Dominion of Canada and called ourselves British Columbia and Barkerville got a post office – that was in 1879.
In the very early days of the Fraser Gold Rush, messages to loved ones were passed by trusted friends north and south between Barkerville and Victoria whenever the opportunity presented itself. By 1862 the tricky little problem of travel past Hells Gate in the Fraser Canyon just north of Yale, was solved by the clever Royal Engineers of England. The Barnard Express teams took up the task of postal delivery and greatly increased the speed with which news of the goldfields was received in the outside world.
Barkerville’s informal post office became part of the Dominion of Canada’s postal system in 1879, setting up shop in the former Bank of British North America building, then used as both a post and telegraph office.
Today’s post office in Barkerville is a replica of the original building. Each day we cancel the outgoing mail with the original hand stamp used since 1879. It’s a tricky business changing the dates every day, but the kids love to watch. We always encourage the children to send postcards to their loved ones to let them know they have safely made it to the gold fields. Then the freight wagon picks up the outgoing mail to meet the 21st century delivery van at the gates of Barkerville Historic Town and shortly returns to deliver the incoming mail and merchandise for our local retailers.
There are very few non-automated post offices in B.C., but out here in our little time warp, we are enjoying life in the slow lane – a lot.
– submitted by Saya Woods