Joe Montgomery, a spry 92-year-old collector, recently popped by Canadian Stamp News headquarters to share with us an interesting cover.
Cancelled in Surge Narrows, B.C. on June 12, 2013 by postmaster Shawny Volk, the cover was a postage-paid envelope issued by Canada Post in 2012. That year, the Crown corporation issued a set of nine permanent-rate postage-paid envelopes featuring stamps from the high-value Canadian wildlife series (1998-2010).
The envelope Montgomery shared with us had the $5 Moose stamp (Scott #1693) printed on it.
“My friend had this cancelled at one of Canada’s only floating post offices,” said Montgomery, “and I thought it’d make for an interesting story.”
An interesting story indeed. The cover was cancelled at Surge Narrows post office, one of only two floating post offices in Canada, according to Patrick Olive, the man who had the cover cancelled after an airmail flight in a de Havilland Canada Beaver.
Surge Narrows gets its incoming mail delivered by Corilair Charters, a local floatplane service that visits the post office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the only days the post office is open.
Three times a week, the single-engine bush plane taxis to the loading dock of Surge Narrows floating post office, where it remains for about 15 minutes as the pilot and postmaster exchange the bags, freight and some light conversation.
In the summer, the Corilair plane brings tourists – like Montgomery’s friend, Patrick Olive – from all over the world to experience the local postal circuit and fly from one of the many Discovery Islands to the next.
A video of the historic mail flight can be viewed at vimeo.com/16271237.
THE POST OFFICE
The Surge Narrows floating post office is located on Read Island, which has a population of about 80 people.
Up on a simple wooden dock sits one of Canada’s only floating post offices, which also services the nearby islands of Maurelle, Sonora and Rendezvous.
Unfortunately, not much else is known about floating post offices in Canada, said Anick Losier, of Canada Post.
“My understanding is that we have the one in Surge Narrows, which operates about 13.5 hours a week by a postmaster who pays a lease for the space as it is on a government wharf.”
Losier said her local contacts could recall at least three other floating post offices on the West coast – one in Dawson’s Landing, one in Simoom Sound and another in Kildonan.
“We operate close to 6,300 post offices across the country, and this is merely one example of how we serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” she said.
Andrew Scott, a member of the British Columbia Postal History Study Group and editor of its newsletter, said British Columbia’s mountainous terrain and lack of flat ground spurred the construction of many buildings, including post offices, on floating log platforms along the province’s rugged coastline.
“Small floating communities evolved, usually logging camps, and some of them lasted quite a while,” he said, adding the Surge Narrows post office opened in 1912.
Scott also confirmed a few additional floating post offices in British Columbia.
“Simoom Sound, a tiny settlement on nearby Gilford Island, had a floating post office at one time, though I believe the current office – still open and also established in 1912 – is now on solid ground.”
He said both Kildonan and Dawson’s Landing, another small community near Rivers Inlet, have floating post offices, the latter of which opened in 1967. There was also a floating community at Sullivan Bay on the north side of North Broughton Island, and it had a post office from 1947 to 2008, Scott said.
As for Surge Narrows’ post office, most of the island’s 80 inhabitants access it by boat.
As you walk down the narrow stairs leading to the wooden dock, you’ll notice there’s no electricity, no water and no bathroom inside the building; there’s only one person, the postmaster, who ensures the mail for Read Island is delivered effectively and efficiently.
Losier said floating post offices are “postmaster-provided facilities,” meaning the postmaster has to supply the building, which must meet Canada Post standards, for residents of the surrounding area to pick up their mail.
“We have corporate post offices, which we own, staff and operate ourselves, and then we have franchises, which you find in places like drug stores and convenience stores, but we also have what are called postmaster-provided post offices,” said Losier. “They all offer the same services, but in this remote area, they lack the electronic services found in 98 per cent of our post offices.”
In remote places like Surge Narrows, the postmaster does all the work by hand, the same way it was done across the board until about a decade ago, she said.
“That’s why we have a rigorous process when hiring our postmasters. We also have regional managers, who are responsible for enforcing our standards, and we have audits to ensure our standards meet the Canada Post Act.”
Given the lack of electrical services and remote location, Losier said floating post offices like the one in Surge Narrows are sure to provide some nostalgia to visitors.
“It’s on a dock, and it was owned by a family for a very long time, but I’ve seen these post offices inside a garage or a church; wherever the postmaster can find that meets the requirements of Canada Post,” she said.
“I suspect the postal service in Surge Narrows is very different than what you’d find in downtown Toronto, for instance. We’re sure it’d provide a bit of nostalgia.”