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80-year-old Squilax Post Office papers reveal historical treasures

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman

It is not often that original source material about the Shuswap is discovered, so it was fascinating to find a stack of papers from the old Squilax General Store in an abandoned barn. They had been left there by a now deceased friend who had leased the store nearly four decades ago. Now stained and worn, the papers were in an ancient clipboard and include correspondence between postmaster Clifford Herring and the Postal Service from 1935 to 1959.

The original Squilax Store was located next to the old CPR station along the tracks about one kilometre west of where the store is now. In 1927, the then storekeeper and postmaster James Craig was murdered, and his widow sold the business to Clifford Herring, who took it over the following year. Seven years later the store burned to the ground and Cliff was able to continue the business by using the garage, while his family moved into the nearby empty schoolhouse.

A new fireproof store made of concrete and bricks was commissioned to be built on a hillside between the new dirt road and the Little River, which was completed in 1936. With the post office, the merchandise and a gas station, the Herrings prospered, and the store became a landmark, as well as a meeting place for community members who gathered to wait for their mail and purchase supplies.

The oldest papers include the documentation required to switch the location of the post office and the “catch post” to the newly built store. For nearly every typed letter from most often the District Superintendent, there is a carbon copy of a handwritten reply from Mr. Herring. One of the postmaster’s duties was to provide a list of all the local citizens receiving mail and their occupations, which included those living in Turtle Valley, Squilax, Lee Creek and Adams Lake.

It was not until 1954 that the list included women and at that time there was a total of 64 names.

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By far the majority of the correspondence referred to the many problems regarding the use of the “catch post” used for transferring bags of outgoing mail to the moving train and the tossing out of incoming mail bags that became damaged or lost in the snow and bushes. There were complaint letters from disgruntled patrons that resulted in letters from the superintendent that Cliff would then reply to with his reasons for the problems. In one case, the superintendent wrote how the “fingers” holding the bag were turned the wrong way and when the bag was struck by the catcher arm, it swung around and broke the window in the mail car!

The mail exchange problems were finally solved in 1947, when the train stopped daily at the Squilax Station. Nine years later, after the road was improved, the mail was moved from Kamloops by car. In addition to selling stamps for which they received a commission, the Herrings also sold Canada War Savings Certificates during and after the war.

At the very bottom of the stack of papers was a 1935 letter that Cliff likely saved because he considered it significant. The most prestigious British military medal is the Victoria Cross, which was awarded for gallantry “in the face of the enemy,” and there were only 99 recipients in Canada from 1854 to 1945. Edward Bellew was the only recipient who lived in the B.C. interior, and he resided at Adams Lake. Cliff’s treasured letter was from Bellew, who wrote to praise Cliff for a loan he provided. Bellew also explained how he wrote to the M.P. in Ottawa complimenting Cliff with the hope that his good deed would be recognized by the Postmaster General.

Ironically, Cliff also saved another Bellew letter from 1941 that criticized him about overcharging for fishing line. He wrote how he was “making new arrangements for receiving groceries and supplies here for the future. As I have to get the most for my few dollars, which is an impossibility at your store as it’s being run at the present time.” Given there were more letters in later years, it appears that Bellew had warmed up to the Herrings again.

The final correspondence concerned Cliff’s retirement. In May 1959, he received a letter informing him that he could no longer continue as postmaster because he was turning 70 that year. The letter also requested that Cliff find a replacement, noting the preference for persons who have service overseas with the Armed Forces. Cliff wrote back and recommended Mrs. Herring for the position. In the final letter, the District Director advised that the post office was transferred to Mrs. Herring and commended Cliff for his lengthy service that began in 1929.
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