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The Savary Island Post Office

savaryheritage

9 min read

May 27

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INSTALLMENT #1


The Savary Island Post Office, 1913 – 1980.


Part One —The Beginning Conde Landale, The Savary Island Heritage Society


The names and dates for the Savary Island postmasters from 1913 to 1970 as they appear in the post office records held in Ottawa were provided by Peter Smith, an historian of local post offices who lives on Quadra Island. While the postmaster records in Ottawa have not been updated beyond 1970, later information is available from other sources. Peter Smith advises that Canada Post chooses to describe both men and women as ‘postmasters’.

Mail was delivered to a post office on Savary Island for nearly seventy years, starting in 1913. The Savary Island Park Association, formed in 1910 to market the lots created by the recent subdivision at the wharf end of Savary, hoped to create a community of full-time, or nearly full-time, residents. Vancouver was an easy half-day away via Union Steamships and it was common practice for Vancouver residents to have a second home where wives and children could enjoy a less urban experience for extended periods of time, and fathers, or men of leisure, could spend time when their city affairs permitted. In those days it was felt that such a community would require a post office, so an application was made and on June 1, 1913 the Savary Island Post Office officially opened with R. S. Sherman on record as the postmaster.

R.S. Sherman was the trustee for the Savary Island Park Association, administering all the property of the wharf-end subdivision. Extensive research by Gary Sim has revealed Sherman to be a man of many activities, abilities and enthusiasms. Qualified as a surveyor in Ontario, he came to B.C. in 1891 and first viewed Savary Island while participating in the survey of coastal hydroelectric potential that, more than a decade later, resulted in the establishment of the Powell River Company. In 1903 Sherman took up

permanent residence in Vancouver, initially as a teacher and later principal for 25 years at Admiral Seymour Elementary School in East Vancouver. He was an outdoor enthusiast and a founding member of the local Alpine Club, as well as a keen entomologist with an extensive insect collection, which was later donated to the Vancouver Museum. He wrote numerous nature- themed books for school use, and among other writings, a monograph on the ecology of Savary Island. Although he had a cottage at Savary, on the lot now owned by Dr. Dorothy Janzen (3054 Malaspina Promenade), his other commitments limited his time on-island and it is most probable that the postmaster duties were actually discharged by his assistant, Harry Keefer, who became the postmaster after Sherman retired in January 1915.

Harry Keefer was the director of the Savary Island Park Association mainly responsible for marketing the subdivision lots. In 1884 when Harry was a young boy, his father, who worked on railroad construction, had brought him to B.C. Harry spent some of his early years working on coastal vessels and admired Savary Island in passing. In 1899 he married Gertie Mace and they moved to Greenwood B.C. where their two children were born — Frankie (1900) and Herbie (1903). Later in 1903 the family returned to Vancouver where Harry was involved in various agencies and real estate sales with Bob Townley, whose family had come to B.C. because Bob's brother was a manager with the CPR. Early in 1910, George Ashworth, Bob Townley's brother-in-law, suggested selling lots on Savary and the three of them joined with R.S. Sherman and a few others in creating the Savary Island Park Association. Around 1915 Harry and his family moved from Vancouver to live permanently on Savary, and for the next half-century Harry was one of Savary's most ubiquitous residents. After becoming the official postmaster in 1915, Harry continued to sell real estate, built a hotel, opened a store, became a Justice of the Peace, and generally watched over Savary for the rest of his life, playing a large part in most of Savary's major events.

Soon after 1910, Savary lots were being sold and the new property owners wanted houses on them. Gertie Keefer's father, W.A. Mace, a widower for many years, was recruited to come to Savary to build numerous houses, as well as a hotel on the lot just west of the wharf (2942 Malaspina Promenade) which is more recently associated with the successive mayors of Powell River, Stewart Alsgard and Dave Formosa. Within a few years W. A. Mace retired and moved back to New Brunswick where he died in 1919. He was replaced as Savary’s main builder by his son, Bill Mace, Gertie's brother. From that time until the late 1950s Bill Mace, assisted by his son Allan, handled nearly all the building and ongoing maintenance on Savary.


INSTALLMENT #2


The Savary Island Post Office, 1913 – 1980.


Part Two — Harry Keefer, Postmaster


Conde Landale, The Savary Island Heritage Society


Before 1915 the location of the post office is unknown. However once the hotel was in operation, postmaster Harry Keefer ran both the post office and his store in part of the hotel building. Harry's partners in the business, sisters Emma and Ruth Roberts who had recently moved from Jamaica to Vancouver, ran the hotel in the remaining part. Harry's post office and store remained at the hotel for many years, however at some time prior to selling the hotel to Emily Wootten in 1925, the store and post office moved to a new two-storey building on the fourth lot east of Ashworth Walk (2980 Malaspina Promenade). They remained there for many years until around 1940 when a catastrophic fire destroyed the building. Harry suspected that when he emptied the wastepaper basket that morning a spark lodged in the basket, and when he went home for breakfast the fire started. Harry's hands were severely burned while rescuing the cash box from the blaze. Since the 1910s there had been a community area that was a deck with side-walls — rather like a large tent platform — known as the 'Pavilion' that was set back from the road in the trees on the adjoining lot to the west (2976 Malaspina Promenade) where people would gather for masquerade parties and other social events. After his store and post office burned, Harry built another small building alongside the Pavilion deck and operated the post office and fuel sales from there. This new location became known as the 'Federal Building'. He also sold tobacco, cigarettes, postcards and various other non- perishable items. Through the 1960s the only telephone at the wharf end of Savary was in this building. On mail days the vessel from Vancouver would deliver the mail sack to the wharf and Harry would take it back to his 'Federal Building' for sorting. People would gather on the deck outside the door, which, despite impatient shuffling of feet or timid knocks, would remain tightly shut until Harry had finished sorting and opened it to begin handing out the mail.

After the two-storey store and post office building had burned, Harry turned the lot with the burned structure and the main store operation over to his nephew Allan Mace who was otherwise employed assisting his father, Bill Mace. Allan re-built a modest one-storey building, and after he married Leone Russell in September 1941 they operated the store together. Later during the WWII years, after Allan enlisted in the army, it was a struggle for both Leone with the store and Bill with the building and maintenance to carry on without Allan's help.

In March 1958, Harry Keefer, by then 84 years old, resigned as the postmaster of record. In April his nephew Allan Mace, then 50 years old, was appointed. The reason behind Harry's resignation is obscure. Perhaps he thought that postal officials would frown on 85 year-old postmasters or perhaps Harry just decided it was time to plan for succession and intended to turn the post office over to Allan, just as he had previously turned the store business over to him. Regardless of the official appointment, Harry continued to act as postmaster, running the post office out of his 'Federal Building'.

Tragically, Allan Mace died unexpectedly in late November 1960. His father, Bill Mace, who was five years younger than Harry Keefer, was immediately appointed acting postmaster and Harry continued as before, actually discharging the postmaster duties. Allan’s widow Leone sold the store to Jack and Norma Bald. Norma’s family had a long history at Savary in a house that Norma inherited from her father Norman Lee at 3029 Arbutus Avenue, behind the 'Tullyokie' house on Malaspina Promenade. In addition to buying the store business from Leone Mace, Jack Bald was appointed postmaster in July 1961. At this time Jack was also starting to do building and maintenance on Savary because Bill Mace, now into his eighties, was stretched thin trying to cope with the volume of work. Norma taught school off-island from autumn to spring, so the store was only open during the summer.


INSTALLMENT #3


The Savary Island Post Office, 1913 – 1980.


Part Three — After Harry Keefer


Conde Landale, The Savary Island Heritage Society


Harry continued as before to carry on the postmaster duties from his 'Federal Building' until his death in July 1964. This threw the postmaster duties onto Jack Bald and the post office moved back to the store at 2980 Malaspina Promenade for the remainder of 1964. No doubt the store was not a lucrative business and the Balds decided not to open it for the summer of 1965. It never did re-open. Jack Bald resigned as postmaster in May 1965 and was replaced by Harry Keefer's daughter, Frankie Keefer, his only surviving child. Frankie was greatly respected as one of Savary's preeminent artists and her dedication to art, mostly painting, was central to her life. She moved the post office to the Keefers’ house at 2990 Malaspina Promenade, the third house east of the Balds’ store. It had been the Keefers’ residence since it was built around 1914. Frankie had always lived with her parents, so after her mother Gertie died in 1960, she kept the home fires burning for Harry. After his death, however, Frankie started to spend her winters in Vancouver’s west end while travelling to Mexico and Europe with other artist friends. After 1965 the post office was seasonal and closed during the winter months. In 2019, after standing for over one hundred years, the Keefer house was demolished and the lot is now empty.

During the 1950s the backlog of work at Savary with which Bill and Allan Mace struggled offered an attractive opportunity to other contractors. By 1960, in addition to Jack Bald, both Bert Vowles and Terry Chettleburgh were building at Savary. Bert Vowles had worked in Powell River as a young man and had married Mabel there in 1929. While in his mid-fifties Bert was a partner in a Vancouver construction firm and decided on a change of pace.

Bert and Mabel assembled a small Panabode house at 2734 Malaspina Promenade, a few houses east of the west end of the road, and Bert started doing construction work at Savary. In March 1968 Frankie Keefer resigned as postmaster and Mabel Vowles was appointed in June. Presumably the post office moved to the Vowles' house, but only for a few years because Bert and Mabel left Savary and sold their house in 1971. Mabel was replaced as postmaster by Terry Chettleburgh’s wife Kay who operated the post office from their home at 2928 Malaspina Promenade, a few houses west of the wharf.

During the 1950s and into the 1960s Terry and Kay Chettleburgh operated a fishing resort at Oyster River, on the east side of Vancouver Island about halfway between Campbell River and Comox. Jack West, John Nichol and Chunky Woodward were among those who frequently fished there, and when they had plans to build on Savary, Terry was engaged to do the work during the winters from 1955 to 1958. Initially winter work at Savary dovetailed nicely with the Oyster River fishing resort which was mainly a summer operation. Terry had built a sturdy wooden boat with lots of freeboard and twin outboard engines that he used to cross the Strait between Oyster River and Savary. In 1960 Terry and Kay shifted focus more towards Savary. They purchased their lot on Savary and cobbled together a house from a couple of available outbuildings that they moved onto their property. Terry joined Jack Bald and Bert Vowles in being available for building and maintenance on Savary, although the Chettleburghs also kept their Oyster River resort going into the mid-1960s. When Canada initiated postal codes, the Savary Island Post Office became V0N 2Z0. Peter Chettleburgh remembers that the post office arrangements were casual. His mother, Kay, would sort the letters for each Savary household into neat piles on the Chettleburghs’ dining room table ready for pick-up. Kay was postmaster from the early 1970s until the post office ceased operating in October 1980. By this time the Chettleburghs were spending their winters in Hawaii where they developed and managed a small condominium in Kihei, Maui.

For forty years, since government austerity closed the Savary Island Post Office in 1980, Canada Post has delivered mail for the Savary community to the Lund Post Office.

savaryheritage

9 min read

May 27

10

0

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