An oil painting by Peter Smith of a mail plane, now adorning the cover of one of his three books on the history of Discover Islands’ post offices. Courtesy Peter Smith.

An oil painting by Peter Smith of a mail plane, now adorning the cover of one of his three books on the history of Discover Islands’ post offices. Courtesy Peter Smith.

Local author releasing three books on Discovery Islands’ postal history

Quadra Island hobbyist historian finds accounts of enigmatic postmasters

A local hobbyist historian is releasing three books on the post offices of the Discovery Islands, including accounts of their colourful postmasters.

As a stamp collector living on Quadra Island, Peter Smith started investigating the history of the island’s post offices and the postmasters who operated them.

Through these forays into the past, he found Quadra has had eight post offices since the 1890s. His focus later expanded to include seven post offices on Cortes Island and 14 more across the rest of the Discovery Islands.

Each post office was the hub of its community, as residents relied on mail ordering to obtain food, clothing or whatever other supplies they required, explained Smith.

“People would gather there whenever the union steamship would come,” he said. “It was the big social event for the weekend, when everybody would go there to collect their mail.”

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At the centre of each post office was the postmaster.

“The postmaster was kind of ‘the man’ — or woman,” said Smith. “But the interesting thing is most of them came after having done something else before. They were hunters and gold miners — and all kinds of different things.”

Many of the almost 200 postmasters Smith investigated have colourful stories, including one paying local kids to bring him live octopuses and another insisting on being buried with his gun so he could fight off the devil.

To learn about these deceased postmasters, Smith used his investigative skills he developed as a crime reporter with the Calgary Sun to find their living relatives — with many residing in Campbell River.

Smith also examined the postmarks of old postcards and envelopes, from which he could determine their senders, origins and whether they were transported by steamship or mail plane.

“When you put that together with who the postmasters were, you kind of get the whole history,” he said.

For the book’s covers, Smith is featuring three of his oil paintings inspired by old postcards.

The books are available at a few locations throughout the Discovery Islands, including Book Bonanza, Quadra Market and the Refuge Cove Post Office. But those wanting to buy an autographed copy may contact Smith at 250-285-3612 and pandas@gicable.com — or by mail at Box 485 Heriot Bay BC V0P 1H0.

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sean.feagan@campbellrivermirror.com

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