Special stamps mark Argenta post office centennial

Three sets of commemorative stamps were unveiled Wednesday as the local post office turned 100.

ARGENTA — Three sets of commemorative stamps were unveiled Wednesday as the local post office turned 100.

To mark the centennial of the remote Kootenay Lake community’s mail service, anyone who ever lived there was asked to submit images that represented Argenta. Ten were received, and a vote held for the top three.

The favourites were a watercolor painting of the Argenta wharf by Phyllis Margolin, a hyper-realistic photo of Mount Willett by John Hawkins, and a photograph of the road into Argenta by Charles Valentine, taken in the fall of 1955.

That made things slightly more challenging for organizer Deb Borsos, since all three residents have passed away. Borsos previously used her own artwork to create personalized stamps through a Canada Post program called Picture Postage, but in this case needed written permission from each estate.

“Canada Post wrote to me because I forgot to check the box saying ’No, it’s not my work,’” she says. “They obviously have a file, because they wrote back saying ‘This doesn’t look like your artwork.’”

Once permission was granted, she had 100 cards created with matching envelopes bearing the special stamps, and handed them out at a community celebration this week, where people filled them out and mailed them hither and yon.

Framed sheets of the stamps were also made to display in the post office.

Herbison family produced several postmasters

The original Argenta post office opened in 1899, following a boom spurred by railway construction, but closed three years later. It reopened on October 1, 1914 and has had at least a dozen postmasters. The longest serving was Esther Coleman, from 1916 to 1948, but collectively the job has been in the Herbison family even longer.

“My dad did it, my sister Kathy did it for umpteen years, my former wife Rachel did it, and I took over from her,” said David Herbison, who retired in March after about 15 years. “It was just by default. It was two to three days a week and close to home.”

Herbison said he always thought per capita use of the Argenta post office was “fairly high.”

“Certainly that was true in letter writing days. We had the Argenta Press and school here in days gone by. Now with people buying things online, it’s like Christmas everyday. Parcel volume is definitely up and a hand-written letter is a rarity indeed.”

The mail comes three times a week by truck, but until the 1960s, it arrived by boat, first on CPR sternwheelers including the SS Moyie and later the tug Grant Hall. That finally changed when new roads were built as part of the Duncan dam’s construction.

The post office itself has moved several times: it used to operate out of the postmaster’s home, but since about 1980 has been adjacent to the present community hall. It was the first thing rebuilt following a fire that consumed the school and a shed next door that then served as the post office.

Herbison told those gathered this week he was concerned Canada Post might use his retirement as an excuse to close the office, but is heartened it continues to operate under Julie Davies.

He said the post office remains a critical part of the community and being postmaster is more than just a job. “You see your neighbours in ones and twos so you can actually talk to people and see how they’re doing,” he said. “Not only as postmaster, but as a longtime resident, it’s nice to be connected to multiple generations as well as newer individuals who come to town. I looked at it as a unique and wonderful position.”

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