BY KEN R. JOHNSON
In the majority of cases, the 1930s-era post office records contain information about the establishment of post offices and their subsequent daily operations. On occasion, however, a file will surface that provides an early image of a community and some of the pioneer residents who once lived there. The Longlac Post Office record for the period circa 1925-1939, although substantially incomplete, is an example of such disclosure.
Extracts from the few documents that have survived, include a December 1929 report, prepared by the Post Office Department district superintendent. In it, he makes reference to Longlac as actually consisting of two villages. Included were "the old village" of Calong (located one mile east of the railway station) and Longlac.
Businesses of note that were located at Calong included the Hudson's Bay Company, John W. Heald's store, and the Ontario Forestry Branch headquarters, as well as structures that housed some of the area's railway employees. Mrs. M. Gascon had her store at Longlac and the post office building and homes of other railway employees were also situated there.
A 1929 Civil Service of Canada document that invites applications "from patrons of Longlac post office . . . for the position of "Postmaster," includes the notation that the incumbent was required to "furnish suitable accommodation" for the post office. At that time, the Department was looking at the possibility of moving the existing post office to a different location within the community.
Having the successful candidate provide the physical space was accepted practice at the time, and many of the early post offices were actually segregated areas within an existing business establishment.
Three of the applicants who applied for the position, were John W. Heald, who owned his own business and could easily set aside space for the office, Mr. Thos. W Wilcox, who had no building of his own but was willing to construct one should he be appointed postmaster, and Mr. J.D. Gervis, who owned the building where the Longlac Post Office was then located. There likely would have been other applicants for the position, save for the building ownership proviso!
A February 1931 petition, which was submitted in support of a candidate for the position of Longlac Postmaster included these surnames: Caouette, Baissoneau, Bull, Groulx, Finlayson, Etchum, Storry, Gagnon, Chartrand, Otiquam, Soucie, and Lagard, amongst others. The list of occupations included: 14 trappers, one postal employee, one scaler, two labourers, one prospector, one pumpman, nine "residents," and several railway employees, including four foremen, one trackman, one operator, three section men and one B&B (bridge and building).
A rough sketch of the physical layout of the entire community, which was provided by former postmaster John W. Heald, pinpointed the locations of the various businesses and houses that existed as at April 30, 1935. Two "reserves" are indicated, as are the Roman Catholic Church and the residence of the Rev. J. Couture.
Also positioned on the map are the train station, Gauthier's store, a pump house, the post office, CNR freight shed, the Hudson's Bay Co. residence, store and warehouse, the Forestry Building and a number of family residences -- most of which are located on the east side of the railroad track. A notation on the map points out that buildings "Nos. 6 to 32 are known as the Calong District" -- further confirmation that the name was certainly in use at the time.
As indicated, the archived post office record for Longlac is far from complete, and in all likelihood there were several other informative community profiles on file at one time. However, the documents that have survived destruction provide an interesting snapshot of Longlac-Calong and some of the residents who called the place home during the 1920s-1930s.
Looking Back is written weekly by one of various writers for the Thunder Bay Museum. For further information visit the museum at 425 Donald St. E., or view its website at www.thunderbaymuseum.com. This article was published in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, May 15, 2016. It is re-printed courtesy of the Thunder Bay Museum.
Can you provide corrections or comments?