Mary Berry Charlton and husband Alfred Charlton on the bank of the Fraser River on the Edge farm opposite Port Haney, circa 1902-05. (Maple Ridge Museum #P00186/Special to The News)

Mary Berry Charlton and husband Alfred Charlton on the bank of the Fraser River on the Edge farm opposite Port Haney, circa 1902-05. (Maple Ridge Museum #P00186/Special to The News)

LOOKING BACK: Woman pioneer thrust into postal role and more

When Alfred Charlton died, his widow took over as harbour and post master, plus general store owner

by Melissa Rollit/Special to The News

Canada Post has been making headlines for their record number of packages this year.

However, in Maple Ridge, this is not the first time the post office made headlines.

In 1961 there was the much-anticipated arrival of door-to-door delivery service to Haney.

With the roll out of this new service came the centralization of the postal service and the dropping of the neighbourhood names in favour of the standard “Maple Ridge.”

Those used to getting mail addressed to Haney or Hammond, for example, had to adjust to a change in name – a controversial move still in the hearts and minds of some residents today.

If we look even further back in Maple Ridge history, one might find another newsworthy event in the city’s post office history, that being the story of Mary Berry Charlton (Storey) who became post mistress in 1907 and was one of the first women to hold said title in British Columbia.

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Prior to door-to-door delivery, the postmaster/post mistress would receive large bags of mail from the railway, which they would then sort into individual mail boxes for their customers.

Residents of Maple Ridge would then have to go to their neighbourhood post office to pick up their mail.

Post offices in the early days of Maple Ridge were critical community centres.

Letters were for many years the primary method of communication for local settlers. Mail was how they stayed in touch with family and friends, how they conducted business, and how they received news from the outside world.

Mary Charlton’s road to post mistress is marked by tragedy. Her husband Alfred T. Charlton had been postmaster of the Port Haney office prior to her, and it was his untimely death while crossing the frozen Fraser River in 1907, which resulted in her new position.

In this tumultuous time, Charlton showed great personal strength, taking on not only her husband’s position as postmaster, but also as owner of the Charlton general store, and harbour master. She did all this while raising her two young boys.

In a letter sent to her mother in Ontario, Charlton describes how her sons were her main motivation to persevere and overcome her grief:

“I cannot tell you how lonely I am. Such a black darkness over everything. If it were not for our two boys I could not go on. Then I try to remember that if I do not bravely do the best I can it will only cause more sorrow and I must not be selfish. I must think of others but it is so hard.”

The bad times would not last forever, and in 1917, Charlton remarried to William Storey, who took over the duties of the general store.

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This allowed Charlton to fully pursue her passions in the postal service, where she retained her position of post mistress for the next 40 years, even overseeing the construction of a new post office in Haney in the 1930s.

While the postal service in Maple Ridge has changed greatly through the years, the post office Charlton built still stands today in Callaghan Park.

– Melissa Rollit is curator of the Maple Ridge Museum

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