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Silverton’s oldest piece of mail?

Updated: Dec 29, 2018

A terrific cover from Silverton, postmarked July 28, 1894, sold for $192.50 Cdn yesterday on eBay. It was sent from Hunter & McKinnon, general merchants, to Louis B. Hunt, Esq. of Summerside, PEI.

The envelope has two Silverton cancels on the front, and Nakusp, Revelstoke, and Summerside cancels on the reverse. The reverse also bears a name and address in purple pencil: “W.A. Breham (?), 18 Claremont Point (?), Boston, Mass.”

Hunter & McKinnon were William Hunter and William McKinnon, who, with J. Fred Hume, formed the Slocan Trading & Navigation Co., and built the first Slocan Lake steamer, the Wm. Hunter. Hunter is regarded as the father of Silverton.

This was a very early piece of mail from Silverton, as the post office only opened on June 1, 1894 with Hunter as postmaster. The SILVERTON/BC split-ring hammer was proofed on July 19 — nine days before this letter was mailed.

Tracy Cooper wrote about a very similar envelope he has in the April 2014 edition of the British Columbia Postal History Newsletter. It was also sent from Hunter & McKinnon to Louis B. Hunt, but by registered mail and postmarked Aug. 29, 1894. It too had a smattering of postmarks on the reverse, including Silverton, New Denver, the CPR, and Montreal. Cooper traced the letter’s route, which was similar to the one pictured here, but with one key difference.

Hunter had the contract to carry mail between Silverton and New Denver. From New Denver, both letters would have been taken on the Wm. Hunter to Bonanza City at the head of the lake. Because the Nakusp & Slocan Railway was still under construction, S.A. McLeod carried the mail on foot from Bonanza City to the end of the track, where it was placed on a construction supply train to Nakusp.

Normally, the letter seen here would have been sent from Nakusp to Revelstoke aboard the SS Lytton, but the Lytton was caught in a storm on July 26 and thrown against the rocky shore. It was laid up at Nakusp for repairs and the SS Columbia filled in, ensuring the letter completed the next stage on its journey. However, on Aug. 2, fire destroyed the Columbia while tied up overnight at Sayward (now known as Columbia Gardens).

This was disastrous for the Columbia Kootenay Steam Navigation Co., which owned both boats and now had no way of shipping steel for construction of the Nakusp & Slocan line or other freight. Repairs on the Lytton were expedited, but it did not return to service until Aug. 29. So our envelope had the distinction of being carried on the Columbia just days before its final voyage. At Revelstoke, it was placed on the CPR mainline east. Tracy Cooper’s envelope was mailed from Silverton the day the Lytton resumed sailing, but for some reason it took another week to get to Revelstoke.

Louis Brenton Hunt, the recipient of these letters, was postmaster of Summerside from Oct. 1, 1893 until his death of pneumonia on May 24, 1924, age 52. His father Richard was postmaster before him from 1891-93 and also served as town chairman and US consular agent. Louis’ house, built upon his marriage in 1911, still stands at 89 Granville St. in Summerside and is on Canada’s Historic Places register.

The July 2014 edition of the British Columbia Postal History Newsletter contained a reply from a Prince Edward Island reader who recognized Hunt’s name. Doug Murray wrote:

I worked for his grandson in the 1970s and at the time bought a large wooden box full of old covers from the early part of the century. Few were as exciting as the cover you show. A great many Islanders were leaving the east for work in that period — either factories in New England, free land on the prairies or one of many mining operations that opened up from California to the Yukon. There were quite a few covers in my lot addressed to the postmaster — unfortunately most without contents. one I remember was from a farmer in Nova Scotia looking for a wife! Postmasters were resourceful people!

Among the Prince Edward Islanders who went west? William Hunter, who arrived in BC in 1884. He may have been personally acquainted with Louis Hunt, although Hunt was only 12 when Hunter left the province.

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