Was the Mirror Lake post office once listed by Guinness as the world’s smallest?
I first encountered this claim on p. 199 of Kaslo: The First 100 Years (1993): “1970 — Mirror Lake post office moved to the SS Moyie site in Kaslo. The little building was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest post office.”
The post office in situ, ca. 1960s. (Ellis Anderson photo)
It was pretty tiny, all right: 96 square feet (nine square meters). About the size of a tool shed. You can see it for yourself; it’s still at the Moyie, where it’s used to store paint and other things. The post office opened on Nov. 1, 1909 and closed on Jan. 14, 1970, although the building seen here was the second one, as revealed by the Nelson Daily News of May 11, 1918: “The post office building which used to be at the head of the wharf has been torn down and a new one erected a few yards away on the road.”
The second edition of Pioneer Families of Kaslo quotes Annie May Norman: “Mr. W. Read opened the first post office at the head of the wharf [at Mirror Lake] and every night the steamer brought mail … Mr. Read sold pencils, paper, postcards and simple stationery.”
William Reid was actually the second postmaster, 1911-17. The first was A.T. Davis, 1909-11. The others were Adam Link, 1917-26; A. Battensby, 1927-33, Olive Elizabeth Link, 1934-57, and finally Audrey Seline Barraclough, 1957-70.
[Reid] would meet the steamer bringing the mail three afternoons each week. Initially this was on the beach but later a wharf was built after the shipyard was dismantled. In summer many would congregate on the wharf, chatting and often singing songs. Mr. Read opened the mail bag right there and handed out letters and packages to those present. This procedure lasted until Olive Link turned the tiny building into a proper sorting and mail box unit (that post office known as “the smallest in the British Empire” is preserved beside the SS Moyie ...)
But I wasn’t able to find the post office in any edition of Guinness, nor such a category. In 2000, I asked the reference desk at the Vancouver Public Library about it. They checked Guinness for 1979, 1981, 1987, and 1991-98. No entry for smallest post office in any of them, although by this time of course, the Mirror Lake office had closed.
Later, Kootenay Lake Historical Society archivist Elizabeth Scarlett told me it was not Guinness that the post office appeared in, but Ripley’s Believe it or Not! She said someone contacted Ripley’s — but they had no record of it.
The post office ca. 1965
In 2002, the Vancouver Sun ran a feature on BC contributions to Ripley’s, but there was no mention of Mirror Lake. I sent an email to reporter John Mackie, who replied “the Mirror Lake PO wasn’t in the list of BC Ripley’s I received, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t featured … there is a 30 or 40 year gap in the Ripley’s files for BC-related stuff, probably because they haven't yet read the relevant archives into the computer.”
I don’t know if they have made any more progress since.
But I came across something interesting in the Greater Vancouver Book (1997), p. 13. It said the Ocean Falls post office was “featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not! as the smallest in the world. People [wrote] from distant places just to get the postmark.”
So it sounded like Ripley’s was indeed in the smallest post office business. Maybe the title fell to Mirror Lake once the Ocean Falls post office moved to larger premises, but I don’t know when that might have been. The post office there operated 1912-13 and 1916 to present.
In 2006, I bought a pamphlet called Glorious Kootenays, published in 1958 by the Auto Courts and Resorts Association of BC. On p. 8, there’s a little map showing the locations of various motels and cabins around Kaslo, and also an arrow pointing to the “World’s smallest post office at Mirror Lake.”
Another view of the post office in situ, ca. 1960s. (Ellis Anderson photo)
Also in 2006, Barbara Bavington of the Kootenay Lake Archives told me the more specific claim was “world’s smallest self-contained post office” — meaning a building unto itself, rather than a wicket in a store. But I haven’t found that anywhere else.
The Nelson Daily News of Jan. 21, 1958, in a story about the retirement of postmistress Olive Link, called it “the smallest operating post office” (were there smaller ones that had closed?) and said it had appeared in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, “which stated its dimensions and reputation as the smallest operating post office.”
An intriguing photo also appeared in the Nelson Daily News of March 5, 1958, which repeated the claim and depicted a piece of folk art that I dearly hope still exists somewhere.
I also found a photo and story from the Daily News, March 2, 1970 when the post office closed. The caption reads: “Smallest post office closed. Ripley’s Believe it or Not! classified the Mirror Lake post office as the smallest in the world. That record stands no longer since it has been closed down and local residents must now go to Kaslo for their mail …”
The story read:
World’s smallest post office shut down — Believe it or not
Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! will have to find a new entrant for the title of smallest post office in the world.
The Mirror Lake Post Office, which once held that title, has been taken out of service by the federal government, and 26 householders must now travel three miles into Kaslo to pick up their mail.
The tiny building, only 12 feet by eight feet, was taken out of service Jan. 14 after almost 50 years of use.
The story went on to quote postmaster Audrey Barraclough as saying the government picked a good time to close it because many residents were away on holidays. The story further noted that mail was delivered to Mirror Lake by boat until 1957 when the Moyie was retired.
“The Kaslo Historical Society has said they are interested in moving the Mirror Lake post office into Kaslo as an historic building. Nothing, however, has been decided.” (That did come to pass, of course, but I don’t know when.)
The Kootenay lake archives has a scrapbook with photocopied samples of the Mirror Lake postal cancel, as well as various address labels. (The one below is from my collection. Not sure of the year, but probably 1950s.)
In 2011, I noticed a photo of the Mirror Lake post office on p. 22 of a 1957 scrapbook entitled Kaslo and District Women’s Institute, Vol. II, digitized at kootenayfeminism.com. The caption said: “This is probably the smallest post office building in British Columbia.”
In 2010, I bought a postcard of the Mirror Lake post office, produced probably in the early 1950s by Percy Orrell (seen below). Note the caption.
Did the Ripley’s claim beget the postcard, or did the postcard beget the claim? Or was the claim only ever on the postcard?
And while it would be nice to find the Ripley’s cartoon, is it possible it was actually a different comic strip? There were a number of knock-offs, most notably It Happened in Canada, by Gord Johnston, which began in the 1960s.
His wife Pat said the cartoon’s name changed in the late 1970s to Ripley’s It Happened in Canada, but by then it would have been too late for the Mirror Lake post office.
The National Archives has a collection of Johnston’s cartoons, and although there is no mention of Mirror Lake among them, it still seems possible this might have been the strip that carried the claim.
The post office in 2000, now located next to the SS Moyie.
And as seen in August 2018, following a paint job to match the colours it had in the 1960s.
Updated on Nov. 16, 2020 to add that the post office was built in 1918; on Dec. 8, 2020 to correct the photo credit on the last postcard to say Percy Orrell; and on July 5, 2023 to add the two photos from the Nelson Daily News.