"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nova Scotia Connections: A Day in the Life of Great Village: The Post Office and its Postmaster

Angus Johnson is the postmaster in the village. He has been sorting and stamping the King’s mail at the old stand for decades. He took over his duties way back in 1889, helping out now and then as a mail carrier. He’s done the delivery down the shore to Five Islands.

You see, the mail still arrives in Great Village from all directions by coach. Mail from Europe reaches Halifax by steamer and is put on the Maritime bound for Montreal. Mail from all points West travels to Nova Scotia by the Canadian Pacific train. These far away letters and packages reach Londonderry Station and are picked up by Albion Kent, who brings them the nearly four miles to the Village. Mr. Kent is one of the most obliging mail carriers in the county. His father, Daniel, did this route for years before him. The brightly painted two-horse wagon is called the “Ferry.” Mr. Kent will always take passengers for a small fee, 254 a head.

Even mail from Truro makes the trip by team. Though soon, people think, automobiles will replace the trusty horses. After all, Dr. T.R. Johnson has already traded his famous Lord Wallace for a Model T. Mr. Kent, too, bought an automobile a few years ago, but he has not yet turned over his run to it. He says his horses are still more trustworthy, especially in winter.

The post office is a busy place, with mail arriving several times a day; the big deliveries being with the 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Halifax bound-trains. Mr. Johnson says that he makes up and opens 22 mails a day. Little wonder, he says, the keys to the mailbags wear out; though he’s had the same keys now for ten years.

Lots of other business is conducted at the post office, money orders being the biggest item. There is also a telegraph service, a telephone and a highly efficient Express Office. All the modern conveniences. Mr. Johnson is also agent for the Nova Scotia Home Underwriters’ Agency. And nearly every week someone stops by to engage his services as an auctioneer. He’s one of the most popular in the area. Mr. Johnson is also a truly civic-minded fellow, active in the Presbyterian church and a long-standing member of the I.O.O.F. He’s always willing to help out with fund-raisers, and finds place in the post office for the notices, posters and fliers announcing the many suppers, concerts, lectures and musicales, which take place not only in the village but all along the shore.

For all the hurry and bustle, it is one of the best kept offices in the Dominion. Now, during war time, mail service is even more important with so many folks waiting for word from the boys training at Aldershot and Valcartier, or those already in England and France. The newspapers also arrive at the office bringing the latest reports on the distant campaigns.

Great Village has had a “way” or post office since the early 1870s. The current building was built in 1903 by Mr. W.E. Adams of Mount Pleasant. It also houses the Savings Bank, though there is talk that the Royal Bank is going to open up a branch here in the Village sometime soon.(1)

The post office is Mr. Johnson’s home away from home. Even his six daughters have regularly helped out, especially Kate; and she’s just as good as her father with all the tasks.

The post office is a gathering place in the village. In the evenings the lads who are not yet old enough to enlist collect here to talk about the day’s events and watch the activity at the Elmonte House across the road. The merchants and farmers stop by after their days’ labours to see what the coaches have brought. Everyone stops to chat with Mr. Johnson, who always has the latest news of the comings and goings. Villagers trust Mr. Johnson to take good care of the precious cargoes entrusted to him, which have journeyed from far and near, bringing news of births, deaths, marriages, and of the war. He is one of the most respected and beloved gentlemen in the community.(2) Though he is 64 years old, Mr. Johnson is hale and hearty, and intends to stay on as postmaster for some years yet, and Villagers are glad about it.(3)

Yesterday was an especially busy day at the post office, because it was the centre for information about the provincial election results. There were even more people around than usual because of the excitement of voting. Several of the lads had motored into Truro late in the afternoon and stayed around the Daily News offices until the polls closed, and came hurrying back around 10:00 p.m. with the news of the Grit victory ─ though the Tories held the day in Colchester.

The excitement of election day over, this morning is still a busy one for Mr. Johnson. The morning’s outgoing mail is heavy with letters and packages for the lads in training and overseas. Mr. Kent is in early to load up the Ferry and be off to Londonderry Station. However, Mr. Johnson is going about his work with more solemnity than is usual for his genial manner. When he opens up the office for business (after the sorting and loading of the Ferry is completed), he looks up at the sound of a wagon coming over the bridge, not unusual in itself. It’s Will Bulmer and his daughters Gertie and Grace. He thinks to himself, “Ah, it’s today she’s going.” As the wagon passes by Mr. Johnson nods quietly to Will. He knows how he would feel if one of his dear daughters was not well. Poor Will and Lizzie. Poor Gertie. He’s known her since she was a wee bairn.

Mr. Johnson wonders how Gertie’s dear little girl will feel, her mother going off like this today. He knows Will and Lizzie are devoted to the child, proud as punch about their bright granddaughter, and will do all they can to comfort her. She is so young that perhaps she doesn’t really understand all that is happening, but with six girls of his own, he well knows how smart little ones really are. Surely, Gertie will get the help she needs and be home soon. Mr. Johnson always smiles when he sees little Elizabeth marching proudly behind the cow when they pass by his house on Scrabble Hill – though that isn’t often because most days he’s at the post office early and leaves late. She is an independent little girl. Mr. Johnson sighs as he watches the wagon trundle off. Every family in the village has trials and troubles these days with the war and so many boys off fighting in the trenches in France, and some of them already never to return. But he knows the hard time Gertie has had since her own Will died five years ago.

When he returns from the Station, Will stops in for the mail and Mr. Johnson chats with him, tries to cheer him up talking about the lively election.


1. A branch of the Royal Bank opened in Great Village in 1919. The building which housed the bank still stands in the Village, near the Presbyterian church.

2. So beloved was Angus Johnson that in 1930 one of his old friends, Mrs. Peter Hall, composed a poetic tribute to him á la Robert Burns, and in 1933 he was honoured by a large gathering in the Presbyterian church:

God'’ blessing on ye Pastie man,
Ah Angus ye’er a prince o'man
To sort like you─
A bonnier lad I dinna ken.
God bless ye mon.
Ah, Angus, Ye’er a lad o’pairts
Master o’ a’ the winsome airts.
Ye’er deeds by a’ ye’er ain desairts
Will live for aye.
The benediction o’ oor hairts
Ye hae the day.

3. Obituary (Truro Daily News) ─ Angus Johnson died July 12, 1935, in Great Village. Born in River John in 1852, he lived for the last 61 years in Great Village. Mr. Johnson was a public-spirited man, keenly interested in the welfare of the community, and for 34 years he was postmaster there. He is survived by his wife, Mary MacLeod, daughter of the late Robert MacLeod, and by four daughters, Miss Florence of Toronto; Mrs. Neil MacLeod of Cochrane, Ont.; Mrs. James E. Dykens of Upper Economy, and Mrs. Donald Patriquin of Great Village; also by four sisters and one brother. He was predeceased by two daughters. The service at the house was conducted by Thomas Lamot, student minister of the Presbyterian Church, assisted by Rev. Mr. Kirker of the United Church. At the grave the service was in charge of the I.O.O.F. lodge, of which Mr. Johnson was a member for over half a century.

View of Great Village. Angus Johnson's post office is tucked among the buildings on the left; Hustler Hill and the road to Londonderry Station on the right.

1 comment:

  1. Sandra, I feel like I know Mr. Johnson. Every village or small town, if they are lucky, has an Angus, a tireless, selfless and compassionate servant of the people. Thank you for introducing me to him! Adrianne