By Jonathan Riley
For more than 30 years, Loran Adams delivered the mail in Deep Brook by horse and buggy. Except when it snowed too much: then he’d go by snowshoe.
That’s one of the stories his granddaughter Gini Proulx recently told to the Clements Historical Society about Deep Brook’s first rural mail courier.
“I thought it would be interesting considering all the changes happening at Canada Post these days,” she said. “I think people would like to hear what it was like in the beginning.”
“Uncle Loran,” as Proulx said he was known, began the Deep Brook Rural Mail Route Nov. 1, 1913. Proulx’s cousin, Wendy Adams James, has the original signed contracts between Loran and the Post Office Department of Canada.
Loran had to bid on the contract and agreed to do the three-mile run six days a week for $200 a year plus $1 per mailbox. In the fine print of those contracts, Proulx found at least some of the motivation behind those long, snowshoe walks: if Adams failed to deliver the mail even one day, he had to pay the post office $500.Two other people in the community also had to put up bonds for his character, such that if he failed to deliver the mail, they could be forced to pay $500 each.
Adams’, whose mother was a Pinkney, grew up on Pinkney’s Poin: , the extreme western end of Annapolis County wround where Highway 101 crosses Bear River.
His house sat close to where the eastern off ramp to Deep Brook meets the Waldec Line, before the land was expropriated to build the new highway.
Adams’ father was a farmer and so was Loran; in fact, he combined delivering the mail with delivering vegetables to customers in the area. Proulx’s older sister Shirley remembers helping her grandfather pick vegetables, wash them and package them in the early morning, before he started off for the post office. Twice a week he parked a wheelbarrow of vegetables at the gate for Ralph Jefferson who sold meat door to door, as well as Adams’ vegetables.
“Everything used to come to our doors,” said Proulx. “The mail delivery was our connection to the rest of the world and it was always exciting to get mail. Homer Mailman with his Groceteria truck used to come round. You stepped up on back and they opened the shutters so you could buy your groceries.”
Adams was also the local road master - it was his job to get the men and boys out to shovel when snow blocked the road - and taught Sunday School at the Deep Brook Baptist Church
Delivery by train, horse
Part of Adams’ contract stipulated he would carry a supply of stamps with him on the route and people would leave money in the mailbox if they didn’t have a stamp.
He was also supposed to sound a horn as he approached and left the post office in Deep Brook.
Proulx doesn’t remember a horn, but she does remember him imitating one with his voice when he was bringing a C.O.D., cash on delivery, order from Simpsons or Eatons.
“He’d make that sound when he was approaching so we’d know to be ready with the money when he got to our mailbox,” she said.
In 1939 he also acquired a contract to deliver the mail to and from the train, twice a day. For carrying the mail 185 yards, he was paid $156.50 a year. He hung the outgoing mail on a hook for the mail clerk who rode in a special car on the train. He picked the incoming mail up from the same hook.
“There were two trains a day – the down train and the up train,” recalled Proulx. “If you mailed a letter to Kentville, it could be there in a matter of hours, not days like it is today.”
The requirements for a safe rural mailbox in 1913 were a little less strict than today.
Back then you had to agree to buy a “King Edward” mailbox from the Post Office Department at a cost of around $4. It had to be installed so the mail carriers didn’t have to dismount from horse or carriage.
Proulx remembers in her day, the mailboxes didn’t have flags, they swiveled. If they were parallel to the road, the boxes were empty; if the box held mail, outgoing or incoming, they turned the box at a right angle to the road.
Adams’ route eventually expanded to include Waldec and the Shaw Road: a 25-mile route for his buggy. He went through eight horses over the 30 years he delivered the mail: Queenie, Prince, Dolly, Ruth, Holly, Sister Horton, Chloe and Pat.
His horses were also well known. The Annapolis Spectator of Dec. 10, 1925, lamented the death of Adams’ “faithful horse Dolly after 25 years and six months.
“We’ll miss her on the mail route,” read the notice.
Laura Spurr, writing in the Chronicle Herald in 1943, noted Second World War gas and tire rationing wouldn’t affect Adams.
“Mr. Adams never outgrew the horse and buggy days so that today he carries on with the same cheerful manner as when he started out on his initial trip,” she wrote.
Adams didn’t stop delivering the mail until he had a stroke, while working at the train station in Deep Brook in January 1945. He was 75.
The Digby Courier noted his illness on its front page:
“A highly respected and faithful servant of the public is laid aside today. Loran Adams, mail courier of Deep Brook and Waldec, while in the performance of his duty at the railway station, suffered what appears to be a slight stroke. He was helped back to the office by the postmaster, Major Vroom, and thence taken to his home where he has been made as comfortable as possible. A veteran of many years, he will be greatly missed on his mail route by his friends, who wish him a speedy recovery.”
Adams recovered from that stroke and lived another 15 years. Eventually, he moved with his daughter and family to Digby but travelled daily by the Acadian Lines bus to work in his gardens in Deep Brook.
“He could come in the morning with the bus and go back in the afternoon,” Proulx said. “The bus drivers all got to know him well. He always wore those overalls.”
Proulx thinks her grandfather's story is important because it's a reminder of a different way of life and points out some of the services that have been, or may be soon, lost: the trains, the bus, home delivery of mail, meat and groceries and stamps at our mailbox.
“Today, if I want a stamp, I have to drive at least five miles," she said, "But I have to admit, I'm really sold on instant electronic messaging and this is partly to blame for some of the current problems at Canada Post."
Another long-serving postman
In the same edition of the Digby Courier that noted Adams' stroke, Jan. 11, 1945, one of his colleagues' long service was noted.
For thirty-two years, nearly one third of a century, Guy E. Morehouse Sr., has been responsible for the transportation of mails and passengers to villages of Digby Neck, Long and Briar Islands. Guy has now commenced his 33rd year on a job that also unofficially includes that of “Digby Neck Errand Boy.”
In all the Digby Neck and Islands Bus Service serves 15 post offices, which includes 11 on the Digby Neck mainland, 3 on Long Island and 1 on Briar Island. The bus operates only on the Digby Neck mainland, from Digby of East Ferry, a distance of 33 miles.
But with all the return trips that have been made over this route – at least one return trip every week day, and many times two return trips a day, the aggregate has approached the 1,000,000 mile mark in these 32 years!
That has been enough to wear out many cars and buses , and to cost a small fortune in tires, tubes, gas, oil and other accessories.
Conditions are pretty bad when the Digby Neck mails fail to get through to their destination. There are times in the spring when the highway becomes an ocean of mud, and during the winter months there are frequently snow drifts anywhere from five to twenty feet to shovel through – sometimes it is more convenient to leave the highway and take to open fields.
During the past few years Guy has not done all the driving himself, nevertheless, he is usually behind the wheel, but still has time for other activities. Among other things he is a faithful member of the Digby Baptist Church choir, and of the Digby Civic Band, and usually manages to be in Digby on choir and band practice nights.