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The Nova Scotia town that held a funeral for its post office

The post office had been a part of life in Head of St. Margaret's Bay, N.S., for more than a century. Until it wasn't.

1987 closing of rural post office in Head of St. Margaret's Bay upset many local residents

In 1987, the residents of a Nova Scotia town held a funeral for their post office, when it was closed by Canada Post. 2:22

Bagpipe music played, wreaths were sent and Amazing Grace was sung. A black shroud was laid upon a makeshift urn.

It was a funeral, of course, for which such displays of respect are common.

But in this case, the people living in a small Nova Scotia community had gathered to pay their respects not to a person who had died, but to a post office.

The grief might have been hard for outsiders to understand, but not for those living in Head of St. Margaret's Bay, N.S., where the post office run by Verna Dunlop was a big part of their small, tight-knit community.

'The centre of the village'

Postmaster Verna Dunlop ran the post office out of the back of her home in Head of St. Margaret's Bay, N.S. (The National/CBC Archives)

Or it had been, until it was closed on Nov. 7, 1987, the day the mock funeral was held outside Dunlop's home.

The post office, which had been located in the back of Dunlop's home, was not just a utilitarian service kiosk where residents had to go to pick up their mail.

According to locals, it was also a community hub where people gathered to catch up on the town gossip, or to enjoy a cup of the coffee the postmaster had been brewing for them.

"It's really the centre of the village," said one woman, explaining what the post office meant to the people living there.

A lost fight and lost money

People living in Head of St. Margaret's Bay gathered outside Vera Dunlop's home for the mock funeral held for the post office she had operated there. (The National/CBC Archives)

There had been a post office located in Head of St. Margaret's Bay since before Confederation. And local residents spent months fighting to keep the one they had.

But Canada Post made the decision to close it, as it was losing money. It was replacing the post office with sets of newly installed super mailboxes.

And anybody who needed to mail a package or buy stamps would have to do that at a new outlet in the gift shop down the road.

"Canada Post says the change will provide better service," reporter Kevin Evans told viewers on The National that night.

"Residents say they've been robbed of something precious."

'An aluminum box'

Referring to the super mailboxes that would be replacing the post office in Head of St. Maragaret's Bay, N.S., this woman said "there's no contact with an aluminium box and a key." (The National/CBC Archives)

Many people in town weren't convinced the coming changes were for the better.

Like the funeral attendee who, when referring to the super mailboxes, told The National "there's no contact with an aluminum box and a key."

Or the man who was clear on what the people did and did not want to see in Head of St. Margaret's Bay.

"We do not want those super mailboxes. We want to have a community life," he said.

A hope for something different

Wreaths were on display at the mock funeral held for the post office in Head of St. Margaret's Bay, N.S., in 1987. (The National/CBC Archives)

At the mock funeral, Dunlop choked up as she said she hoped "this is going to stop," alluding to the fact that it wasn't just Head of St. Margaret's Bay that was losing its post office.

"We hope that the way of life that we're used to we can keep," she added.

Canada Post had closed 40 such rural post offices that year and had long-term plans to close more than 5,000 of them across the country.

"Just as Verna Dunlop's post office came to symbolize for these people the best qualities of rural life, so does its passing remind them of the steady erosion of that way of life," said Evans.

"That, they say, is something Canada Post does not understand."