British Columbia

End of an era in New Hazelton, B.C., as mail carrier retires after 51-plus years on the job

Dianne Starr, the longest serving mail carrier in B.C., says she has loved her half century of delivering mail along the rural routes of northwest B.C.

Dianne Starr started working for Canada Post on July 2, 1970, believing the job was only temporary

Dianne Starr was the longest serving Canada Post rural route mail carrier in B.C. when she retired after 51 years and six months of service. (Submitted by Dianne Starr)

When Dianne Starr delivered her first letter for Canada Post, bell bottoms were all the rage, the October crisis was still three months away and Marcus Welby, M.D. was the top rated TV show in North America.

It was July 2, 1970. The 23-year-old was pregnant with her third child and had agreed to fill in for her vacationing mother, who carried the mail on a small route around south Hazelton in northwest British Columbia. 

"My mother was going up north to Whitehorse and asked if I would do [the job]... so I said, oh, what the heck," said Starr.

"But she didn't come back. She got a job up there and my dad got a job. And 51 years later, she's never come back to relieve me." 

On Dec. 31, 2021, when the almost 75-year-old made the difficult decision to retire from that not-so-temporary job, going out on top of the Canada Post B.C. seniority list with 51 years and six months service, to be exact. 

"It was just a great job," she said, speaking from her home in New Hazelton. "I love being outside and I have no problem driving in the winter ... I never had an accident and never went in the ditch."

Starr did, however, witness a lot of change over her career.

When she started, mail delivery was seven days a week. That shrunk to five, but her route grew larger, eventually encompassing 400 addresses stretching from New Hazelton to the Gitxsan community of Gitsegukla.

Starr's route served 400 addresses from from New Hazelton to Gitsegukla. (google maps)

Lille Starr, one of her 20 grandchildren (she has three great grandchildren, too), calculated, that over 51 years on the job, Dianne covered close to 700,000 kilometres, a distance equal to travelling from the Earth to the moon and most of the way back or circling the globe 17 times.

And of course, the hours on the road weren't always in ideal conditions. 

"It could get pretty wicked out there in the winter when it's snowing and blowing. But you learn how to dress appropriately and you try to be fast so you don't freeze to death," she laughed. 

Goodbye letters, hello huge parcels

The arrival of computers and email completely changed the job.

"There went our letter mail, but then the parcels got heavier and heavier because people started ordering online.  And then, of course, COVID hit and — holy hanna — they got really heavy!"

Starr figures her strong constitution, good joints and overall fitness  — she played competitive fastpitch with the Skeena A's well into her fifties  — helped as the work became more physically demanding.

"You're in and out of the car I don't know how many times a day," she said. "But my health was always great which is why I worked so long."

Skeena A's fastpitch team, circa 1987. Starr (front, second from right) played first base for the team well into her fifties. (Submitted by Ryneld Starr)

On social media, son Ryneld announced his mom's retirement, saying she wasn't one to toot her own horn. The tributes and congratulations from friends and customers have been pouring in.

Canada Post told CBC it couldn't confirm if Starr is the longest serving carrier in Canada, but did want to publicly acknowledge her longevity and dedication. 

"We cannot overstate our gratitude to Dianne for her lifetime of service," said Canada Post's Valérie Chartrand.

"Her retirement was certainly recognized by her colleagues who will miss her greatly. We thank Dianne for the service she has provided to her fellow Canadians and wish her much health and happiness in her well-deserved retirement."