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Atlin, B.C., finally has a permanent post office again

Stephen Lancaster, manager of the Atlin, B.C., post office, at its new location in the Atlin Mountain Inn. The community's last permanent post office burned down more than a year ago. (Virginie Ann/CBC - image credit)
Stephen Lancaster, manager of the Atlin, B.C., post office, at its new location in the Atlin Mountain Inn. The community's last permanent post office burned down more than a year ago. (Virginie Ann/CBC - image credit)

People who live in Atlin, B.C., finally have a permanent local post office again, more than a year after the last one was destroyed by fire.

Getting the mail has been a frustrating experience for some residents of the remote community in recent months, with some people even driving two hours to Whitehorse to send or pick up important letters and packages.

The community of about 500, often described as an isolated haven in the northern part of the province, has had some mail service since then, but it's been from a temporary location, and only a few hours a week.

According to the new post office manager Stephen Lancaster, having a permanent location in Atlin changes everything.

"It's an essential service that you need to get things done for your life — you know, you need medication, letters from your loved ones, and Christmas presents, and Mother's Day gifts," Lancaster said.

The new post office is based at the Atlin Mountain Inn, in the centre of the community. Right now, it's offering most postal services but Lancaster said the store will be fully operational by January.

"It's been a real struggle because the nearest post office is in Whitehorse," he said.

"So if there's an emergency or medication, it's a long way and expensive for people to have to deal with that. And so to have it back in Atlin, people are ecstatic that they'll have access, seven days a week, to get to the post office box."

More than a year

An investigation was opened last year to determine the cause of the fire that destroyed the old post office and the town's general store. CBC News asked RCMP for an update but did not receive a response before publication.

The fire left many residents shaken, as they described the place as a "community hub" where people would do more than just pick up their mail.

The building remains after a fire destroyed the post office and general store in Atlin, B.C.
The building remains after a fire destroyed the post office and general store in Atlin, B.C.

The building remains after a fire destroyed the post office and general store in Atlin in September 2022. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"It's always been a place where people meet, you see the people that you would never see any other time," said Fiona Harrigan, who's been working as backup support for Canada Post in recent months.

"And it's really an important aspect of the community, not just for getting your mail, but also the social part of it. There's a lot of people that live really rural here or like, even more rural, in the bush — and it's a nice meeting place."

After the fire last year, Canada Post discussed options to have temporary service offered but the reality turned out to be more complex than expected. The town's former postmaster Tina St Cyr resigned a few months after the fire destroyed the store she owned.

St Cyr quoted a lack of support from Canada Post to help cover expenses for the utilities in a new, temporary location — the town's former morgue.

With no plumbing or computer systems, that building was not equipped to offer proper service. And with no one willing  to step in and take over as postmaster, the temporary location could only open less than four hours, one day a week.

Harrigan said she can't believe the struggle is over.

"It's been a Friday afternoon of lineup going down a block in town, which is a lot of just constant, constant handing out parcels and mail," she said, adding that this was only a portion of the community's mail. Some items, including larger parcels, are still going to Whitehorse for now.

Fiona Harrigan has worked as backup staff at the post office in Atlin, B.C.
Fiona Harrigan has worked as backup staff at the post office in Atlin, B.C.

The local post office has 'always been a place where people meet, you see the people that you would never see any other time,' said Fiona Harrigan, who's been working as backup support for Canada Post in recent months. (Virginie Ann/CBC)

Shani Babcock, who had been driving to Whitehorse to get her mail, told CBC the mail delivery has been "very frustrating." She said it meant she missed a friend's wedding because she got the invitation too late.

"What can you do? I laughed," she said.

"Me and my girlfriend had a laugh about it. But it was kind of sad. I've known her for 25 years plus, and it would have been nice to have been at the wedding."

Babcock said she hopes the new permanent office will improve the service. But, she added, if there's one thing people in Atlin have learned over the years when it comes to their mail, it's to have patience and "be prepared to wait."