Live chicks and queen bees: Cape Breton mail carrier looks back at 51 years of service

Clare Bouchard, 81, retired this fall after delivering mail in rural Cape Breton for 51 years. (Submitted by Lisa Bouchard - image credit)
Clare Bouchard, 81, retired this fall after delivering mail in rural Cape Breton for 51 years. (Submitted by Lisa Bouchard - image credit)

In 1971, when the postmaster for St. Peter's in Richmond County, N.S., asked Clare Bouchard if she would do the River Bourgeois mail carrier route, she had no idea it would be the start of a 51-year career.

Bouchard, who retired in October, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon guest host Brett Ruskin that she only had a learner's licence in 1971 but that didn't stop her because things "weren't as complicated as today."

She only knew people in the area by their nicknames back then, so she drove the route with her aunt who filled her in.

The job helped her get to know the community even better and, in the early days, her aunt wasn't the only person who kept her company on her rounds, Bouchard said.

"You would stop and have chats and every day you saw somebody different," she said. "You could pick up people that would want to drive into town so they could hop in with you and tell you stories and it was nice."

Rachel McGrath Photography
Rachel McGrath Photography

The mail that she carried was also very different in the early days, Bouchard said.

Quirky deliveries

Bouchard remembers taking her children with her when she was delivering baby chicks, still peeping, that were sent by mail.

Other quirky deliveries that stand out for her in those days were queen bees, human ashes, dentures and false teeth, she said.

Back then, she said, there were stacks of Christmas cards every year and people would eagerly await the delivery of their Eaton's and Simpsons mail-order catalogs to choose their gifts.

"You got to get those sweaters and socks and Christmas gifts to where they need to go," she said with a chuckle.

But times have changed and in recent years many of her deliveries were Amazon parcels.

A lot of people in the area order their Christmas gifts online today, Bouchard said, and on some days she had so many parcels to deliver she had to make two trips.

Family time

Bouchard said she never wanted a promotion or different job because being a mail carrier allowed her to spend time with her family.

She said her average day started at about 9:30 a.m. and she was usually back home by 2 p.m., which gave her time with her four children. Her mother-in-law was also living with the family at the time, she said, so someone was always home.

Bouchard's daughter, Lisa, describes her mother as "awesome" and says she was "everyone's mom."

Rachel McGrath Photography
Rachel McGrath Photography

"She's just amazing. I have not met one person in my life that didn't like her," her daughter said. "You want to be her friend."

Lisa Bouchard said she and her siblings always had a cooked meal waiting at home for them when they got home from school.

Care packages

She said to this day her mother sends "care packages" of home cooked meals and baked goods to her children and grandchildren.

The younger Bouchard said her mother also made and sold cakes for occasions like birthdays and weddings. Baking was such a constant in the home, she said, that it got to the point where the children didn't want cake because they were so used to smelling it.

Since retiring on Oct. 28, Bouchard said she has kept busy and has hardly had time to catch up on her soap operas.

She said she doesn't like to stay around the house for too long.

Her children say the family is well aware the 81-year-old is "up for anything."

"Her brothers say she's just like their best friend, like the family dog," Lisa Bouchard said.

"You shake the keys and she's in the car. Can't wait to go."