Ariss post office began service 100 years ago

The completion of the Canadian Pacific’s Guelph-to-Goderich line and the start of passenger service in the fall of 1907 brought about major chang­es in the daily routine of the small centres along the line.

The first major station out of Guelph was Elmira. But rail­ways liked to have stations at intervals of six miles or so, and preferably near an existing com­munity. That resulted in stations named West Montrose and Weissenberg. Both were a mile or two from the existing communities of those names.

Weissenberg was the name given to the first station north­west of Guelph, roughly six miles from the Guelph station. It was at a small settlement, then nameless, on the Elmira Highway (later Highway 86) and at the border between Pil­kington and Guelph Town­ships. A store, a blacksmith shop, and a hotel constituted the business sector. Weissen­berg, in Woolwich Township, was the nearest post office.

Postal authorities soon saw that the arrangement of connec­ting Weissenberg post office with the station, almost two miles away,  was an awkward one. During the early months of 1908, officials decided that a new post office should be open­ed very near the station. The railway, postal authorities con­cluded, would result in more business activity there, and a post office would be a great con­venience.

As plans developed through the spring of 1908, officials made an agreement with Mr and Mrs Joseph House, who had opened the store six years earlier. Joe agreed to add a coun­ter in the store for a post office, and act as postmaster.

The next question was a name for the office. Weissen­berg Station was one of the pro­posals. Local residents suggest­ed Martindale, after David Martin, who had owned the land occupied by the station, and Ariss, after another local family. The post office selected the latter: the name was short, and not likely to be confused with any other office in the area. Canadian Pacific soon fell into line, and renamed the sta­tion Ariss.

In early June 1908, the Post Office announced that the of­fice would open on June 22. Everything was in place well in advance, so the opening date was moved up to June 15.

Another change was the staffing. Ellen House, not Joe, would be the postmaster. Mrs House received a second con­tract, to carry the mail to and from the station to each train that stopped there. That was worth $65 per year.

At the beginning, the office exchanged mail with the train at the nearby station twice daily, once each with eastbound and westbound trains. Those ar­rangements were fluid in the first few years, as Canadian Pacific experimented with its schedules. Passenger traffic was lower than had been ex­pected, and for several periods there was only one train each way daily.

After a few years, the sched­ule settled down to morn­ing and afternoon runs in each direction. That permitted some­one in Ariss to mail a letter to Guelph or elsewhere and re­ceive a reply the same evening.

For its first five years, Ariss was just another insignificant rural post office. All that chang­ed when postal officials established rural mail delivery in the area late in 1913. Two rural routes would operate from Ariss, covering an area that reached to the Grand River to the northwest, within sight of Elora.

To the south and east, the Ariss office served a portion of Guelph Township. The area covered by the rural routes had been served by offices at Inver­haugh, Ponsonby, Marden, and Weissenberg. Those offices clos­ed over the following year, as the contracts with the post­masters expired.

Another boom in business came in 1914, with the intro­duction of parcel post. That in­creased the burden on the rural mail carriers, and cut into the express and freight business of the railways.

In March 1928, Frank Schuett took over the Ariss store and the position as post­master. He would hold the job until 1957. He is remembered well by old-time Ariss resi­dents.

The railway station at Ariss never developed as a signi­ficant shipping point, as the Canadian Pacific had hoped. The original station was a substantial one, with a second-floor apartment for the agent and his family. That building burned down in the 1930s. Canadian Pacific replaced it with a much smaller structure.

By the 1920s not all passen­ger trains stopped. The post office put up a mail catch pole, so that the outgoing mailbag could be picked up without stop­ping the train.

The combined effects of the depression and the motor car ate into passenger traffic on the railway. The Ariss station had done a steady business in its early years with people going to Guelph for weekly shopping trips. That ended when they pur­chased cars. In 1932, Cana­dian Pacific reduced service to a single train each way daily. That made a day trip by train to Guelph impossible. Later in the decade service was provided by a motor train, a self-propelled passenger car with a mail com­partment that sometimes pulled a second car.

In 1933, as an economy meas­ure, the post office com­bined RR1 and RR2. At that time Route 1 had 77 customers and Route 2 had 40. Another 17 picked up their mail at the post office. The routes were separat­ed again in 1938.

By the early 1950s a regular train replaced the motor train, invariably consisting of an old combination baggage and mail car and a decrepit coach. That lasted until Saturday, April 23, 1955, when the passenger train and mail car ran for the last time. The following Monday the mail came and left Ariss by truck.

Passenger service remained for another few years, provided by an ancient passenger car tack­ed onto the end of the daily freight train.

During the last three dec­ades of rail service, the train from Guelph to Goderich was scheduled at Ariss between 10:30 and 11am, and the return trip passed between 6:30 and 7pm. Schedules varied slightly from year to year.

Low mail volumes and de­clining revenue prompted post­al officials to close a number of offices in the 1960s and 1970s. Salem, Rothsay, Aberfoyle, Damascus, Everton, and Gold­stone are examples in Well­ington County.

Ariss bucked the trend. Sprawl development from Guelph was already evident by 1960. In 1963, there were 151 customers on the Ariss rural rout­es, an increase of 30% over 1933. Since then the increase has been much greater. Today there are 540 customers on the Ariss routes, and another 70 pick up their mail at the post office.

P.M. Kurtz took over as postmaster in June 1957, and served until October 1973. There was a rapid turnover dur­ing the following 11 years: Charles Demolder, Robert Graham, Irene Meyers, and Theresa Fior. Elizabeth Begg, the current postmaster, took over the duties on March 1, 1984, and received the official appointment a month later.

The Ariss post office may seem an anachronism in 2008, with its simple counter and old-fashioned pigeon-holes for mail.

But considering the alter­natives, it is probably the most efficient way to serve the pub­lic in the community of Ariss, as well as the hundreds of people who are served from the rural routes based there.

There is no reason to be­lieve that it will not be serving the public another century into the future.


Stephen Thorning