The long and difficult path to getting a Public Building constructed in Ashcroft was, by early 1917, finally nearing its end. The journey had started in 1912, when the Dominion Government in Ottawa purchased land at the corner of 4th and Brink Streets and announced that money had been set aside for construction of the building, which would house the customs office, telephone exchange, post office and telegraph office, all of which were scattered around Ashcroft.
The project had then gone quiet until 1914, when a petition from residents decrying the situation and demanding action was sent to Ottawa. The government quickly announced that work would start later that year; but less than a fortnight after the announcement World War I started, and the project was put on the back burner.
The Great Fire in July 1916, which wiped out almost the entire business district of the town, meant that Ottawa could no longer delay construction; and in November of that year work started. Journal editor R.D. Cumming—who had an abiding interest in watching the progress of major developments in the town—had a front row seat on the progress of the Public Building, being erected right next door to his office.
In the February 3, 1917, issue of The Journal he noted that: “The extreme cold of the fore part of this week was just to remind old-timers that it was still in business, and to let the Victoria boys, who are building the post office, know what a real cold spell tastes like.” He added that: “The hammering and noise on the new post office was reduced this week to an absolute stillness. However, that is only an external condition. If you go down into the deep recesses of the basement, you will find the hammer and the saw still beating time as merrily as ever.”
Two weeks later, Cumming reported that the plumbing work at the building—which had taken two months to complete—was finished, and that the radiators had been in operation for the first time (doubtless to the relief of the workmen). In the March 17 issue it was noted that the furniture and fittings for the new post office (and presumably the other offices) had arrived and were being installed. Cumming also wrote, in the same issue, that: “There is some talk that a cement sidewalk will be laid around the new post office. This will add very much to the appearance of the building if arranged.”
On March 24, 1917, Cumming wrote the words that Ashcroftonians had been longing to hear for five long years. “Work on the Ashcroft Public Building is nearing completion. A few weeks more for finishing touches and fittings for post office, etc., will see the building ready for occupation.” In the March 31 issue it was confirmed that there would indeed be a cement sidewalk around the building. (On a side note, the same paper reported that the Ashcroft Hotel—the epicentre of the July 1916 fire—had just re-opened for business after being rebuilt, and was “doing well.”)
A front page story in the April 7 paper was headlined “PUBLIC BUILDING IS FINISHED. The Structure Will Stand The Test of Years With Minimum of Depreciation.” Cumming was presumably letting the eagerness of himself and his readers get the better of him, however, the first line of the story reads: “The Ashcroft public building is practically finished, and all that remains is its acceptance by the officials of the Public Works Department at Ottawa.”
There was still work to be done outside, such as construction of steps up to the building and the pouring of the sidewalk, but Cumming wrote that: “So far as the building proper is concerned, it is ready for occupation… . The building, in its finished condition both inside and out, is a credit not only to the workmen who put their best into it, but to the town of Ashcroft as well.
“The efficiency of the work in every detail is of the kind that will make the structure endure, and withstand the wear and tear of use and elements with the minimum of depreciation for many years to come.” Those familiar with the current red-brick-faced building will be interested to know that the original wood structure was painted light gray with slightly darker trimmings, with window trimmings of a dark bronze green. “The building looms up splendidly when viewed from any angle, and adds greatly to the part of town where it is situated.”
On April 21, Cumming wrote that: “The new post office is about ready. It will be a pleasure to post letters and receive mail after this.” However, he warned that: “In future you will require to get your mail at the wicket like any other ordinary stranger; there will be no such thing as intruding on the postmaster’s side of the fence.” By May 26, most of the fittings for the various offices within the building had been installed, with Cumming noting “the beginning of the end is coming in sight.”
Finally, in the Journal of Aug. 25, 1917, Cumming was able to write (and one can hear the sigh of relief across more than a century): “At last the new Dominion public building has been opened to the public. The Customs and the Post Office are in their new quarters.”
Cumming was correct when he said that the building would stand the test of time. However, one by one the various offices left, and in 1978—when Canada Post opened a post office at the corner of 4th Street and Railway and relocated from the Public Building—only a Manpower Office was left there. In June 1982 the building became the Ashcroft Museum, and has now entered its second century, still going strong, and still a credit to the town.