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Sask. author says dozens of post offices in 1912 asked to be named Titanic

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REGINA - A curious thing happened at the headquarters of Canada's postal system in 1912 following the sinking of the Titanic, according to a Saskatchewan author.

Bill Barry says dozens of requests poured into Ottawa from postmasters across the country asking for permission to change the names of their post offices to honour the stricken liner.

Barry says a little postal station named Mourney near Duck Lake, about 100 kilometres north of Saskatoon, was the first, which meant it got to be the only post office in the country named "Titanic."

"I've always found it a bit macabre that people wanted to celebrate this great disaster, but celebrate it they did," says Barry, who has written several books on place names in Saskatchewan.

Barry says Mourney had been named after the local Catholic priest. There wasn't much to Mourney at the time — just a country store and a church. The area was populated with French-speaking settlers and there were about 30 or 40 families in the area, Barry says.

Not far away in 1885, the first battle of the Northwest Rebellion took place between North West Mounted Police and Metis troops at Duck Lake.

Many rural post offices, Barry says, weren't much more than an orange crate inside a farmhouse. In those days the roads weren't very good so people couldn't travel far to get their mail.

"When the great ship went down, the postmaster, a fellow by the name of (J.E.) Dionne, sent an application of to Ottawa saying 'I'd like to change the name of my post office to Titanic.'"

"Apparently from the research that I did there were about 30 applications for the same thing that arrived at the postmasters office. But they went with Saskatchewan's because it was the first one that got there."

And it's not the only thing in Saskatchewan named after the ship, Barry says, noting there was also a Titanic School near Swift Current, in the province's southeast, that was named immediately after the sinking.

Barry says Titanic was supposed to become a stop on a northern spur of the Canadian Northern Railway. But its future was likely sunk when a decision was made not to extend the spur. Over the years, farms got larger, roads got better and families who needed the post office got fewer.

There used to be 3,000 post offices in Saskatchewan, Barry says, but that's down to about 600 today.

He says the Titanic post office closed in 1967 due to lack of business. The church was gone by then, too. Titanic School, meanwhile, closed its doors in 1943.

Barry says the church still stood in Titanic until about 20 years ago, but he's been told it has since burned down.

"It doesn't exist any more," Barry says of Titanic.

As to why there was such demand to name things after the disaster that's become a shorthand for disaster, Barry doesn't know.

"There was only one Titanic and that was in Saskatchewan," he says.

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