OTD: Churchill visits Ottawa amid Second World War

On today’s date in 1941, U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived in Ottawa to give a speech to the House of Commons following talks with U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt about the war with Germany.

During his speech, Churchill derided the prediction of French officials, who had said, “In three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.”

Churchill’s response to this prediction – made in 1940, when France was nearing defeat – was, “Some chicken; some neck,” because Britain had continued the war effort alongside other Commonwealth countries, including Canada.

Earlier in 1941, Britain also allied with the Soviet Union as well as the U.S. following the commencement of Operation Barbarossa and the attack on Pearl Harbor, respectively.


Following the speech, in a Chateau Laurier studio, famed Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh took his now-iconic photograph of a scowling Churchill by forcing him to pose without a cigar.

When Karsh seated Churchill, and with the photograph ready to be taken, Churchill snapped: “You have two minutes. And that’s it, two minutes.”

Britain’s war-time hero had not been told he was going to be photographed; with anger, he lit a fresh cigar and began puffing.

An iconic photograph of British war-time prime minister Winston Churchill was taken on today’s date in 1941.

After asking Churchill to remove the cigar from his mouth and being met with refusal, Karsh – supposedly to fix the light levels – walked over to Churchill and removed the cigar himself. As Karsh walked back to the camera, he remotely photographed Churchill, capturing the now-famous portrayal of Britain’s war-time prime minister.

Karsh recounted: “I stepped toward him and without premeditation, but ever so respectfully, I said, ‘Forgive me, Sir’ and plucked the cigar out of his mouth. By the time I got back to my camera, he looked so belligerent he could have devoured me. It was at that instant I took the photograph. The silence was deafening. Then Mr Churchill, smiling benignly, said, ‘You may take another one.’ He walked toward me, shook my hand and said, ‘You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.'”

The photograph was featured on the cover of Life in 1941.


In 2008, to mark the 100th anniversary of Karsh’s birth and the 60th anniversary of the publication of his famous portrait of Churchill, Canada Post issued three stamps honouring the iconic photographer.

“Yousuf would regard this as the ultimate honour-that the country that took him in and nurtured him is now featuring the work of his life,” said his widow, Estrellita Karsh. “It’s one more tribute in his unending love and affection for Canada.”

A 52-cent domestic-rate stamp (Scott #2270) features Self-portrait; a 96-cent U.S.-rate stamp (SC #2272) features his photograph of Audrey Hepburn; and a $1.60 international-rate stamp (SC #2273) features his portrait of Churchill.

“Karsh was a legend-he developed a style of portrait photography distinctly his own,” said Alain Leduc, manager of stamp design and production at Canada Post.

In addition to the three stamps issued as part of the Art Canada series, a souvenir sheet (SC #2271) also included 24 other famous photographs taken by Karsh.

“These portraits appear as taken,” said Leduc. “Throughout the series, we’ve tried to show the work as created, so the stamp sizes are always different.”

For designer Helene L’Heureux, this meant choosing three portraits that worked well as a set while maintaining aspects of the artist’s style.

A souvenir sheet also featured Karsh’s Self-portrait and his portrait of Audrey Hepburn.

“The simple, asymmetrical frames, white to evoke a framing mat, are integral to the series’ design,” she said. “Several shades of black were used to achieve a sense of depth and contrast. The simple look was not simple to execute.”

The domestic-rate stamps found on the pane of 16 measure 32 millimetres by 40 millimetres (vertical) with 13-plus perforations and P.V.A. gum.

The U.S.- and international-rate stamps are available in booklets of eight stamps measuring 32.25 millimetres by 39.75 millimetres (vertical); they are self-adhesive.

The stamps on the souvenir sheet measure 150 millimetres by 97 millimetres (horizontal) and have 13-plus perforations and P.V.A. gum.

Lowe-Martin printed 1.750 million domestic rate stamps, 1.6 million of each of the U.S. and international rate stamps as well as 325,000 souvenir sheets. All stamps were printed using six-colour lithography plus varnish on Tullis Russel paper. They are tagged on all sides.

An official first-day cover was serviced with an Ottawa cancel in recognition of the many photographs taken by Karsh that were stamped on the back with “Karsh of Ottawa.”

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