Canada Post recently issued its annual Black History Month stamp, and this year’s commemoration focuses on a historical figure who continues to fascinate and confound scholars.
Little is known about Mathieu Da Costa, but from the few records that remain, historians conclude he was a free man who earned a living as an interpreter for Europeans, who were trading with Indigenous people in the New World. Believed to be of African or even Euro-African descent, his connection to Canada came in 1608 – the year Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Québec – when Da Costa signed a contract to work for Pierre Dugua de Mons, a French fur-trader, explorer and governor of Acadia.
“While the full story of Mathieu Da Costa may never be known, interest in his life and in his unique connection with our country is a reminder of the values of respect, acceptance and diversity that Canadians cherish,” said Canada Post President and CEO Deepak Chopra.
With no portrait of Da Costa available, designer Andrew Perro and illustrator Ron Dollekamp worked closely with Canadian historical illustrator and storyboard artist Francis Back to ensure the period clothing and sailing ship reflect De Costa’s time and socio-economic milieu. As with all stamps issued in 2017, the Black History stamp will contain references to Canada’s sesquicentennial that are only visible with a black light.
The domestic rate stamps, available in booklets of 10, are self-adhesive and measure 32 mm x 25 mm. The official first-day cover is cancelled in Tadoussac, Que., where historians believe Da Costa may have come ashore.
“No matter how long we work at creating stamps for Canadians, we always have something new and thrilling to discover,” wrote Jim Phillips, Canada Post director of stamp services, in the February-March 2017 issue of Details. “Sometimes we’re like detectives, digging deep and finding amazing things we want to share with you. Take the stamps in this issue, for instance.”
In addition to the 2017 Black History Month stamp, Canada Post is also celebrating two “quintessentially Canadian operas” as well as its annual harbinger of spring, the Daisies series.
“We reveal the peculiarity of the common lakeside daisy, which is so picky about its habitat that in Canada, it grows only in Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula and southern Manitoulin Island,” wrote Phillips. “And we explore the marvel of Canadian opera talent that has created exciting work in an old art form on the world stage.”
Described as “bold, exuberant and unmistakably creative,” the design of the Canadian Opera series – to be issued Feb. 4 – mirrors the art form it reflects.
Canadians have long considered traditional opera as entertainment and a connection to European culture; however, it took until 1967 for Canada to produce an opera it could call its own. Commissioned to celebrate the country’s centennial, Louis Riel – composed by Harry Somers based on a libretto by Mavor Moore with Jacques Languirand – romanticizes the life of the legendary Métis leader. This year, to mark the work’s 50th anniversary, it’s being revived by Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company.
Filumena – another grand homegrown offering, composed by John Estacio with a libretto by John Murrell – tells the true story of an Italian immigrant who was the only woman to be hanged in Alberta. Calgary Opera is to stage it once again, this time in early 2017.
The stamp issue also celebrates three talented Canadians, including world-renowned performers bass-baritone Gerald Finley; soprano Adrianne Pieczonka; and director Irving Guttman, known as the father of opera in western Canada.
Creative director Gary Beelik and designer Kristine Do, of Toronto’s Parcel Design, as well as illustrator Peter Strain designed the new issue. According to Beelik, because the dark, dramatic background played such a big part in the overall design of the continuous, five-stamp souvenir sheet, the challenge was to make it also work for the booklet, where the background was not so apparent.
“I wanted to utilize all of the real estate, create one flowing element that would connect all the pieces, and depict continuity without sacrificing individuality,” said Beelik. “Against that powerful background, the collage illustrations, speech bubbles and clippings allowed us to do justice to what was a complex subject.”
Each year, Canada Post heralds the arrival of spring with a new flower issue.
This year, on March 1, two colourful daisy stamps will be issued. One stamp will feature the lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea). Named after an Ohio village, this brilliant yellow wildflower is now found almost exclusively on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula and southern Manitoulin Island. Designated as threatened on the federal and provincial lists of species at risk, this perennial thrives in areas of exposed bedrock with scant soil (areas that are also prone to development). Its beauty is fleeting, and its golden flowers last only about a week.
The other daisy being featured is the fleabane (Erigeron speciosus), which welcomes spring in wet meadows and open forests in British Columbia and Alberta’s high country. This attractive wildflower, which is usually found in lavender but also exists in pink and white, is known by many other names, including pretty daisy and aspen or Oregon fleabane. Although it has played a role in traditional medicine, the best tonic this bloom provides may just be the hope that spring is finally close at hand.
Phillips also reminded collectors to search for the hidden Canada 150 marks on all of Canada Post’s stamps this year.
“No hints this time – but read the next issue of Details where all will be revealed.”