OTD: Province of Canada awards transatlantic postal contact to Allan Shipping Line

On today’s date in 1860, the Province of Canada awarded Hugh Allan’s Allan Shipping Line the weekly Royal Mail Ship service contract from Liverpool, England.

Before the mid-19th century, there was no simple way for Canada’s recent immigrants to communicate with family and friends back home. Before Allan (and his fellow shipping magnate Samuel Cunard), all transatlantic mail services depended on slow and irregular sailing ships with few post offices available. For most immigrants, living in Canada meant leaving your family behind; however, by 1856, Allan had established a transatlantic mail route between Canada and Britain.

Born in Scotland in 1810, Allan immigrated to Canada in 1826 and settled in Montréal, where he found a job as a clerk in a commercial goods business. Ten years later, backed by family funding, he bought steamships and sailing ships to expand the company’s merchant fleet. After some contract disputes, Allan persuaded the pre-Canadian government to finance the transatlantic lines linking Montréal and Britain.

Finally, in 1860, arrangements were made with Allan for his steamers to transport mail between Europe and Canada. Mail clerks accompanied the mails and sorted the letters on board, and six marine mail clerks were appointed on a recommendation from the postmaster general.

In 1887, correspondence sorting by marine mail officers aboard mail steamers between the Province of Canada and the United Kingdom was discontinued, and the post office’s ocean mail service component was disbanded, after which point the mail was prepared before it was loaded aboard the ship.

The se-tenant issue featured Allan (right stamps) alongside fellow shipping magnate Samuel Cunard.


In 2004, Canada Post featured Allan and Cunard on a se-tenant pair of 49-cent commemorative stamps (Scott #2042a) honouring the duo who introduced a transatlantic mail service with their ocean-going steam vessels.

The stamps were released as part of Canada Post’s “Pioneers of Transatlantic Mail Service” issue. Printed by the Lowe-Martin Group on Tullis Russell Coatings coated paper using five-colour lithography and two varnishes, the Cunard stamp (SC #2041) has general tagging along each side. An official first-day cover was also cancelled in Halifax.

An official first-day cover released as part of the 2004 Allan and Cunard issue is serviced with a Halifax cancel.


Created by designers Dennis Page and Oliver Hill and illustrator Bonnie Ross, the stamp celebrates the 19th-century milestone of fast and consistent trans-Atlantic postal service by depicting the increasing volume of mail that began to cross the Atlantic by steamship at this time.

Photographs of actual letters from these trips fill the lower portion of the frame. Cunard’s portrait is illustrated in the popular formalized period style alongside an image of Britannia on the rough Atlantic seas. The cancellation mark represents the date of the arrival of Cunard’s Britannia in Halifax in 1840.

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