OTD: Orapex 2019 marks event’s last outing since COVID-19

On today’s date in 2019, despite widespread flooding across the Ottawa area, collectors returned to the nation’s capital for the annual Ottawa RA Centre Philatelic Exhibition, commonly known as Orapex.

The May 4-5 show marked the 58th consecutive gathering since it was founded in 1961. Leading up to the event, organizers with the RA Stamp Club; the Amicale des philatélistes de l’Outaouais; and the Ottawa Philatelic Society (OPS) confirmed with CSN the flooding, which saw 600 Canadian Armed Forces troops deployed in Ottawa, would “have zero impact on Orapex.”

“The Rideau River in front of the RA Centre peaked about 10 or so days ago and is now receding,” said Doug Lingard, a member of the Orapex 2019 organizing committee, on May 1 of that year. “There are no road closures around the RA Centre, unless for normal construction.”

The Ottawa River, which is near Parliament Hill and divides the nation’s capital from Gatineau, Qué., is “a totally different story,” Lingard said, adding water levels were expected to peak a day earlier.

“It has caused significant flooding up and down the river in both Ontario and Québec; however, it is several miles from the RA Centre and will again have zero impact on the show.”

By May 2, CBC News reported water levels were “stabilizing in Ottawa-Gatineau and have peaked between Pembroke and the capital.”

“Revised forecasts have pushed the expected peak in Ottawa-Gatineau to Friday, which will put Britannia’s berm to the test,” reads the CBC report. “The predicted peaks for downtown are also now slightly lower than before, but still higher than the 2017 flood. About 300 homes in the Constance Bay neighbourhood were evacuated Tuesday night and the city’s fire chief is saying two recent fires underscore the need to leave those areas. Although the waters are still high, the city is not currently expecting to expand the evacuation zone.”

About two weeks earlier, the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, which manages the river’s reservoirs, issued its first flood warning. At the same time, three western Québec municipalities, one of which would eventually place more than 220 people under mandatory evacuation orders, became the first places to declare states of emergencies.

Throughout the following week, the military was dispatched to Gatineau, Qué., and Ottawa, which declared a state of emergency on April 25, a little more than a week before the show. More than 700 troops – plus more than 10,200 volunteers – came to Ottawa to help with flood defence.

In Québec, nearly 6,500 homes were flooded and more than 9,500 people evacuated. Thousands of troops were also deployed to flood zones, half of which were in “la belle province.”

From left to right: Orapex 2019 committee member Deborah Welch, exhibitor Juzar Noorbhai and show chair Michael Powell flaunt this year’s show program.

“It’s mostly in the centre part of the Ottawa River, where all the flow is coming out of the watershed from the Rideau Lakes area, but there are spots on the Rideau River that can get flooded,” Orapex show chair Michael Powell told CSN in the weeks leading up to the show. “There was an occasion, years ago, when water came over the road out here.”

The Rideau flows north, feeding into the Ottawa River – and adding to the record flooding – at the Rideau Falls just east of Parliament.

Three days after the nation’s capital fell into a state of emergency, the Ottawa River hit record-breaking heights in Ottawa; further upstream about 70 kilometres, near Arnprior, Ont.; and another 150 kilometres upstream at Lac Coulonge, Qué. The former two records were set in 1950, CBC News reported, while the latter was set in 2017.

The Chaudière Bridge, used by 19,000 people each day to cross the river between Ottawa and Gatineau, was also closed for several weeks.


About six kilometres south of the downtown flooding was the show venue, the RA Centre, which is just beyond the adjacent Rideau River on Riverside Drive.

On May 4, 2019, for the second year in a row, the show opened with Vietnam War veteran and bagpiper Vance McDougall, who filled the air with the sound of music as collectors hurried into the bourse and exhibition hall.

“The show has been going really well. Saturday was really busy, and Sunday we had a steady crowd, so I think we’ll find the dealers have been very happy with the show this year,” said Powell, the past president of the Ottawa Philatelic Society, one of three Orapex co-hosts along with the RA Stamp Club and Amicale des philatélistes de l’Outaouais.

“If you look down the rows, most of the chairs are filled and the dealers are busy, so that’s great.”

Royal Philatelic Society of Canada Director and Judging Program Chair Joel Weiner said it’s “probably the best show in Canada,” adding there were 150 frames of exhibits at that year’s show.

“That’s a good size exhibition,” said Weiner, who travelled 3,400 kilometres from his home in Edmonton, Alta., to attend the show.

Weiner also served as chair of this year’s exhibit jury alongside Robert Pinet and John Wilson, both of Toronto; Bill Schultz, of West Chester, Pa.; and Steve Johnson, an apprentice judge from London, Ont.

The theme of the 2019 show was ‘Elizabethan Philately.’


The 2019 show theme – Elizabethan-era philately – had “good representation” among that year’s exhibits, said Powell, who served as show chair since 2016.

“I’m quite happy with the showing we’ve got here. It’s a subject that’s so under-represented at shows and it doesn’t get the attention it really deserves,” he said, adding there’s a “built-in bias that older is better – or more interesting – and I’m probably guilty of that myself.”

Not a collector of modern material but an award-winning exhibitor of prisoner of war mail, Powell said he “can appreciate how much effort goes into research.”

Owing to its regency, most of the research in Elizabethan-era philately, which began in the early 1950s, is in its early stages.

“When you’re doing a modern series, it’s almost all new,” said Powell, who added seeing modern exhibits displayed helps open collectors’ minds about it being an “interesting, worthwhile and rewarding” area of the hobby.

Organizers were planning to echo this idea with a theme of topicals, thematics and illustrated mail for 2020; however, that show and this year’s show were both cancelled due to COVID-19.

“Topicals and thematics tend to be more modern material, and we added illustrated mail because we have a lot of cover collectors around here, and it’s sort of the cover collector’s equivalent to thematics in stamp collecting. Hopefully, we’ll have a floor of colourful things that will be quite attractive to look at.”

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