On today’s date in 1860, the Province of Canada awarded a contract for the weekly Royal Mail Ship service from Liverpool, England to Hugh Allan’s Allan Shipping Line.
In 2004, Canada Post featured Allan alongside fellow shipping magnate Sir Samuel Cunard on a se-tenant pair of 49-cent commemorative stamps (Scott No. 2042a), honouring the pair who introduced the transatlantic mail service via their ocean-going steam vessels.
Created by veteran stamp designers Dennis Page and Oliver Hill, of Page & Wood Creative Strategies in Halifax, and veteran illustrator Bonnie Ross, the stamp celebrates the 19th century milestone of a prompt transatlantic postal service. The stamp’s design depicts the increasing volumes of mail that began to cross the Atlantic during this time. Filling the lower portion of the frame are photographs of letters from these transatlantic voyages. The stamp also features portraits of both Allan and Cunard, illustrated in a popular formalized period style. Images of the two ships – Cunard’s Britannia and Allan’s North American – are depicted on route on the rough Atlantic seas. The cancellation marks represent the dates of the departure of Allan’s North American from Liverpool and the arrival of Curnard’s Britannia in Halifax.
Prior to the mid-19th century, there was no simple way for recent immigrants of Canada to communicate with family and friends back home. This was because until Allan and Cunard, any 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 Montreal, 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 Canadian government to finance the transatlantic lines linking Montreal and Britain.