Cherry’s firing a philatelic thought experiment

By Jesse Robitaille

As everyone surely knows by now, once-celebrated hockey commentator Don Cherry has been fired for controversial comments directed towards immigrants.

With that, it’s time to discuss the worthiness of living stamp subjects.

Of course, there’s no postage donning Cherry’s face yet, but it’s safe to say he’s one living Canadian whose philatelic commemoration is now entirely out of the question.

Cherry, 85, was fired by Sportsnet on Nov. 11 after suggesting immigrants are dishonouring the country’s veterans by failing to wear poppies. As he often does, Cherry was soapboxing – beyond the scope of hockey – during his “Coach’s Corner” segment, a long-running tradition of the first intermission of Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC).

“You people … you love our way of life, you love our milk and honey, at least you can pay a couple bucks for a poppy or something like that,” said Cherry, who later refused to apologize, telling the Toronto Sun, “I know what I said and I meant it.”

While a Cherry stamp seems far-fetched today, this wasn’t always the case.

In 2004, he cracked the top 10 in “The Greatest Canadian” competition by CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, which promoted Cherry’s brand for several decades before licensing the HNIC rights in 2014 to Rogers, which owns Sportsnet.

Not quite the “greatest,” Cherry was sandwiched between Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, who placed eighth, and our 14th prime minister Lester B. Pearson, who was also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Excluding Cherry, the only other person in the top 10 who isn’t the subject of a Canadian stamp is David Suzuki.

And while a Cherry stamp was never issued, one of his closest friends – and former players – is the subject of two.

In 2014, Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr was commemorated in Canada Post’s “Original Six” series (and interestingly, a Canada Post official presented Cherry with a framed edition of the stamp, official first-day cover and other collectibles during another segment on HNIC).

Lo and behold, Orr responded to Cherry’s firing this November during an interview with the Boston radio station WEEI.

“I know Grapes better than anybody,” said Orr. “He’s not a bigot and he’s not a racist. This guy is the most generous, caring guy that I know. What they’ve done to him up there is disgraceful, it really is. It’s a new world I guess. Freedom of speech doesn’t matter.”

The first living person – other than a reigning monarch – to appear on a Canadian stamp was pianist Oscar Peterson in 2005.

In the nearly decade and a half since the Peterson stamp was issued, many living Canadians have been honoured on the country’s postage. Before 2005, however, this approach was virtually unheard of.

There were two main reasons why. The first was to avoid promoting individuals who were seeking personal aggrandizement – business owners, politicians or anyone with an apparent conflict of interest – and the second was to avoid honouring someone who might later embarrass Canada Post, Canada or Canadians in general (looking at you, Don).

Speaking with former Stamp Advisory Committee Chair Robert Waite years ago, I was told the 12-person committee “had tight criteria,” with the potential honouree needing a “mature body of work … and they had to be vetted through either the Order of Canada process or the Governor Generals Award scheme. Both have robust vetting processes.”

You might have guessed Cherry never earned the Order of Canada or Governor Generals Award – and you’d be right – but now you can pretty well guarantee he’ll never be on a Canadian stamp either.

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