By Jesse Robitaille
A set of four bear stamps, each with a candid, head-on photo of the curious animal filling the frame, was issued today by Canada Post.
Bears are among the most intelligent and formidable predators in the Canadian wilderness, where their enormous size and raw power complement the untamed regions in which they roam.
“People want to connect with wildlife but don’t often see them up close,” said Toronto-based artist Andrew Perro, who designed this issue as well as last year’s bee stamps.
“The subtle differences in the bears’ faces give them personality.”
The four Canadian species featured in the new issue include:
- the American black bear (Ursus americanus);
- the Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), a rare subspecies of the American black bear;
- the polar bear (Ursus maritimus); and
- the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos).
The most widely distributed bear species in North America, the American black bear inhabits every province and territory, except Prince Edward Island, where it once lived.
Widely hunted while at the same time losing parts of its natural habitat, bears on Prince Edward Island were used in products such as “bear meat” and “bear grease,” which was popular in Europe before the early 20th century as a sort of cure-all treatment for a far-ranging list of ailments, including rheumatism, arthritis and hair loss.
Today, the black bear is found in a variety of habitats but “prefers heavily wooded areas and dense bushland,” according to the Canadian Wildlife Federation website. “Maximum numbers probably occur in areas of mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, where human presence is low.”
Named after their most common colour, black bears can also sport coats of blond, brown, blue and other shades.
A KERMODE NAMED ‘WARRIOR’
The stamps’ designs are based on photos by renowned wildlife photographers Robert Postma and Michelle Valberg.
Valberg’s images are used on three of the stamps, including one featuring a female Kermode bear named “Warrior” for the scar that gouges her nose just below her eyes.
“Warrior walks around like she owns the forest,” said Valberg. “There’s a regal elegance about her stride that’s incredible to watch.”
Also known as the spirit bear, particularly in British Columbia, the Kermode bear has white or cream-coloured fur and has long been featured in the oral traditions of coastal First Nations people.
It’s the first time a Kermode has been featured on a Canadian stamp, according to Canada Post Stamp Design Manager Jim Phillips, who added this issue focuses on “the beauty of the bear” while respecting its inherently wild nature.
“You need to be open to serendipitous moments,” said Postma, whose photograph of a grizzly mother graces one of the four stamps, adding it takes patience and determination – plus a little bit of luck – to get the right shot.
Assessed as being of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the powerful grizzly bear is the second-largest land carnivore in North America and relies primarily on vegetation for food.
Once common on the prairies, grizzlies are now found only in the western and northern regions of Canada. Its range around the world, including in the U.S., has shrunk as cities grow and people occupy the bear’s former habitat.
Polar bears, with two-thirds of the world’s population roaming Canada’s circumpolar region, are also losing their natural habitat.
On average, they are the largest bear species in the world – males can weigh up to 800 kilograms – and are well-adapted to life on the sea ice; however, with their hunt of ringed seals dependant on sea ice, polar bears are especially vulnerable to climate change. In fact, they’ve been assessed as a special concern by COSEWIC as a result of the increase in ice loss.
Printed by Lowe-Martin using four-colour lithography, the new issue is available in booklets of eight stamps (250,000 printed); panes of four stamps (40,000 printed); and uncut press sheets of 24 stamps (1,500 printed).
A total of 7,000 official first-day covers were also serviced with a Klemtu, B.C. cancellation.
ENGRAVED BEAR STAMPS
The new issue joins about two dozen other “bears on Canadian stamps,” most of which feature polar bears while others depict grizzlies and more still are of the “teddy” variety.
Of interest to topical or thematic collectors, the first bear issue was released on April 1, 1953, by what was then known as the Post Office Department. The two-cent stamp was engraved by Silas Robert Allen, who worked for the Canadian Bank Note Company for more than three decades.
Even 66 years ago, in 1953, postal officials understood the polar bear’s declining habitat.
“Wildlife that was once so abundant to our fore fathers is being depleted at an alarming rate because of its lack of appreciation,” reads a press release from that year, which saw the beginning of the “National Wildlife” series that ran until 1957.
The series, according to the press release, was produced to “emphasize to all Canadians the importance of securing and restoring the wildlife resources of Canada, not only for their considerable economic value but also because they are a constant source of pleasure to thousands in every walk in life.”
Other engraved bear stamps include a 1997 $8 stamp featuring a grizzly and a 1998 $2 stamp with another polar bear.
Since 1996, seven stamps have also been issued featuring teddy bears, including Winnie the Pooh, who was celebrated that year with a four-stamp release.
For more information about the 2019 bear stamps, visit canadapost.ca.