By Jesse Robitaille
It was a bright and sunny weekend in Ottawa following a week of record flooding, and with the water receding, it was collectors who began flowing uncontrollably into the city—in search of stamps.
The philatelic festivities at the 2019 Ottawa RA Centre Philatelic Exhibition (Orapex) kicked off on May 4, one day after the Ottawa River reached its peak amid record flooding in the capital city. Days earlier, organizers reaffirmed it would “have zero impact on Orapex,” which is held about six kilometres south of Parliament Hill.
“The Ottawa River is a totally different story,” said Doug Lingard, member of the Orapex 2019 organizing committee, on May 1.
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, 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.
“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,” said Orapex show chair Michael Powell, who added “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 only two years ago.
The Chaudière Bridge, used by 19,000 people each day to cross the river between Ottawa and Gatineau, was closed as of the time of printing “and could remain closed for most of May as water levels on the river remain uncomfortably high,” CBC News reported on May 3.
WAR VET RETURNS WITH BAGPIPES
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, 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 this 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.
This year’s show theme – Elizabethan-era philately – had “good representation” among this year’s exhibits, said Powell, who has 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.
The idea is being repeated with next year’s theme of topicals, thematics and illustrated mail.
“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.”
Each year, Orapex organizers honour a prominent person, and this year’s honouree was Robert Lemire, who’s a past president of the British North America Philatelic Society, which he’s also currently serving as a director.
“Robert has been around the hobby for decades. If you’re in the hobby you know him, but he’s been kind of the backroom support person for most of the time,” said Powell. “Without people like him, we couldn’t do the kinds of things that are done in ‘Organized Philately.’ He’s been a selfless volunteer, and he’s such a nice fellow who’s always willing to help. He’s a smart man, and he’s very modest about it, too.”
Lemire, as expected, was “surprised” to be chosen as this year’s honouree.
“I can think of others who have done more for the hobby than I,” said Lemire, who added his hobby “is almost an obsession.”
“It also offers the opportunity for doing a lot of digging with respect to reasons things were done, and that’s something that a lot of hobbies don’t present. I guess, also, I just fell into early, and I’ve never given it up.”
Recognizing hobbyists like Lemire is important as both a thank you for and acknowledgement of the work they do to push the hobby forward, Powell said.
“It’s good for the hobby for people to be informed about what some of these volunteers do,” he said, adding other honourees have included philatelic researchers, authors and exhibitors.
“It has evolved at this show over time,” he said, adding the first show honouree was Sir Sandford Fleming, designer of early Canada’s first stamp, the 1851 three-penny beaver (Scott #1).
“He was dead long before the show and he couldn’t come, but a number of times the committee would honour philatelists who had passed,” said Powell, who more recently suggested honouring philatelists “who are living and willing to come here and be recognized in front of their friends.”
Next year’s honouree is award-winning topical exhibitor Larry Davidson.