OTD: Macdonald stamp marks first prime minister’s 200th birthday

On today’s date in 2015, a stamp honouring Sir John A. Macdonald, one of the Fathers of Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister, was unveiled by Canada Post in Kingston, Ont.

Designed by the Montréal studio Paprika and issued in booklets of 10 Permanent stamps, the issue marked the 200th anniversary of the influential politician’s birthday and was printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company using five-colour lithography.

It’s inscribed to the bottom-left side with “SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD” and to the top-right with the dates “1815-2015.” The word “CANADA” is also inscribed at the top.

Deepak Chopra, then president and CEO of Canada Post, helped to unveil the stamp, which he said commemorates a key player in Canadian history.

“Two hundred years after his birth, Sir John A. Macdonald remains a towering figure and this stamp celebrates his legacy,” added Chopra.

An official first-day cover was also serviced with a Kingston cancel.

The 2015 Macdonald issue is available in booklets of 10 stamps.

MACDONALD’S BIRTHDAY

It’s worth noting Macdonald’s exact birthdate is a bit of a mystery; while his birth record – which also misspells the family surname as “McDonald” – cites Jan. 10, 1815, as the date of his birth, his father’s journal lists Jan. 11, which was the day he and his family would celebrate.

Arriving in Canada as a small child, Macdonald first practiced law before entering local and then provincial politics. He participated in both the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences, which laid the groundwork for Confederation, and was either prime minister or leader of the opposition from the formation of Canada until his death on June 6, 1891.

After he died in office in 1891, Macdonald laid in state in the capital of the fledgling nation as thousands paid their respects. Many more lined the tracks to watch a train return his body to Kingston.

CONTROVERSIAL LEGACY

An official first-day cover was also issued as part of the 2015 Macdonald set.

In recent years, Macdonald’s legacy has come under the spotlight for his role in “clearing the plains” of Indigenous communities and establishing the residential school system, which forcefully removed 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children away from their communities and families.

Sent to government-funded boarding schools, the children were often abused – and some were killed – while being prohibited from practicing their culture or speaking their language. A 2015 government report called it “cultural genocide.”

Governments across the country have discussed removing Macdonald’s name from public buildings and removing statues erected in his honour.

In 2018, the City of Victoria in British Columbia spent $30,000 to remove one statue as a symbol of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities.

Last August, the Macdonald Monument in Montréal was toppled during a roughly 200-person protest.

Last year, philatelic archivist James Bone ordered a sheet of Picture Postage stamps featuring the fallen head of the toppled Macdonald Monument.

The toppled monument was quickly immortalized on a sheet of 50 Picture Postage stamps by James Bone, a philatelic archivist with Library and Archives Canada (“Picture Postage depicting Macdonald statue head ‘shouldn’t have been processed,’” CSN Vol. 45 #13). A day after A day after Bone shared an image of his order for customized postage on Twitter, Canada Post responded with a tweet saying his submission “does not meet the Terms and Conditions of the program and therefore shouldn’t have been processed.”

A single stamp from one of the 13 blocks mailed out by Bone was removed by its recipient and donated to an auction, where it brought more than $600.

The toppling of the statue in Place du Canada was denounced as an act of vandalism by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Montréal Mayor Valérie Plante and Québec Premier François Legault.

“Whatever one might think of John A. MacDonald, destroying a monument in this way is unacceptable,” Legault tweeted on Aug. 29. “We must fight racism, but destroying parts of our history is not the solution. Vandalism has no place in our democracy and the statue must be restored.”

A statement issued by Plante added: “I understand and share the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society. But the discussion and the necessary actions must be carried out peacefully, without ever resorting to vandalism.”

The mayor’s office estimated the cost of restoring the statue to be at least $400,000.

The statue’s head was also severed by anonymous activists in 1992, possibly to commemorate the anniversary of the hanging of Louis Riel on Nov. 16, 1885, according to a Montreal Gazette report.

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