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The Three Pence Beaver is generally considered to be Canada’s first postage stamp. In fact, it was commissioned more than fifteen years prior to confederation, when Great Britain turned over responsibility for postal services to British North America. Eager to symbolize this growing independence, the Province of Canada issued the Three Pence Beaver just two months after assuming control of the post.* The stamp was a bold departure indeed, dispensing with the traditional depiction of the queen and instead featuring a large rodent.
Sir Sanford Fleming, the prominent civil engineer and designer (expect to see his name in future posts), selected the beaver for its industriousness as well as its historical role in the Canadian fur trade.* Fleming’s design was one of the world’s first stamps to portray wilderness pictorially, beginning a tradition carried out in much of Canada’s symbolic imagery. Of course, the beaver itself remains one of the countries most prominent symbols, second only to the maple leaf.
It’s also interesting to note that these early designs lacked the perforations that we’ve come to associate with postage stamps. Post Masters would have cut these out by hand and you can see evidence of a sloppy cut in this image.
*Amyot, Chantal, Biance Gendreau and John Willis. Special Delivery, Canada’s Postal Heritage. (Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization – Goose Lane Press, 2000)