30 October 2023
Tales from the Philatelic Crypt: The ‘Haunted Canada’ Postage Stamp Series
Halloween’s origins remain obscure, yet it is the calendar event where humanity’s fascination with the supernatural is openly celebrated. Millions of individuals commemorate Halloween every year by attending fancy-dress parties, going trick or treating, watching horror movies, visiting ‘haunted’ sites or narrating ghost stories. Whether a believer or sceptic, the supernatural is in reality an economically significant cultural phenomenon generating millions of pounds each year for the tourist, publishing, merchandising and entertainment sectors. As central component of humanity’s visual, material and print cultures, postage stamps are unsurprisingly replete with depictions of ghosts, creatures, myths and legends. Canada Post leads the way having issued several visually striking, innovative stamp sets as mini-sheets chronicling the nation’s rich heritage of hauntings and ghostly sightings (Figure 1). Not released for Halloween, the content of these ‘Haunted Canada’ stamps is nevertheless a perfect accompaniment to a Halloween blog.
The first series released on Friday 13th’ June 2014, comprises five separate designs developed by Lionel Gadoury and Terry Popik from the illustrations of Sam Weber and C. H. J. Snider. Manufactured by the Canadian firm, Lowe-Martin using a lithographic printing process two stories centre upon particular sites rather than specific individuals. One, labelled ‘Ghost Bride’ depicts a veiled woman and candles in the background. It refers to reported sightings of a ghostly figure wearing a long flowing dress descending the staircase of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (Figure 2). Many believe she is the apparition of a bride who tripped and fell to her death from the staircase on her wedding day. The second, ‘Ghost Train’ illustrates a steam-train with a ghostly spectre in the background and takes inspiration from sightings of a ghostly glowing light known as the ‘St Louis Light’ in the Saskatchewan River Valley (Figure 3). This unexplained phenomenon is locally associated with the tale of a long dead Canadian National Railway Conductor decapitated by a passing train whilst examining the track-line with a lantern during the 1920s.
A second series was issued on 14 September 2014, all printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company using a lithographic printing process. The set includes five stamps designed by Lionel Gadoury and Kammy Ahuja using illustrations from Sam Weber as well as Photography from Peter Bregg. Two stamps chronicle hauntings centred on particular individuals from local history. One depicting a woman standing above a gibbet with two phantom trees refers to the spirit of Marie-Josephte Corriveau (Figure 4). Executed for murder in 1763, her remains went on public display in Levis, Quebec as a warning to others. Local residents have encountered her sprit walking the road at night, frightening unwary travellers. Moving on, the ‘Caribou Hotel’ stamp reveals a clothed skeleton representing the ghost of Bessie Gideon, one-time owner of the historic gold-rush era hotel situated in Carcross, Yukon (Figure 5).
On 8 September 2016, the third ‘Haunted Canada’ series lithographed by Colour Innovations in Toronto went on sale. Lionel Gadoury developed each stamp, from Sam Weber’s illustrations and Peter Bregg’s photographs. The ‘Lady in White’ Stamp presents the evocative image of a woman standing in a lake with a skeletal reflection (Figure 6) in reference to the tale of Mathilde-Robin, whose spirit haunts Montmorency Falls, Quebec. Following the death of her fiancé during the Battle of Montmorency in 1759, she committed suicide. Finally, 'Dungarvon Whooper’ narrates the legend of a cook brutally robbed and murdered at a logging camp near the Dungarvon River in Renous, New Brunswick (Figure 7). Upon discovering the body, some lumberjacks buried the remains within a shallow grave. That night they were horrified by hideous screams and whooping sounds emanating from the new grave during a snowstorm.
Contemporary to the release of these stamps was the publication of a series of books titled ‘Haunted Canada,’ recounting some of these tales. Beyond their entertainment value, each stamp is also inherently didactic, showcasing Canada’s topography, histories, myths and legends. In doing so, they buttress national identity within Canada whilst becoming ambassadors for the nation’s wider cultural diplomacy. The British Library’s Philatelic Collections would like to wish everybody a fun, spooky and scary Halloween!
By Richard Scott Morel
Curator, British Library’s Philatelic Collections