Canada's winter sports in postcards

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Winter sports cards a Canadian collector's pastime
By Mike Smith
Most of us are familiar with the expression "When life hands you a lemon you make lemonade.” In Canada, we could easily modify it to say “When nature hands you winter, you play winter sports.”
Let's face it, we may grumble about our long winters but we sure love our winter activities. Even our 19th and early 20th century governors-general and their families were chronicled participating in winter carnival events like snowshoeing, skating, skiing and tobogganing.
And we all know what Governor-General Lord Stanley’s favourite sport was.
Thus it's no surprise that antique postcards portray Canadians in all types of winter amusements. In this article therefore, I'm going to showcase some of the better winter sports postcards out there.
Montreal’s J. T. Henderson is one of my favourite publishers because of his three terrific series of early patriotic and heraldic postcards. I say “early” because most of his cards were published before 1904, the beginning of the divided-back postcard era in Canada.
Henderson's most popular series with collectors is a joint patriotic-winter sports group with seven known cards. Figure 1 shows the skating card; the other captions include course en raquette (snowshoeing race), lacrosse, snowshoeing, snowshoeing “on the run,” tobogganing and train sauvage (tobogganing).
Since seven cards in a complete series is unlikely, there should be at least one more card to record here and more if there are French-captioned cards for each corresponding English-captioned card.
If you can find examples from this scarce series for less than $25 each, grab them.
Figure 1. The skating card from a joint patriotic-winter sports series by Montreal’s J. T. Henderson circa 1903.
Another Henderson winter sports postcard is shown in Figure 2. This example is from a comic series drawn by an anonymous artist/illustrator circa 1902. I have seen four other cards in this series by the same artist, all with out-of-control toboggans and skaters.
Again, an odd-numbered postcard series is an exception so there is probably another card from this delightful group to discover.
This series is at least as scarce as the other Henderson series I've described but not as well known. You should be able to pick them up for $10 to $15 each at shows, which will be a bargain once the artist is identified.
Figure 2. An anonymous cartoonist drew this comical tobogganing card for Montreal’s J. T. Henderson circa 1902.
The postcard shown in Figure 3 is from a series of 10 “Footwear of the Nations” cards published in 1906 by the Woonsocket Rubber Co. of Rhode Island, USA. I always smirk a little when I look at this card as it contributes to the perception that Canada is a nation of winter boots, snowshoes and moustached lumberjacks.
Oh well, maybe that view wasn't too far off the mark back in 1906. Note that this card is collectible on at least two levels – winter sports and advertising. As such, you can expect to pay from $10 to $20 for a nice example used in period.
Only one collector that I know of has managed to corral all 10 cards and they sure look impressive in his album.
Figure 3. Canada’s “national footwear” is shown on this card published in Rhode Island in 1906.
For those who collect Canadian artist-signed postcards, Montreal’s C. W. (Charles Walter) Simpson is a fan favourite. Although he is mostly known among today’s art connoisseurs for his landscapes and marine scenes, around 1906 Valentine & Sons reproduced several of his “Canadian Child Studies” paintings as postcards.
Well, they must have been popular because at least a dozen more of Simpson’s Canadian-themed paintings ended up in a Valentine & Sons collection called: “Valentine’s Canadian Series from Paintings by C. W. Simpson.”
One of my favourite Simpson cards, “The Hockey Player,” is shown in Figure 4. Because of his popularity among artist-signed and patriotic postcard collectors, finding cards with Simpson’s signature for less than $10 each at postcard shows is tough.
Figure 4. C. W. Simpson’s painting of “The Hockey Player” is shown on this postcard by Valentine & Sons circa 1906.
Continuing with the hockey theme, the postcard shown in Figure 5 is from Raphael Tuck & Sons iconic “Oilette” series, and was reproduced from a 1902 photograph by Montreal’s legendary William Notman.
Tuck launched the famous Oilette series of postcards in June 1903 and more than 28,000 were printed, usually in sets of six. As the name implies, Oilettes were high-quality cards reproduced from original oil paintings.
To create the Figure 5 hockey card, the Notman photograph was first reproduced as an oil painting and then reprinted as an Oilette. With the Notman reference, this particular postcard would easily fetch $10 to $20 at a postcard show, depending on condition and usage.
Figure 5. This Canadian hockey postcard has two great attributes – it's a Raphael Tuck & Sons “Oilette,” and was reproduced from a photograph by the legendary William Notman.
Finally, don't forget to attend the only two winter postcard shows in Ontario.
The Toronto Postcard Club’s 33rd annual show will be held on Feb. 23 and the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge Regional Postcard Club’s 3rd annual Postcard Memories Show will be held March 16.
Check the clubs’ websites for details. With any luck, you may be able to find all the cards shown in this article.
Michael J. (Mike) Smith is an RMC graduate (Class of '77) and ex-naval officer who has been an avid collector of Canadiana for most of his life. His current passion is collecting and writing about Canadian antique postcards. He is currently working on his eighth postcard handbook. Visit
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