Postcards That Instill Gratitude for Our Wonderful Country

By Mike Smith

What I wanted to convey in the title of this Wayback Times postcard article is that, despite all the fear, anguish and anger brought about by the COVID pandemic over the past couple of years, we still live in an unbelievably wonderful country. I make a point of regularly reminding my adult children of this because, although they’re both university graduates, our education system taught them very little about the sacrifices our ancestors made to create the Canada we enjoy today. It seems that during the last forty years or so the fascinating story of our early explorers, settlers, soldiers and other nation builders took a back seat to multiculturalism. In fact, the history curriculums in high schools were so watered down by the 1990s that renowned Canadian historian Jack Granatstein even wrote a book in 1998 titled Who Killed Canadian History? 

Well, if antique postcards are any indication, we certainly expressed a great deal more love of country (and optimism!) at the turn of the 20th century. This can be seen in the type of cards that flooded the market in Canada after our much celebrated participation in the South African War (1899–1902). Our patriotic fervour continued to be expressed in our postcards throughout the golden age (1900–1914) and the First World War (1914–1918). In this article then, I’m going to showcase some of the cards from this period that still cause my heart to flutter.

Figure 1: This beauty was published by Montreal’s Illustrated Post Card Co. for Quebec’s 1908 tercentenary celebrations.

The Figure 1 postcard is from a brilliantly-coloured, artist-drawn series published by Montreal’s Illustrated Post Card Co. for the 1908 Quebec tercentenary celebrations. The series contains 36 cards, 15 with white backgrounds and 21 with simulated birch bark backgrounds. The two slogans on the card, “Our Lady of the Snows” and “The Granary of the Empire” perfectly describe Canada then and now – a winter country that became one of the world’s breadbaskets.      

Figure 2:  England’s Raphael Tuck & Sons published this terrific circa 1910 postcard that heaped praise on Canada’s food production.

Canada’s abundant food production is emphasized on another one of my favourite postcards from the golden age (see Figure 2). In this card, we see a pretty gal reaching for goodies in a cupboard literally stuffed with Canadian food products. The caption at the bottom says it all, “Canada, The Empire’s Larder.” The card’s publisher, England’s famous Raphael Tuck & Sons, printed even more glowing statements on the back: “Canada, the Empire’s Larder, is a most appropriate title for the oldest and greatest British Dominion, which is at the same time the greatest food-producing unit of the British Empire. The British housewife need not look far beyond Canada for her supplies of all foods except tea, coffee and the spices of the East. Canada’s pure food laws are probably the most rigorous in the world . . .” 

Figure 3:  This circa 1912 postcard by Scotland’s Millar & Lang makes a bold statement about Canada being the “Land of the Free.” 

Another British publisher that made a habit of glorifying Canada in its postcard series was Glasgow, Scotland’s Millar & Lang. According to Anthony Byatt’s 1978 book, Picture Postcards and Their Publishers, “By 1904 they (Millar & Lang) were able to produce one million views per week, and they made the claim that they were the largest publishers of view postcards in Britain.” For the Canadian market though, Millar & Lang focussed on publishing some of our most collectible patriotic postcard series. The Figure 3 example is from one of the 12 such series that caught my eye when I first started collecting postcards in 1981. The “Best Wishes, Canada Land of the Free” caption should remind us of the famous quote often attributed to American Thomas Jefferson, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” 

Figure 4: London, England’s A. Vivian Mansell & Co. published this very collectible Canadian boy postcard just before the First World War.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the postcards printed in Britain for the Canadian market during the latter part of the golden age had military themes. At the time, Britain and Germany were in a vicious arms race, especially when it came to their navies. This helps explain the context of the delightful postcard shown as Figure 4. Here, a young Canadian boy is all decked out in a sailor suit beneath our historic Red Ensign. The card’s talented artist, by the way, was Joyce Averill.

Figure 5:  This circa 1915 postcard from Ottawa’s 
Heliotype Co. shows a Canadian field hospital nurse with the world’s most uplifting smile.. 

As well all know, the “war to end all wars” did breakout between the European powers in 1914, and soon engulfed the entire world. Canada, as part of the British Empire, was involved from the get-go and our soldiers performed magnificently in Europe under the leadership of General Sir Arthur Currie. Tragically, close to 61,000 Canadians were killed during the carnage, and other 172,000 were wounded. For collectors during these war years, Ottawa’s Heliotype Co. released some of Canada’s most inspiring cards. One of my favourites reminds us of all the nurses who volunteered to go overseas to provide life-saving care to our wounded heroes (see Figure 5). We should all be bursting with gratitude for the sacrifices made by men and women like this throughout Canada’s proud history. We do live in a wonderful country!

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