Coming up with a suitable subject for a Wayback Times article usually involves an exchange of emails between me and editor-publisher Sandy Neilly. Often, we bounce ideas back and forth for several days before something useful sifts out. This time around however, the subject matter required very little discussion. With Canada’s sesquicentennial just around the corner, we both agreed that it was a perfect time for an article on patriotic postcards.
When I started collecting postcards early in the 1980s, there was some disagreement among specialists as to the precise definition of a Canadian patriotic postcard. There were discussions about the size of patriotic symbols, whether provincial crests were patriotic, etc. For today’s collector, this has all been sorted out. A Canadian postcard is considered patriotic if its design incorporates one or more of the following items:
•A well-known Canadian symbol such as our national flag, the maple leaf, beaver, coat of arms, Mountie, etc.
• A patriotic advertisement, verse or slogan such as “The Maple Leaf Forever,” “Canada the Land We Love,” etc.
• A military theme, portraits of servicemen, battalions, regimental badges, etc.
• A Head of State (see Figure 1), prime minister or other key Canadian leader or historical figure such as Samuel de Champlain, Isaac Brock, etc.
• Renowned national sites or institutions such as the RCMP Headquarters in Regina, the parliament buildings in Ottawa, National War Memorial, etc.
• Captions or text using superlatives or hyperbole to describe our wonderful country.
One of my favourite patriotic postcards is one I picked up many years ago at the annual Montreal Postcard & Old Paper Show (see Figure 2). The multicoloured work of art was published by Neurdine et Cie, Paris in 1908 to commemorate Quebec’s tercentenary (1608–1908). To put this in perspective, in 1908 Quebec was twice as old as Canada will be this July 1st. The card is loaded with heroes from Canada’s glorious past: Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Bishop Laval, General James Wolfe and the Marquis de Montcalm. Anyone who loves Canadian history would be thrilled to have this little beauty in an album.
I often mention postcard clubs and shows in my articles because despite the convenience of shopping online for antique postcards, nothing replaces personal contact. For example, thanks to membership in the Toronto Postcard Club I was introduced to and became friends with four of Canada’s premier postcard specialists: Bill Angley, Bill Buchanan, Wayne Curtis and Wally Gutzman. These gentlemen not only held some of Canada’s most important collections, their willingness to share their knowledge with newbies like me in the 1980s was a godsend. As the author of Canada’s first postcard handbook in 1985, Wally Gutzman also gave me the inspiration and encouragement to write my first handbook in 2003. And just like Gutzman, my inaugural effort was a book about patriotic postcards. One of the nicer cards that I put on its cover is shown as Figure 3. The card, which shows Canadian troops preparing for the South African (a.k.a. Boer) War, was published by the Toronto Lithographing Co. in 1900. The icing on the cake is that the image on the card was made from a watercolour painted by renowned Canadian artist A. H. Hider (1870–1952).
One of the most interesting First World War (1914–1918) postcards I ever came across is shown as Figure 4. Aside from the fact that the US flag at the bottom right corner is an add-on sticker, there’s an amazing story as to how I learned the identity of the publisher. You see, the only reference to the card’s publisher is contained in a few words at the bottom left corner – “Copyright Canada 1916 by T.W.L.A.” No matter how much sleuthing I did over the years, or how many combinations I tried, I just couldn’t come up with an early 20th century firm with those exact initials. Fortunately, about five years ago I found what could only be described as the card’s Rosetta stone. An identical postcard turned up at one of the several postcard shows I attend each year with this amazing message inscribed on the back – “Merry Christmas from the Toronto Women’s Liberty Association.” The applicable proverb here is “All things come to those who wait.”
Finally, I couldn’t write an article about Canadian patriotic postcards without showing at least one card from England’s famous Raphael Tuck & Sons. Not only did Raphael Tuck & Sons issue some of the most beautiful artist-drawn patriotic postcards ever printed, they also published several terrific series promoting Canadian troops during the First World War. The Figure 5 postcard is an example from Tuck Series 4320, Canadian Contingent on Salisbury Plain. Note that Salisbury Plain, which is in Wiltshire, England, was the primary training area for the British Army during the war. Thousands of Canadian and other British Empire troops trained there before being shipped to the Western Front. God bless our military heroes and Happy 150th Canada!