Gaze of Exclusion

For the first half-century of Confederation the presence of workers in Canadian history was virtually a state secret. All of the stamps issued by the Dominion of Canada in the first three decades of Confederation featured portraits of Queen Victoria, culminating in the double portrait of the Diamond Jubilee issue in 1897 (#52). 12 The following year Canada's first pictorial stamps, the famous "map" stamps (#85-86), confirmed Canadian participation in the ideology of British imperialism. Portraits of royalty continued to dominate the stamp issue well into the 20th century, although there was occasional recourse to the "colonial-picturesque" motif on occasions such as the 300th anniversary of the founding of Québec City in 1908. 13

Canada Scott 52
Stamp reproduced courtesy of Canada Post Corporation
Stamp: Canada Scott 52

There is an interesting exception to this gaze of exclusion, and it is to be found in several stamps issued by the independent Dominion of Newfoundland. In 1897, to celebrate both the Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's North Atlantic voyage of exploration, Newfoundland issued a group of 14 stamps which included, among other themes, illustrations of the country's principal contemporary industries - fishing (#67), logging (#66), and mining (#65). In their small boats the fishermen are hauling in their catch; in the woods men are hauling logs with a team of oxen; in the underground scene, most likely at the newly-opened iron mines of Bell Island, the men are hard at work with pick and shovel, their backs to the visitors' gaze, as they attack the ore. The mining stamp is also of wider interest as it is said to be the first stamp with a mining theme issued by any postal authority in the world. The designs were selected by the Colonial Secretary Robert Bond, a strong Newfoundland nationalist; at this time Newfoundland clearly wanted to present itself as a country with varied resources and a dynamic economy, and workers were considered to occupy a legitimate space in that narrative.14

Stamp: Canada Scott 65 Canada Scott 65
Stamp reproduced courtesy of Canada Post Corporation

Menu  Credits Continue