By Kelly Anne Griffin
Many people enjoy birdwatching, trainspotting or stargazing, but George Ayoub loved observing ships. Ship watching and nautical history fascinate many Canadians. This is no wonder, since our country has over 200,000 kilometres of coastline and almost 800,000 kilometres of freshwater shores.
George Ayoub was born in 1916 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. In 1930, he became a sailor at age 14, with a lifelong passion for ships and maritime history. His collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, gives us a glimpse into the nautical past and the waterways that helped shape our nation and build our economy. The fonds includes over 20,000 of his photographs taken between 1940 and 1990 at various locations along our seaways, most notably the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal. The vast collection of images provides fascinating insight into the history of shipping as well as the use of leisure craft. The fonds also includes textual material that complements the photographs and that records not only the history of the shipping industry but also individual ships that sailed the waters.
St. Lawrence Seaway
The St. Lawrence Seaway, opened in 1959, transformed the shipping industry by opening the Great Lakes to ocean-going traffic. When the seaway opened, George Ayoub started to compile an important collection of records on the backgrounds of the different vessels that came to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway during the 20th century. He also photographed many of these himself. Today, the St. Lawrence Seaway is one of the great ship canals of the world, carrying freight between the heart of North America and the rest of the world. The George Ayoub fonds contains numerous images that reflect the variety of vessels that travelled the seaway.
Rideau Canal and Ottawa River
Officially opened in 1832, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. The War of 1812 made clear the need to have a navigable waterway connecting Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River, because traffic on the St. Lawrence River was vulnerable to attack. The huge undertaking provided a secure supply route from Montréal to Kingston that avoided the St. Lawrence.
The Rideau Canal locks provide wonderful boat-watching opportunities. Around many locks, onlookers often watch in fascination as the locks move the vessels along. The George Ayoub fonds includes many excellent photos, taken over the years, of boats passing through the locks.
Canada’s affinity with water is shaped by our vast and beautiful shorelines. Ship watching continues to be a major tourist attraction for many communities along waterways. From busy shipping routes to quiet, peaceful lakes, Canadian waterways truly help us live up to our motto, “a mari usque ad mare”: “from sea to sea.”
- Canals and inland waterways – The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Historic canals and waterways – Parks Canada
Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival assistant in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
By Michael Kent
One of my favorite things about working with rare books is that these books have a potential to connect me with history in ways that extend beyond their written content. One such example of this potential is the 1786 Book of Leviticus published by Lion Soesmans. What makes the copy now located in the Jacob M. Lowy collection special is that it contains the signature of one of its former owners, Rebecca Gratz (1781–1869).
While you may not have heard of Gratz, you quite likely have heard of a far more famous fictional Rebecca: Rebecca of York, the heroine of Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe. A work of historical fiction, this novel helped spur the popular images of Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, King Richard and Prince John. This Rebecca is a dark-haired beauty, a healer, and the central female character of the novel. Desired by men, kidnapped, tried for witchcraft, and ultimately fleeing England, Rebecca of York is an empowering fictional Jewish woman.
While the inspiration for Scott’s Rebecca is debated among scholars, many point to Gratz as the origin. As legend has it, Scott heard about Gratz while visiting his friend, writer Washington Irving, at his home in Abbotsford, Scotland, during 1817. Irving was reported to have had great admiration for Gratz, and he imparted these sentiments to Scott.
While the fictional Rebecca is no doubt an inspirational character, the real life Rebecca is far more impressive. Born in 1781 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, her family would move to Philadelphia during her childhood. In Philadelphia her family would become prominent in the Jewish community and in wider society.
From a young age, Rebecca would become a leader in philanthropy and community work. At 20, she helped found the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, a non-sectarian charity aiming to help poor families. One of her next major initiatives to help the poor came in 1815 when she helped establish the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum.
Gratz was also heavily involved with Jewish charitable organizations. In 1819, she helped organize the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, which is presently the oldest continuously operating Jewish charitable organization in the United States. The goal of this organization was to provide assistance to Jewish woman in need. This organization functioned independently of any synagogue, but also sought to counter similar work by Christian organizations seeking to convert Jewish woman in need. Her quest to help the poor would continue in 1855, when she helped establish the Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum. This organization would go on to become a model for foster care in the United States. She was also involved with United Hebrew Beneficent Fuel Society and the Hebrew Ladies’ Sewing Society.
Arguably, one of Gratz’s biggest accomplishments in the Jewish community was in the area of education. In 1838, she founded the Hebrew Sunday School Society with the sponsorship of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society. Inspired by the Christian Sunday schools, her school offered a free Jewish education to any Jewish child in Philadelphia. This school also provided one of the first opportunities for Jewish education for female students in the United States. Gratz’s model for Jewish education is still alive and well today in Jewish supplementary schools across Canada and the United States.
Perhaps most impressive is that Gratz accomplished all this charitable work while raising her sister Rachel’s orphaned children.
Learning about all her accomplishments, it is not hard to understand why Rebecca Gratz has been compared to Mother Teresa.
Whether or not Gratz truly inspired Scott, these two inspirational women—one real and one fictional— share a deep commitment to community service. In Scott’s novel Ivanhoe, the fictional Rebecca expresses this sentiment before leaving England, referring to herself in the third person: “. . . since the time of Abraham downward, have been woman who have devoted their thoughts to Heaven, and their actions to works of kindness to men, tending the sick, feeding the hungry, and relieving the distressed. Among these will Rebecca be numbered.”
Being able to handle this historic Bible, I am humbled to think of its former owner and her truly remarkable legacy.
Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy collection at Library and Archives Canada.
By Ashley Dunk
In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Newfoundland’s Private Thomas Ricketts and his selfless bravery demonstrated at Ledeghem, Belgium.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Newfoundland was a dominion of the British Empire. In order to support the British Army and war effort, Newfoundland recruited a volunteer army, garnering enough men to outfit and sustain a battalion throughout the entirety of the war. Two additional battalions were later added: the 2nd Reserve Battalion, mostly stationed at Ayr, Scotland, and the 3rd Battalion, responsible for recruiting and training in St. John’s. In 1917, in recognition of their courageous actions and heroic participation during the battles of Ypres and Cambrai in France, King George V bestowed the regiment with the prefix “Royal”.
Born in Middle Arm, White Bay, Newfoundland, on April 15, 1901, to John and Amelia (Cassels) Ricketts, Thomas Ricketts enlisted with the 1st Battalion, Newfoundland Regiment, on September 2, 1916. He was underage—only 15 years old—when he volunteered, but claimed to be 18 on his attestation papers. His deception went unnoticed and he was accepted. He embarked for England with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and during his service was shot in the leg in November 1917. Ricketts returned to his regiment in the spring of 1918, after recovering.
On October 14, 1918, the 1st Battalion was participating in the advance from Ledeghem, east of Ypres, in Belgium. The regiment had been fighting through rolling smoke and mist to push back the Germans and capture enemy pillboxes and weapons. By mid-morning, the mist had burned off, revealing a stream, the Wulfdambeek. Forced to cross it, the regiment was exposed to enemy fire. They suffered heavy casualties and soon after were pinned down by enemy shelling. Unable to call on their own artillery fire to combat the German shelling, the only solution was to disable the enemy battery and weapons and to kill the enemy soldiers.
Ricketts volunteered to run forward with his section commander, toting a Lewis machine gun in an effort to outflank the battery. They rushed forward in short advances under heavy machine gun fire, and soon ran out of ammunition, still 300 yards away from the battery. The Germans saw an opportunity to move up their gun teams to take out the advancing pair while they were vulnerable. Ricketts realized the situation and retreated 100 yards under debilitating machine gun fire to retrieve more ammunition. Upon his return with additional resources, he adeptly handled the Lewis gun, driving the enemy and gun teams back to a nearby farm. With the threats removed, the platoon advanced without casualties and captured four field guns, four machine guns, and eight prisoners. Later, a fifth gun was intercepted and captured.
As recounted in the London Gazette:
By his presence of mind in anticipating the enemy intention and his utter disregard for personal safety, Pte. Ricketts secured the further supply of ammunition which directly resulted in these important captures and undoubtedly saved many lives.
– London Gazette, no. 31108, p. 309, January 6, 1919
Ricketts survived the remainder of the war and was discharged on June 17, 1919, for demobilization. He was invested with the Victoria Cross by King George V on January 19, 1919, at Sandringham, England, when he was only 17 years old, the youngest Victoria Cross army combatant recipient. He returned to Newfoundland a war hero. Upon his return home, he returned to school and later became a pharmacist. In addition to his Victoria Cross, Ricketts was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Golden Star for his gallantry.
He died in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on March 21, 1967.
Rickett’s Victoria Cross and Croix de Guerre is on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.
Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file for Private Thomas Ricketts.
Tag pictures and give history a hand
You can tag the images in this blog! Immerse yourself in the CEF digitized files and transcribe, tag, translate and describe their content. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping LAC’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!
Ashley Dunk was a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.
By Emily Monks-Leeson
On this day in 1918, Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie was killed in action northeast of Cambrai, France. His actions on that day would lead to his posthumous award of the Victoria Cross.
Wallace Lloyd Algie was born on June 10, 1891, in Alton, Ontario, the son of James and Rachel Algie of Toronto. He graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada and volunteered in the active militia with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the 40th Regiment, serving as a lieutenant.
Algie was a bank clerk in Toronto before enlisting as an officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on April 19, 1916. He sailed on the SS Laconia on September 25, 1916, and was attached to the 95th Battalion upon arrival at Seaford, England. He proceeded to the European theatre with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion on May 26, 1917. He completed various officer training courses, including one on the Lewis Gun.
On October 11, 1918, the 27-year-old lieutenant was leading his troops in the 20th Battalion of the CEF near the village of Cambrai, France, when they came under intense machine-gun fire from a nearby village. His citation in the London Gazette, January 28, 1919, tells the story of the actions that led to his death and the awarding of the Victoria Cross:
“For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice on the 11th October, 1918, north-east of Cambrai, when the attaching troops which came under heavy enfilade machine-gun fire from a neighbouring village. Rushing forward with nine volunteers, he shot the crew of an enemy machine gun, and, turning it on the enemy, enabled his party to reach the village. He then rushed another machine gun, killed the crew, captured an officer and 10 enemy, and thereby cleared the end of the village. Lt. Algie, having established his party, went back for reinforcements, but was killed when leading them forward. His valour and personal initiative in the face of intense fire saved many lives and enabled the position to be held.”
Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie is buried in Niagara Cemetery, Iwuy, France.
Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie.
Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in the Digital Operations and Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
In 1948, the first class of the new aeronautical engineering school at the University of Toronto graduated. This graduating class comprised people such as Gerald Vincent Bull, Fred Matthews, Daisy Pon, William McCarter, William Kuzyk, and Ralph Waechter. Most of these individuals (including the first woman to graduate in aeronautical engineering) would take on jobs at the A.V. Roe Ltd. headquarters in Malton, Ontario. They would go on to work on various aspects of a number of revolutionary aircraft that would appear within the next ten years, including the famed (and fated) supersonic Avro Arrow. Library and Archives Canada recently acquired the fonds of two of these individuals, William Kuzyk and Ralph Waechter.
The story of A.V. Roe Ltd is, as the Canadian Air and Space Museum suggests, “a chronicle of triumph and tragedy for Canadian aviation.” Starting in 1945, the company had two initial projects. One was a commercial aircraft called the Jetliner, or the C-102. The other was a military aircraft, a two-engine, all-weather fighter-interceptor called the Canuck, or CF-100. Finally, starting in 1950, the company began work on the design for the Avro Arrow. The company assembled aeronautical engineering teams from Britain and Canada and began work on the design of the airframe and turbo-jet engines for these airplane types.
The C-102 Jetliner was a revolutionary aircraft designed for commercial air travel. The first flight of the C-102 Jetliner was in August 1949, and in every subsequent flight, it broke records for speed. Unfortunately, production of the aircraft never went beyond the testing phase.
One of A.V. Roe’s most successful productions was a two-engine, all-weather fighter-interceptor called the Canuck, or CF-100, as seen here:
The CF-105 Arrow had “technically advanced features’, such as the striking high delta-wing, tailless configuration, as well as other leading-edge aerodynamic features. You can see this in the early designs:
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was an exciting time to be an aeronautical engineer, and A.V. Roe hired new graduates in the field immediately.
Ralph William Waechter (1926–2012) studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Toronto from 1944-1948. After graduating, he was hired to work as an aeronautical engineer, a flight-test engineer, and an experimental aerodynamicist at A.V. Roe Canada Ltd. in Malton, Ontario. William Kuzyk (1922–1990) attended the University of Toronto between 1943 and 1949, graduating with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1949. While he was completing his degree, he also worked for A.V. Roe as a design checker in the Gas Turbine Division.
During their decade of work at the company, Waechter and Kuzyk worked in various departments. Among other things, they were flight test engineers in the Flight Test Research Department. Here, their principle activity was data collection. Many of their reports deal with the technical challenges of high-speed flight and the related phenomena that can occur. Along this line, there is considerable data and graphs indicating performance and effects, particularly in relation to air speed and high-speed performance. Concerning the Avro Arrow, both aeronautical engineers tested the performance of various other experimental versions, including those with zero-length launch technology.
Despite continued design and flight success through to 1958, the international and national political climate played a role in the demise of the Avro Arrow. On February 20, 1959, the federal government cancelled the entire Avro Arrow project. All work on the project ceased, and 14,000 employees at A.V. Roe were laid off. Waechter and Kuzyk, like many other employees, found jobs in aeronautical engineering companies in the United States where they would stay through the 1960s. Unlike others in the field, they came back to Canada in the early 1970s and had continued success in their fields of expertise.
When the Avro Arrow project was cancelled, it was advised that all project records be destroyed. Consider, then, how lucky it is for us that neither William Kuzyk nor Ralph Waechter heeded these orders. Because of this, we now have unique visual evidence of the innovative aeronautical research and development that was occurring in Canada in the middle part of the 20th century.
LAC holds various fonds containing material related to the Avro Arrow, including:
- A.V. Roe Canada fonds
- Ralph Waechter fonds
- William Kuzyk fond
- Wilfrid Austen Curtis fonds
- June Callwood fonds
- Janusz Zarakowski collection (The images were loaned to the National Archives of Canada and copied. The originals were returned to the lender.)
- Robert A. Johnson collection
As well, material can be found in the fonds of various Members of Parliament and Prime Ministers, including:
- C.D. Howe fonds
- Brooke Claxton fonds
- Louis St. Laurent fonds
- John Diefenbaker fonds
- Lester B. Pearson fonds
Within the government holdings, a researcher may find scattered material about A.V. Roe and its various aeronautical projects:
- Orr, John L. – Interview in National Research Council Oral History Project
- Contracts and Agreements Series (within the Wartime Industries Control Board sous-fonds)
- Central Registry Files of National Aeronautical Establishment (accession within the Block Numeric Central Registry Files sub-series of the National Research Council)
Andrew Elliott is a private archivist in the Science, Economics, and Environment section of the Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.
By Ashley Dunk
In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell and his courageous acts at the Canal de l’Escaut, France, from October 8 to 9, 1918.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on December 11, 1889, Mitchell was a civil engineer before enlisting as a private with the Canadian Railway Construction Corps on January 21, 1915. In 1916, he became a lieutenant and joined the 1st Tunneling Company, Canadian Engineers. Mitchell was promoted to captain in 1917 after receiving the Military Cross for his gallantry. In 1918, Mitchell was posted to the 4th Battalion, Canadian Engineers. During his time with the 4th Battalion, he performed a heroic feat that helped to ensure Allied success at the Canal de l’Escaut, northeast of Cambrai, France.
After the end of the Battle of Canal du Nord on October 1, 1918, Allied soldiers were intent on entering and clearing the town of Cambrai. Previous offensives had opened some roads into the town, and now a further manoeuvre was needed to bring in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. German resistance was strong to the northeast of Cambrai, and the Canadians aimed to capture and move beyond the town. The following days would see a Canadian offensive, with Canadian forces liberating French villages against stubborn German resistance.
On the night of October 8 to 9, 1918, Mitchell led a party of sappers (soldiers responsible for building and repairing roads and bridges, and clearing mines) on a reconnaissance mission near Cambrai. Their task was to go beyond the security of the Canadian front lines to inspect bridges over which the Canadian 5th Infantry Brigade planned to advance. The goal was to prevent these bridges from being demolished. After coming across one bridge that had been destroyed, Mitchell and his team moved on to the next bridge, which stretched across the Canal de l’Escaut.
Under heavy barrage and in total darkness, Mitchell ran across the bridge, unaware of the enemy’s positions or strength. He discovered that the Germans had prepared it for demolition. With the assistance of a non-commissioned officer, he cut the detonation wires and removed the explosive charge. When the Germans realized that their explosives were being removed, they moved toward the bridge to set off the detonations. Seeing that his sentry was wounded, Mitchell rushed forward to assist. He killed three German soldiers and took 12 prisoners. Saving the bridge helped to assure the later success of the 5th Infantry Brigade’s operations.
As recounted in the London Gazette:
Then under heavy fire he continued his task of cutting wires and removing charges, which he well knew might at any moment have been fired by the enemy. It was entirely due to his valour and decisive action that this important bridge across the canal was saved from destruction.
London Gazette, no. 31155, January 31, 1919, pp. 1503.
Mitchell served in the Canadian Engineers until April 28, 1919, when he left during general demobilization. He returned to Canada after the war and resumed his career as a civil engineer. During the Second World War, he commanded engineering units in Britain. In 1943, he returned to Canada as a lieutenant-colonel in charge of an engineering training centre. After the war, he returned to his civilian career once again.
Mitchell’s service in both world wars has been commemorated in a variety of locations. In Manitoba, Coulson Mitchell Lake was named in his honour. In Montréal, a street and a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion bear his name. The main building of the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering at the Canadian Army Base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, also carries his name.
Mitchell passed away at his home in Montréal on November 17, 1978.
Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell.
Transcribe war diaries or tag pictures, and give history a hand!
The War Diaries of the Canadian Engineers are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!
Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
By Christine Barrass
Founded 56 years ago, the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) was created by Jamaicans living in Toronto. It was 1962, and as Jamaica prepared for independence from the United Kingdom, this group decided to plan a celebratory dinner and dance. The event on August 6, Independence Day, was a roaring success. Discussions afterwards supported setting up an organization that could both help immigrants from Caribbean countries adapt to life in Toronto and advocate on behalf of Caribbean and African-Canadian citizens in the city. To this end, a Constitution Committee, made up of three men and three women, was established. On September 23, 1962, participants at a well-attended Organizational Meeting approved the JCA constitution and elected its first Executive Committee.
Dr. Vincent Conville, a long-time member of the association and its president from 1977 to 1978, wrote his PhD thesis on the JCA. In 2008, he donated the material that comprises the Jamaican Canadian Association fonds to Library and Archives Canada. This material contains transcripts of oral interviews he conducted with founding and prominent members of the group as well as copies of the JCA newsletter, In Focus. These interviews and newsletters include many frank and insightful opinions from women such as Amy Nelson, Kamala-Jean Gopie and Erma Collins.
Unusual for its time, the JCA had more female than male members. These women were a diverse group of university students, nurses and domestic workers who joined the association with a shared desire to help others in the Caribbean community in Toronto and across Canada. Women in the JCA played a varied role that changed over time. Despite their numbers, women acted largely behind the scenes rather than in leadership positions during the JCA’s first decades. They organized fundraisers, created committees and supported the association’s goal of providing much-needed social services. In an interview conducted by Dr. Conville, one of the founding members of the JCA, Amy Nelson, acknowledged the inequality in the organization, viewing it as a product of the times: men were simply found in leadership roles more often, whether in the JCA or in society at large.
One woman who managed to become a leader in the JCA was Kamala-Jean Gopie (formerly Jean Gammage). Joining the association in 1974, she quickly became a very active member. In 1975, she took on the role of Executive Secretary, and from 1978 to 1980 she served as the first female president of the JCA. Despite her leadership roles, however, she recalled in an In Focus interview that attending an award ceremony as a guest rather than as an organizer was a novel experience!
The unique contributions by women in the JCA led to the creation of what was initially the Women’s Auxiliary, later resurrected as the Women’s Committee. Formed in the early 1970s, the Auxiliary focused on using women’s backgrounds as health care workers to support some of the JCA’s activities. In its second incarnation as the Women’s Committee, the focus changed. Erma Collins, the first female Vice-President of the association, and Pam Powell, a former Board member, recalled that this committee filled gaps in programming for the female membership. The committee addressed pressing issues such as women’s health care, including organizing a health fair in Ontario for Black women, in 1993. The committee subsequently broadened its focus to address other issues of gender equality as well.
The Women’s Committee proudly continues to this day!
Christine Barrass is a senior archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.
By James Bone
The Canadian government studied and established the first building blocks of our current social safety net in the early 1940s, during the Second World War. The government was looking to avoid or abate a repetition of Canada’s experience of increased unemployment when soldiers returned from the First World War, especially in manufacturing with the end of wartime production and the resulting lower demand. One of the ideas that it seized upon was unemployment insurance: a mandatory program to which both employees and employers would contribute based on a given employee’s wages; if the job was lost, that person would have some guarantee of a continued income for a specified period. The legislation establishing the program received royal assent in August 1940 and took effect on July 1, 1941. While unemployment insurance has been modified and reformed since then, the essence remains the same under the present Employment Insurance program.
At the time, of course, there was no computer-based record keeping, and a means had to be devised to show not only that payments for contributions had been made but also that a given employee was entitled to coverage. The most common method of proving that taxes or fees had been paid for government services during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was through the use of revenue stamps. Similar to postage stamps, revenue stamps specify the amount of money paid to purchase the stamp and the tax or fee that they were created to pay for. When used, revenue stamps were cancelled by an official to indicate that their value had been used for the intended purpose. Unemployment insurance stamps were available for purchase at post offices, and employers were required to withhold a set proportion of an employee’s wage, while also making their own contributions, to purchase these stamps. The stamps would then be affixed to booklets, generally kept with the human resources or management unit of a company, and then submitted annually to the local Unemployment Insurance Commission office. Each employee would have a booklet every year held by each employer for whom he or she worked. To ensure that the wages withheld were going toward the purchase of unemployment insurance stamps, employees were permitted by law to inspect their booklets twice a month.
At the launch of the unemployment insurance program, many forms of employment were not eligible for coverage. These included agriculture, fishing, forestry and logging, hunting and trapping, air and water transportation services, medicine, nursing, teaching, military, police, and civil services. Over time, more forms of employment were made eligible for coverage. Most notably, in 1957 employment in the fishing industry was covered, providing a much-needed income guarantee to people in the newly confederated province of Newfoundland and throughout the Maritimes. At first, existing stamps were overprinted with the image of a fish to indicate their intended use in the fishing industry. In later years, fishing unemployment insurance stamps were issued without an overprint.
Among the various types of revenue stamps used by federal and provincial governments, unemployment insurance stamps are relatively scarce. This is because under the program’s legislative act and regulations, it was illegal to sell unused stamps, and only an employer or an employer’s human resources designate could be in lawful possession of unused stamps. Further, most of the booklets and used stamps submitted to the Unemployment Insurance Commission as well as most of the unused stamps were intentionally destroyed after their designated five years of retention. Also, unsold stamps were returned from post offices to the Unemployment Insurance Commission for destruction once they were no longer eligible to be sold, which happened when changes to unemployment insurance premiums required stamps to be issued in new denominations.
The Danny Leong collection
It is thus fortunate that Library and Archives Canada was able to acquire the Danny Leong Unemployment Insurance Stamp collection (R15771), which includes more than 11,000 stamps, unemployment insurance booklets from all the years of their use, and other associated materials. Both Danny Leong and his widow, Violet Anne Leong, were employees of the Unemployment Insurance Commission in British Columbia. Through this employment, Danny Leong was able to collect specimens of the stamps and booklets that were no longer needed for business use, training or reference in the office.
Most of the stamps in this collection are pre-cancelled specimens, printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company in Ottawa and forwarded to the Unemployment Insurance Commission as examples of stamps to be issued and sold at post offices. The collection also includes specimen and used insurance booklets, possibly retained for training purposes. The most curious item is a singular engraved die proof dated March 1959. This unique proof is for a never-issued agriculture unemployment insurance stamp—as mentioned above, agriculture was not covered by unemployment insurance during this period. Evidently, consideration was given to including agricultural work in the program, and this consideration was serious enough to have involved having a stamp for that purpose designed and engraved. In discussion of this item, Yves Baril attributed the work as most likely that of the Canadian Bank Note Company’s letter engraver Donald Mitchell, while the design appears to be that of Harvey Prosser, with supervision by John Francis Mash.
The use of revenue stamps and unemployment insurance booklets to record payments for insurance continued until the early 1970s. Thereafter, the program was reformed with computerized records and the first issuing of Record of Employment forms, which are still in use. Most importantly, the 1971 reform of the Unemployment Insurance Act made coverage almost universal regardless of industry. The final issue of unemployment insurance stamps, printed in 1968, went mostly unused, with only a few used examples having ever been found by collectors. Of interest to both those who study philately and labour history in Canada, the Danny Leong Unemployment Insurance Stamp collection is available for consultation at Library and Archives Canada. For further reading on Canadian revenue stamps, including unemployment insurance stamps, Edward Zaluski’s Canada Revenues is an outstanding resource.
James Bone is an archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.