Unemployment insurance revenue stamps and the Danny Leong collection

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.

A colour photograph of a red-brown stamp with the following text: Canada. Unemployment Insurance. Assurance-Chomage. 1/6 27¢. Insured 0 Assuré.

An uncancelled 27-cent unemployment insurance stamp from 1941 (MIKAN 4933817)

A colour photograph of a green unemployment insurance stamp.

A 51-cent unemployment insurance stamp from 1941 (MIKAN 4933828)

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.

A colour photograph of a page from a used unemployment insurance booklet with seven attached unemployment insurance stamps, dated May, June and July 1949.

A used Unemployment Insurance Commission booket from May to July 1949 (MIKAN 4937508)

A colour photograph of a page from a used unemployment insurance booklet with several attached unemployment insurance stamps, dated October and November 1949. The stamps are very colourful, and there is a handwritten note with a date and initials.

Caption: A used Unemployment Insurance Commission booklet from October and November 1949 (MIKAN 4937509)

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.

A colour photograph of a block of 50 specimen red unemployment insurance stamps.

Unemployment insurance stamps from 1959 (MIKAN 4933286)

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.

A colour photograph of a die proof of an orange agriculture stamp.

Unissued agriculture unemployment insurance stamp die proof, from March 12, 1959 (MIKAN 4933808)

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.

A colour photograph of a sheet of gold unemployment insurance stamps overprinted with SPECIMEN.

A sheet of unused unemployment insurance stamps from 1948 (MIKAN 4933742)


James Bone is an archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

The Yves Baril fonds at Library and Archives Canada

By James Bone

Without a doubt, Yves Baril’s art has been printed more than that of any other Canadian artist. Yet, unless you’re absorbed in the world of Canadian philately or numismatics, you’ve also probably never heard of him. Known for his exquisite and detailed portraiture, Yves Baril is Canada’s master engraver, having produced engravings for more than 146 Canadian postage stamp issues, the Canadian bank notes printed from the late 1950s to 1990s, Canadian Tire money, share and bond certificates, labels and coupons. With millions of these products printed and circulating, and especially for the postage stamps and bank notes, Yves Baril’s work has passed through the hands of many—or perhaps most—Canadians.

Born in 1932 in Verdun, Quebec, Yves Baril grew up in Montreal’s southwest boroughs and studied the arts, including painting and typography, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School and the Montreal School of Graphic Arts. Following his graduation, Baril would take up an engraving apprenticeship in 1953 in Ottawa with the Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited, a private printing company specializing in bank notes and security documents. Studying under master engraver Silas Robert Allen, Baril began by attempting to mimic the work of his teacher. His break came in 1955 when the Post Office Department rejected the engraving made by Allen for a stamp commemorating the immigration of homesteaders into Saskatchewan and Alberta. It was too late in the production cycle to start over, and in desperation Baril’s engraving was submitted as a substitute. Perhaps to everyone’s surprise, and to Allen’s chagrin, the Post Office preferred Baril’s version and accepted it, launching Baril’s career as an engraving artist.

An envelope from the Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited, sent to Yves Baril, Esq., c/o Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited, marked as First Day Cover, stamped with Day of Issue/Jour d’Émission, and signed by the engraver, Yves Baril.

Yves Baril’s autographed first day cover for the 1955 Alberta and Saskatchewan postage stamp he engraved, June 30, 1955 (MIKAN 3951112). Copyright: Canada Post Corporation (postage stamp), assigned to LAC (autograph).

Baril would spend the rest of his career with Canadian Bank Note, developing his craft with additional training with its parent company, American Bank Note, in New York City, and with its subsidiary, Bradbury, Wilkinson and Company, in London, England. In addition to Baril’s work on Canadian postage stamps, bank notes and company coupons, he is also credited with engravings for six United Nations postage stamps (used for sending mail from UN offices) and eleven United States postage stamps. His most notable work was in portraits of Queen Elizabeth II for postage stamps commemorating the royal visits in 1959 and 1964, based on a painting by Pietro Annigoni and a photograph by Anthony Buckley, respectively. These portrait engravings each required hundreds of hours of work and the Queen’s personal approval of the final product.

A red stamp featuring Queen Elizabeth II wearing a cape. An engraving of a crown is in the upper left corner.

Colour trial die proof for the 1959 royal visit (MIKAN 2212875). Copyright: Canada Post Corporation.

A block of four stamps depicting Queen Elizabeth II seated for an official portrait. Dressed in formal attire, she is wearing a crown and has a sash draped diagonally across one shoulder, clasped at the waist and adorned with jeweled pins.

Block of four postage stamps for the 1964 royal visit (MIKAN 2214233). Copyright: Canada Post Corporation

In 2009 and 2015, Yves Baril made donations of his archival material to Library and Archives Canada. These donations include log books that note which days and for how many hours he worked on each engraving, his own commentary on his work, commemorative first day covers for the issue of postage stamps featuring his work, and an album of philatelic treasures collected from material disposed by Canadian Bank Note. All of this material is available for consultation at Library and Archives Canada in the Yves Baril fonds. Also held at Library and Archives Canada in the Post Office Department fonds (RG3 / R169) are hundreds of other records related to the work of Yves Baril, including hundreds of proofs printed from his engravings and many of the original steel dies he engraved that were used to make printing plates for postage stamps.

A handwritten journal entry explaining the process for the production of a stamp.

Entry from Yves Baril’s commentary notebook on the 1973 caricatures postage stamp issues (MIKAN 4868428). Copyright: assigned to Library and Archives Canada.

Yves Baril recently visited Library and Archives Canada to discuss his fonds. While here, he spoke about his training, apprenticeship, work and experiences as a Francophone based in Ottawa through the latter half of the 20th century. He also showcased some of his other personal projects, including a steel die engraved to recreate Canada’s first postage stamp, the Three Pence Beaver, and a suite of engraving tools that he made by hand in the 1950s that are still functional today.

A picture of a stamp showing five generations of British sovereigns.

Design essay for an unissued postage stamp found in Yves Baril’s album featuring the British Monarchs from Queen Victoria to King George VI, including King Edward VIII, whose image does not appear on any Canadian postage stamp (MIKAN 4877973). Copyright: assigned to Library and Archives Canada.


James Bone is an archivist in the Private Specialized Media Division of the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.