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The Quebec Tercentenary Issue

The year 1908 marked the three hundredth anniversary of the first permanent settlement in Canada, made by Champlain at Quebec in 1608, and plans were formed to celebrate the event in a fitting manner by means of fêtes, historical pageants, etc. In fact, the occasion was considered of such importance that the then Prince and Princess of Wales (now King George V of England and his Royal Consort) were invited to be present at the festivities, and they made a special journey in

ne of Britain's most formidable battleships.

Quite early it was rumoured that the Post Office Department would mark the event, as in Diamond Jubilee year, by the issue of a series of special stamps, and though in March the Hon. Rudolphe Lemieux, who was then Postmaster-General, announced that such an issue would assuredly be made, the Department exercised the greatest reticence as to what values would be included in the series, and what subjects would form the designs. Naturally the Department was inundated with all sorts of suggestions, more or less appropriate to the occasion, but, apparently, the “powers that be” had their plans already made and it was not until a few days before the stamps were ready for use that any information was made public regarding the series. The Toronto Globe for July 4th printed the following despatch from its Ottawa correspondent:—

Postmaster-General Lemieux has given instructions to issue a series of postage stamps commemorating the tercentenary. They are eight in number. Four of them bear portraits of persons dear to Canada, or whose names recall great events. The first represents the Prince and Princess of Wales; the second the King and Queen. Next come Cartier and Champlain, and then, in connection with the battlefields park scheme, Wolfe and Montcalm. The second part of the issue represents Cartier's arrival before Quebec. On the calm waters of the mighty St. Lawrence stand in bold relief three ships of the discoverer of Canada, flying the fleur-de-lys.

As a sequel to the above is a very picturesque tableau. In Champlain's narrative of his third voyage to Canada is found the following passage:—

“With our canoes laden with provisions, our arms and some merchandise to be given as presents to the Indians, I started on Monday, May 27, from the isle of Sainte Helaine, accompanied by four Frenchmen and one Indian. A salute was given in my honour from some small pieces of artillery.”

The artist, under the inspiration of these few lines, has depicted Champlain's departure for the west. There stand two canoes. In one Champlain's companions have already taken their places, paddle in hand, whilst the great explorer is still on shore, bidding good-bye to a few friends. The picture is full of life. The legend underneath reads as follows: “Partement de Champlain pour L'ouest.” The word “partement”, now obsolete, is the one used by Champlain for the modern one “depart”.

The same note of old France is used in connection with a view of the first house in Quebec, indeed in Canada, Champlain's habitation, which is called in his narrative “l'abitation de Quebécq”. This stamp is a clear reproduction of a cut from Champlain's work. Quebec as it was in 1700 is the next view, copied from Bacqueville de la Potherie's “Histoire de la Nouvelle France”. It is a quaint picture of the old city, showing steeples here and there, the fort on the river front and in faint lines the Laurentide Mountains in the background.

All stamps bear with the words “CANADA POSTAGE” the line “IIIe centénaire de Quebec”.

The postmaster-general has given special attention to the selection of portraits and historical scenes to be represented. His choice has been an excellent one.

The carrying out of the engraving part of the plan has been entrusted to Mr. Machado, of the American Bank Note Co., who, with keen artistic sense, has performed his part of the work with great success.

In the same newspaper of the same date appears another despatch giving particulars of the designs alloted to each denomination and the chosen colors viz:—

The special postage stamps to be issued in commemoration of the tercentenary celebration at Quebec are now ready, and will be placed on sale next week. The stamps are of most artistic design, and are larger than the ordinary size, to allow of adequate representation of historic scenes, portraits, etc. The description of each denomination is as follows:—

Half-cent, grey, picture of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

One-cent, green, portraits of Champlain and Cartier.

Two-cent, red, King Edward and Queen Alexandria.

Five-cent, blue, representation of L'Habitation de Quebec.

Seven-cent, yellow, pictures of Montcalm and Wolfe.

Ten-cent, mauve, picture of Quebec in 1700.

Fifteen-cent, orange, picture of the Parliament of the West in the old regime.

Twenty-cent, green, picture of a courier du sois with Indians.

The stamps were placed on sale on July 16th and, as will be noted from our illustrations, they are as described above except that the 15c does not have Champlain's name on it as stated in the first quotation, and that the 15c and 20c are incorrectly described in the second despatch. The stamps are of similar shape to the special series issued in Diamond Jubilee year though they are a trifle larger—1 mm. taller and nearly 3 mm. longer. The Postmaster-General's Report for 1909 referred to this issue as follows:—

To meet what appeared to be a general wish a special series of postage stamps, which has come to be known as the Tercentenary Series, was introduced as a feature of the celebration in July, 1908, of the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Quebec by Champlain. The first supply of these stamps was sent out to Postmasters about the middle of that month, and was on sale to the public by the time His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, reached Quebec for the celebration. The demand for the new stamps was extraordinary, and for the better part of a month was steadily kept up. The interest taken in them was, in no small measure, due to the historic associations with which in design they were so happily linked, the subjects depicted in the several denominations of the series being in variety and appropriateness admirably adapted to the end in view,—popular recognition of an epoch-making event.

Except as regards the Postal Union denominations of 1c, 2c and 5c the colors chosen for the stamps of this series do not correspond with those of the regular set. The stamps were produced by the line-engraved process, which has long been the standard method of production for Canada's stamps, and as usual they were issued in sheets of one hundred in ten rows of ten. It seems probable that the plates for the 2c, and possibly for the 1c also, consisted of two panes of 100 stamps each placed one above the other. This seems to be proved from the fact that, whereas on most sheets the imprint “OTTAWA” followed by the plate number, appears in the centre of the top margin, sheets of the 2c are known with the imprint in the centre of the bottom margin, and in the case of plates 3 and 4 both imprint and number are inverted. The inversion on these particular plates was, probably, purely accidental. But though these large plates were used the stamps were always issued in the usual sheet size of 100. The following plates are known to have been used:—

½c dark brown. No. 1.
1c blue-green, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4.
2c carmine, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4.
5c dark blue, Nos. 1, 2.
7c olive-green, No. 1.
10c dark violet, No. 1.
15c red-orange, No. 1.
20c yellow brown. No. 1.

The stamps were all printed on the usual white wove paper and were perforated 12, though specimens of the 2c are known entirely imperforate. Fairly well marked shades may be found in connection with the 1c and 2c denominations but the other values show but very slight differences.



The royal portraits on the ½c and 2c values call for little comment, though it is interesting to note that the portrait of the Princess of Wales (now Queen Mary) is exactly similar to that shown on the 4c stamp of Newfoundland which was first issued in 1901. The picture of the Prince of Wales (now His Majesty King George V) was from a photograph by W. & D. Downey, of London, taken just prior to his journey to India in 1906.


The portrait of Jacques Cartier on the 1c is precisely like that which appears on Canada's first 10d stamp. In Gibbons' Stamp Weekly for January 16th, 1909, the following interesting account of Cartier's voyage appears:—

In the year 1533 Jacques Cartier was empowered by Philipp Cabot, “the Admiral of France,” to fit out ships “to explore new territories, to gain them, by robbery or otherwise, for France, and at the same time to endeavour to find a north-west passage to Cathay”. As long before as 1506 the Florentine explorer, Giovanni Verozzani, had seized the territories of North America lying to the north of the St. Lawrence River in the name of the King of France, but the seizure had never been enforced, and remained a seizure only in name.

On this, his first voyage, Cartier discovered Newfoundland, and, sailing on, anchored off the northerly coast of the Gaspé Peninsula, by which the River St. Lawrence sweeps into the gulf of the same name. The season was very late, however, and bad weather was to be expected, so Cartier was obliged to set sail for France without delay. He took with him to France two sons of an Indian chief, and they caused great excitement in Paris.

King Francis I was so pleased with this exploit that on October 31, 1534, he nominated Captain Jacques Cartier to be “Royal Pilot” (Pilote Royale), and had three more ships prepared for him to make a second voyage to Newfoundland. Preparations for the departure were hurried on at St. Malo, Cartier's birthplace, and at the beginning of May all was ready for the departure.

Three ships took part in the voyage, viz.: La Grande Hermione, La Petite Hermione, and La Hermionette. The first two were vessels rated at 120 and 80 tons respectively, and the last was a galleon of 40 tons. On the after part of the first two vessels there were no less than three decks as superstructure, while forward there was only one deck. They were provided with the full naval armament of the sixteenth century; on the gunwale were mounted small cannon, and also a battery of mortars or similar weapons.

The galleon was a long slender ship of extremely low freeboard, rakish rigged as a single-master, both sails and oars being used as a means of propulsion; two small cannon were mounted forward, and a round dozen arquebuses were also carried. The total company and passengers of the three ships were only 110 all told.

On the morning of May 19th, 1535, the little flotilla set forth on its long voyage of exploration after having saluted the town with every gun on board.

On September 14th of the same year Cartier sighted land, which spread itself out on either side of the ships as far as the eye could reach, and found signs of a village; the place was called Canada by the natives, the meaning of the word in the native language being “The Town”. This village was the seat of “government”, and was occupied by an Indian chief called Donnacona; it was situate right on the shore of the bay formed by the junction of the rivers St. Charles and St. Lawrence. The village seemed to consist of huts built irregularly on the steep sides of a mountain, the spot later being the position of the southerly and easterly quarters of Quebec.


The historical moment of the arrival of Cartier's brave little “fleet” is interestingly depicted on the 20c value of the tercentenary series. Samuel de Champlain, whose portrait is also shown on the 1c denomination, was born in 1570 and died in 1635. Again we are indebted to the article in Gibbons' Stamp Weekly for the following particulars:—

In 1603 he was commissioned by King Henry IV of France to found a settlement in Canada. On his first voyage he sailed up the St. Lawrence, and established friendly relations with the various native chiefs of the tribes inhabiting the country through which the river flowed. On his second voyage he was accompanied by only thirty people, and on July 3rd, 1608, he landed at the village of Canada, which was mentioned above. His first thought was to find a site suitable for the erection of an “abitation” where he might pass the winter that was coming on. “I could find no more comfortable or better spot than the land around Quebec, where countless nut trees were to be seen,” wrote Champlain. That was exactly the same place where Cartier had built his fort sixty years before.

Thanks to extreme industry, winter quarters were rapidly erected. The habitation consisted of three principal buildings, each two stories high. Two of these buildings measured 18 ft. long by 9 ft. wide, and the third, used as a storehouse, was 36 ft. long by 18 ft. wide and had a large cellar. In the first building Champlain lived with a few of the workmen in the lower story; in the other the remaining workpeople lived, and had with them the arms and ammunition of the whole party. An annexe was attached to one of the buildings, and it was used as a smithy; a few of the people also slept there. The whole of the buildings were enclosed by a trench or moat 15 ft. wide and 9 ft. deep, to protect the settlers from the ravages of wild beasts.

Champlain had earthworks thrown up on the inner side of the moat, on which cannons were mounted. Between the encampment and the river there remained a strip only 24 ft. wide; and behind, on the side of the mountain, there was a plot of arable land a little more than 100 ft. long and 60 ft. wide, where Champlain had corn sown and vines planted.


This “abitation” is shown on the 5c value of the series, while on the 10c is shown the city of Quebec as it had grown by 1700 from such small and modest beginnings.


In the following May Champlain decided to explore the river and his departure on this momentous journey is depicted on the 15c stamp.


On the 7c denomination are portraits of the two famous generals, Montcalm and Wolfe, both of whom were killed fighting each other on the heights of Quebec. Again, to quote from the article in Gibbons' Stamp Weekly:


So early as 1628 Quebec was captured by the English, in spite of Champlain's brave defence; but Canada was restored to France by one of the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which was concluded in 1632. Richelieu at once sent Champlain back to Quebec as Governor-General of Canada.

Twice more, in 1690 and 1711, the English besieged Quebec, but they were not able to capture the town. But in 1759 General James Wolfe was ordered by Pitt to clear the French right out of Canada. The French troops were under the command of Marquis Ludwig Joseph Montcalm, of Saint-Veran. Although the latter was in command of only a small force, he was able to claim several victories, but finally he was besieged in Quebec by General Wolfe, at the head of 30,000 men. He was obliged to give battle under unequal conditions, and on September 13th was mortally wounded at the battle of the Heights of Abraham and died two days later. The victorious English general was also killed in the same battle.

The names of both these leaders, enemies though they were, have graven themselves inseparably on the memories of the inhabitants of Quebec. In 1827 the Governor of Canada, Lord Dalhousie, erected a marble monument to their memory, on which is a Latin inscription, which may be rendered freely thus:—

“Their courage caused their death.

History praises them both.

Posterity erects this monument to

their honour.”

No advance information was published as to the numbers printed of the several values in the series, as in the case of the Jubilee set, so that little attempt at cornering any particular values was made by speculators. True, large quantities of the ½c value were bought up by people who imagined it would be as rare as the corresponding value of the Jubilee stamps, but as there were two million of these they did not turn out to be the gold-mine it was fondly imagined they would. By September, 1908, all values except the 10c, 15c and 20c had been exhausted and by the end of October these three values were sold out as well. The numbers issued were later given out by the Postmaster-General in answer to two questions propounded to him in the House of Commons by Mr. Perley, a member. The Canadian Hansard gives this data as follows:—

1.—What was the total amount received by the Post Office Department from the sale of the special Tercentenary stamps? 2.—What part of this sum would probably have been received as ordinary revenue if there had been no special issue of stamps?

To these questions the Hon. Rudolphe Lemieux, Postmaster-General, responded: The following was the issue to Postmasters of the Tercentenary postage stamps:

Denominations. Quantities. Value.
½ cent 2,000,000 $10,000
1 cent 22,530,000 $225,300
2 cent 35,100,000 $702,000
5 cent 1,200,000 $60,000
7 cent 700,000 $49,000
10 cent 500,000 $50,000
15 cent 300,000 $45,000
20 cent 304,200 $60,840
Totals, 62,634,200 $1,202,140

The department has no knowledge whether the stamps in question have all been sold, as during their issue the ordinary postage stamps were also on sale, both issues being in use as preferred by the public. The proceeds derived from the sale of stamps of the two issues were not kept separately, but treated as arising from a common source. It is, therefore, impossible to state to what extent the issue of the Tercentenary postage stamps may have affected the ordinary revenue.

The fact that the Prince of Wales was an ardent stamp collector resulted in the presentation to him of a specially mounted set as shown by the following paragraph from the Weekly:—

As the Prince of Wales is an enthusiastic collector of stamps, His Royal Highness will no doubt be very pleased to receive the set of the special tercentenary stamps which will be presented to him at Quebec. The stamps will be held in small gold boxes, enclosed in a handsome large box of Morocco leather. A second set accompanies the gift in a special gold box, on the cover of the large box is the Prince's crest and a gold plate inscribed as follows: “Set of Canadian postage stamps issued upon the occasion of the Quebec tercentenary, 1908. Presented to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales by Hon. Rudolphe Lemieux, Postmaster-General of Canada.” Sets of these stamps, in boxes with appropriate crests and monograms, will be presented to Earl Grey, Sir Wilfred Laurier and Hon. Rudolphe Lemieux.

Reference List.

1908. Engraved and printed by the American Bank Note Co., Ottawa. No wmk. Perf. 12.

  • 85. ½c  dark brown, Scott's No. 96.

  • 86.  1c   blue green, Scott's No. 97.

  • 87.  2c   carmine, Scott's No. 98.

  • 88.  5c   dark blue, Scott's No. 99.

  • 89.  7c    olive green, Scott's No. 100.

  • 90.  10c  dark violet, Scott's No. 101.

  • 91.  15c  red orange, Scott's No. 102.

  • 92.  20c  yellow brown, Scott's No. 103.