ATHABASCA - A scene from Amber Valley will adorn a new stamp issued by Canada Post to commemorate Black History Month in February.
Every year, Canada Post releases similar stamps that depict Black Canadians or communities to mark Black History Month, and this year Amber Valley and Willow Grove in Halifax were chosen.
Jim Phillips, director of stamp operations for Canada Post, said the development of the stamp has been almost two years in the making and required input from many experts including Amber Valley native Myrna Bowen-Wisdom.
“Myrna was a great help to us; she was a great reference,” Phillips said. “She was one of our experts and we had a number of experts on the project, including the Alberta Government and Cheryl Foggo — author and community historian (who) worked on a film on Amber Valley. We worked with a lot of experts on this one, because it's a bit complex — a lot of these communities they're not around anymore, but are very important.”
He noted that previous Black communities have been featured on stamps including Africville in Halifax and Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver.
“Part of our stamp program is we really want to, as one of Canada’s storytellers through our iconic stamp program that goes back to 1851, we really want to tell these stories, and we like to tell stories that aren't that well-known,” he said. “We had it on our plans to do some other communities because I think the communities are very important to today's Black community and to the fabric of Canada, for that matter.”
The process is so long because it starts with an idea, then research is done to find experts like Bowen-Wisdom and Foggo, then a research document is completed, then concept drawings are commissioned for the committee to choose from and once a concept is chosen, a lot work is done ensuring the final rendering is accurate and complete.
“(Experts) vet everything for us because we're experts at moving the mail and printing stamps and things like that, but we're not experts on all the subjects we feature, it’s impossible,” he said. “So, a lot goes in; that's why it takes a long time. We want to make sure it's right, and all those illustrations that you're looking at, and all those people that are on there and that original building and the wagon train that they would have come up on are all pretty accurate for the time.”
Phillips added he had heard of the recent fire that destroyed the Bowen home.
“We couldn't believe it; we've been working on the story for quite a while,” he said. “I think it's the last remaining historic site.”
Gil Williams, the president of the Amber Valley Community Association (AVCA), said he had heard about the stamp, but had not yet seen it.
“Myrna has been a great inspiration for me and I am glad to have her on our AVCA museum committee,” he said. “This postage stamp is a great commemoration of the early Black pioneers that settled in Amber Valley. It has wonderful images that capture the spirit of Amber Valley.”
Athabasca County reeve Larry Armfelt said he was pleased to find out Amber Valley is being showcased.
“I am just thrilled,” he said. “I am saddened to hear Obadiah Place burned down, but I want to give credit over the past number of years to those who brought Obadiah House and Amber Valley to the attention to all people across Canada.”
Athabasca County Coun. Kevin Haines, who’s division covers the historical area, was less shocked Amber Valley was chosen for the stamp, however.
“I’m not surprised, I mean Amber Valley is quite well-known and it’s a great thing to happen and now more Canadians will learn about Amber Valley,” Haines said.
Town of Athabasca mayor Colleen Powell was also pleased that Canada post chose to highlight Amber Valley.
“I'm immensely pleased that Canada Post and therefore Canada is recognizing the settlers in Amber Valley and Amber Valley as a community in our province and in our area,” she said.
Bowen-Wisdom will get a larger version of the stamp that was created using historical photos of local residents and hopes to place it at the Amber Valley Hall in a showcase, but is unsure when that will happen due to the pandemic.
"(Canada Post) emailed and they've made a large one apparently and they wanted to know if there was going to be anything whereby this could be shown,” she said. "I could, I think, take it out to the hall and ... if they were having the Family Day supper, I could take it at that point and talk to the people about it, but that's not gonna happen.”
The stamp and a first release commemorative envelope are available for pre-order online through Canada Post and will be available in select post offices Jan. 22.