How the spooky stamp series celebrating the great Canadian ghost story came to life
With a chill in the air, leaves falling from trees and darkness closing in earlier each day, all signs are pointing to Halloween – the unofficial launch of ghost story season.
Ghost stories have stood the test of time in Canada, kept alive across the country, especially in our older regions that are steeped in rich local history. Canada Post has been celebrating these great Canadian ghost stories every year since 2014 with our popular Haunted Canada stamps.
The third and final set launched last month, and tell some of the most spine-tingling, evocative stories. For instance, the ghost at Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre in Toronto: an apparition of a woman dressed in Edwardian clothing who reportedly sits in empty theatre chairs. And the Bell Island Hag: a Newfoundland spirit that lives in a swamp near Dobbin’s Garden that paralyzes passersby with her wretched stench… that smells like decomposing flesh!
To help uncover these stories, Canada Post brought Joel A. Sutherland, the author of Scholastic Canada’s Haunted Canada children’s books, onboard as an advisor.
A self-described ghost hunter, Sutherland knows why the stamps have resonated. “Canadians like to be scared. We’re fascinated by the fear of the unknown and intrigued – even when skeptical – with things that go bump in the night.”
But the stamps go farther than that, he says. “They are an incredible showcase of Canadian history and Canadian geography – all good ghost stories inherently deal with the past and the stories cover coast to coast.”
And in regions from coast to coast, the Haunted stamps were celebrated. Canada Post worked together with local museums, newspapers and tourism boards, who were excited to help flesh out the details and get the stories right. Then each stamp was truly brought to life with evocative illustrations.
The Ghost Bride of the Banff Springs Hotel from the 2014 collection, for example, is especially haunting. Staring you straight in the face is a woman from the 1920s who, on her wedding day at the hotel, caught the heel of her shoe in her wedding gown and tumbled down the stairs to her death. To this day hotel guests and employees claim to occasionally see the bride dancing the wedding waltz by herself before disappearing from sight.
New York-based illustrator Sam Weber, who grew up in Deep River, Ontario, is the acclaimed artist behind the series.
“I’ve always enjoyed exploring characters and I’d like to think I was able to lend them accuracy and detail that I hope others will also find meaningful,” he says. “Without a doubt my favourite part of this project has been exploring Canada’s rich history through the lens of these strange and often frightening tales.”
Weber is particularly proud of the new 2016 collection. “I was so happy to be able to indulge my own interests in portraiture and mood, especially on stamps like The Lady in White.”
It’s a macabre portrait that grabs your gaze and subtly draws your attention to the frightening reflection in the water. The woman depicted is Mathilde Robin who threw herself into the roar of Montmorency Falls in Quebec after discovering that her fiancé had perished in the Seven Years’ War. Her cries for her lost love are still said to be faintly heard from the falls where they courted.
“Knowing that most of these tales originated out of real stories and took place in real settings made the whole process come alive for me,” says Weber.
He’s not alone in that sentiment. The Haunted Canada stamps show that ghost stories in this country are more than alive and well. They’re richly woven into the fabric of our history from every region – and embraced by all ages. In fact, the entire concept behind the series came from Melissa Morin, who was a summer intern at Canada Post.
“Stamps are a great medium for telling stories,” says Morin, who now works with Canada Post full time. “The stories of our haunted places are some of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring in Canada. Their appeal cuts across generations, and they have a timeless quality.”
This is the third and final year of the Haunted Canada stamp series. The stamps can be purchased at post offices across Canada and online at the Canada Post store.
To read more about this year’s Haunted Canada ghost stories, visit canadapost.ca/spookystories.
Written by Toronto-based writer and producer, Steven Hunt.