It was meant to honour the De Havilland Beaver — a Canadian aviation workhorse — but a small stamp is causing a big upheaval in Canadian aviation circles.
Canada Post unveiled the new stamp to much acclaim on Oct. 13 as part of its Canadians in Flight series, honouring the country’s achievements in aviation. The Crown corporation even sent its chief executive to British Columbia to mark the event. Victoria-based Viking Air owns the plans and tools used to build the Beaver and, crucially, spare parts.
But sharp-eyed aviation historians noticed a flaw. The aircraft pictured on the stamp bears the markings N995SP – an American registration owned by Sportsman’s Air Service, based in Anchorage, Alaska.
“(The plane) originally came out of Canada. It was picked up there as a wreck,” said owner Joe Schuster, who refurbished the plane in the 1990s and still flies it more than 500 hours a year ferrying tourists, hunters, and outdoors enthusiasts to hard-to-reach destinations.
“It flies slow, rarely gets over 1,000 feet elevation, and carries a big payload.”
The Beaver was the first all-metal bush plane designed and built in Canada, with 1,692 manufactured between 1947 and 1968. It still holds the record as the bestselling Canadian aircraft. More than 700 are still flying, including 14 in regular passenger service on the B.C. coast with Vancouver-based Harbour Air.
“Somewhere along the line (Canada Post) dropped the ball by putting a U.S. registration on the aircraft,” said Tim Cole, a Canadian aviator and author whose book Tight Floats & Tailwinds chronicles his life as a bush pilot and Transport Canada administrator.
“It would be kind of akin to having a foreign flag behind Terry Fox on a Canadian stamp.”
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Cole’s love affair with the aircraft dates back to 1968 when he flew the Beaver prototype, built in 1947. “It was an old airplane then. I wasn’t that happy about it. It had a nice paint job, but it didn’t fly like a regular Beaver.”
That aircraft is now in the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.
“Canada Post’s iconic stamp program tells our stories,” said spokesperson Phil Legault in a statement. “We must also bring to light how Canadians with their work, their technology, their science and ingenuity have earned the respect and hold the praise of peers around the world.”
Stamp collector Brian Grant Duff, the owner of All Nations Stamp and Coin, calls the inclusion of an American aircraft a mistake.
“It is an amusing error,” he said. “Obviously the aviation community is upset about this. And flying in planes is all about safety and attention to detail, so when something sloppy happens, the aviation community can get upset because they’re all about safety and attention to detail.”
Canada Post said the stamp shows the Beaver’s popularity far beyond the country’s borders.
Photographer Ron Kellenaers captured the image as the plane departed from Lake Hood in Anchorage.
Canada Post’s Legault said the image represents the important role the Beaver played in the community, “a story that can be told in similar communities around the world.”
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Cole has written to the Canadian government, asking them to withdraw the stamp and re-issue it with a Canadian-registered aircraft. So far, he has received no response.
“If it’s a Canadian stamp honouring Canadians,” countered Cole, “hey, let’s have pride in Canada.”
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