Cross over a covered bridge in Ontario, and you know you must be in West Montrose. The historic red-splashed bridge spanning the local section of the Grand River is the province’s only remaining covered bridge, and one of a dwindling number still standing in the country.
Built with their iconic covers to protect against the harsh Canadian elements, the covered bridges of Canada – or kissing bridges, as they came to be known for the privacy they offered courting couples – are now being celebrated by Canada Post with a collection of commemorative stamps available in locations across the country.
“I think for us, the covered bridges are so important for the rural landscape, rural communities,” said Elia Anoia, senior manager of stamp program development at Canada Post. “So it’s part of what we do at Canada Post is tell the stories. People might not be aware of it, so we love to educate and show people part of the country.”
Once numbering in the thousands, the quantity of these historic covered bridges have sharply declined in some provinces, and all but disappeared in others. Quebec for instance once had more than a thousand of these structures; now just 80 remain. New Brunswick has similarly seen its 400 covered bridges, which once covered the countryside, reduced to just 60.
Five bridges were selected for the stamp collection, including the West Montrose Covered Bridge, which was built in the late 19th century. Also featured are two bridges from Quebec: the Powerscourt (or Percy) Bridge, which crosses over the Châteauguay River, and the Félix-Gabriel-Marchand Bridge over the Coulonge River.
Though New Brunswick has seen a loss in its bridges, the province still boasts the world’s longest covered bridge, the 391-metre long Hartland Bridge, which is featured in the collection. Opened in 1901 over the Saint John River, the bridge was considered a significant feat of engineering at the time.
Finally, from B.C. is the Ashnola No. 1 (or Red) Bridge, which opened in 1907 on the Great Northern Railway Line. As with the West Montrose in Ontario, the Ashnola No. 1 Bridge is the last historic covered bridge in B.C. still standing, and is amongst the bridges featured in the commemorative line of stamps on offer.
Broadly, there are two varieties of stamps that Canada Post offers to the public. There are the definitive or “workhorse” stamps which, as the name suggests, are all business. They’re small, typically more generic, easily printed by the millions and are available for all services from domestic mail to international.
Then there are the commemorative stamp collections, each of which are specially created in honour of a particular event, anniversary or theme representing Canada. Covered bridges are one of the more recent additions to the ever-changing lineup of commemorative stamps on offer (each of which remain in print for about a year), but others have included Endangered Turtles stamps, Canadians in Flight, and “Sweet Canada,” which looks at desserts made across the provinces.
They’re more decorative and more personal than their workhorse counterparts, and ideal for sprucing up boring envelopes. A letter from West Montrose, for instance, might be a lot more affecting with a stamp of the West Montrose Covered Bridge on its exterior.
“We just issued turtle stamps, or our sweet Canada stamps, and people just loved the stamps,” said Anoia. “So for some it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to slap this on mail, we’re going to put this on mail and start mailing my friends and show them what we’ve got on Canadian stamps.’
“So it’s really neat to get the conversation going and people talking about stamps.”
It may seem like a simple enough task to communicate Canadian heritage on inch-sized stamps – just slap a few turtles on the cover and you’re done. But a substantial amount of work goes into the creation of each new collection.
About 18 commemorative collections are released a year, and each one must be carefully researched and considered before release. Topics for commemoration are decided by an advisory panel to Canada Post, and are then brought to life by a team at Canada Post.
For the covered bridges collection, the commemorative program team reached out to experts and communities to learn more, with Annoia noting an incredible amount of passion and pride amongst people for their bridges.
“They are, and it’s great! When you talk to people from the communities, so whether you speak to somebody from Hartland or from the Red Bridge, they’re just so passionate and it’s great to see. They’re talking about it, it starts with the stamp and then you talk about the community and what the bridge means to them.”
The covered bridge stamp collection is available at Canada Post offices across the country.