Benjamin Franklin: printer, inventor, satirist, diplomat, progenitor of the University of Pennsylvania, and … father of the Canadian postal system? Yes, you read the last part right. In June, Canada Post celebrated 250 years of formal postal service by issuing a commemorative stamp featuring a pointillist portrait of Franklin superimposed on an artist’s rendering of historical Quebec City—which the Founding Father unsuccessfully plotted to conquer during the American Revolution.
Franklin served as deputy postmaster general for the British colonies between 1753 and 1774, when he was dismissed from the post over questions of his loyalty to the Crown. His establishment of a post office in Halifax, Nova Scotia, near the outset of his tenure paved the way for a formal postal system, which Canada Post considers to have begun in 1763, after the Treaty of Paris led to British investment in additional branches in present-day Quebec.
Though Franklin’s career in mail delivery tends to be eclipsed by achievements ranging from the development of bifocal eyeglasses to his negotiation of the peace treaty that formally won America’s independence, it played a pivotal role in both his success as a publisher and the evolution of his attitude concerning the relationship of the colonies to the Crown. In his 2004 biography of Franklin, Walter Isaacson credits Franklin’s far-ranging travels as postmaster for fostering a personal view of the colonies that emphasized their commonalities over their fractiousness—an uncommon outlook that ultimately made Franklin such an effective advocate for the notion, as he famously put it, that “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Of course Canada did not hang at all—it remains a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its ceremonial sovereign—but evidently that has not diminished Franklin’s legacy north of Lake Ontario. His visage has appeared on Canadian postal stamps once before, on a 10-cent specimen in 1976. It has also graced numerous American ones, starting with the first national postage stamps issued in 1847. —T.P