As if Benjamin Franklin didn’t get enough recognition.
The “first American” is already present in the Declaration of Independence, the $100 bill and dozens of streets, towns, buildings and monuments all across the United States.
His exploits as a scientist, journalist, politician and diplomat are so integral to the soul of early America it’s difficult to imagine your history without the busy presence of the bifocal-sporting genius.
But officials in Canada, in an act that ruffled the feathers of many a patriotic philatelist, decided to put Ben’s bine (as we say in French) on a stamp issued last month commemorating the 250th anniversary of the launch of Canada’s postal system.
As offensive to some and weird to many as it may seem, the facts do bear out that Franklin was indeed the founder of the postal system in what was then the North American colonies of Great Britain. Among the many, many things Franklin had on his pewter plate at the time was the establishment of a mail run for correspondence between villages, towns and cities penetrating the wilderness of the New World.
The stamp has an engraved image of Franklin (looking somewhat weary and bored) superimposed on a color lithograph of Quebec City from the period, depicting a ship in the river surrounded by smaller boats and firing its cannon with a plume of smoke.
It officially salutes the inauguration in June 1763 of the postal route between Montreal, Trois-Rivieres and Quebec City.
Of course, among the many things Franklin had on the go was finding a way to make the British go away and leave the colonies to fend for themselves and form an independent country. So, while Franklin was running the post office and flying kites and writing pamphlets and running for colonial office, he was also plotting revolution.
Franklin’s job as founding postmaster may have earned him a Canadian stamp, but for his other featured role in Canadian history, some people might think he deserves a licking.
It’s a little-known fact (channeling Cliff Clavin from “Cheers”) that during the War of Independence (Revolutionary War to others) Washington’s troops captured Montreal and Trois Rivieres without much of a fight.
It was none other than Ben Franklin, the seasoned diplomat, whom Washington dispatched to Montreal to rally Canadians to the revolutionary cause. Of course, at that point, shortly after the British conquest of New France, the Canadians were mostly French-speakers, thrown in with a smattering of British merchants, aristocrats and soldiers.
Franklin tried to convince the locals their interests were better served by throwing off the yoke of Britain, all the while harboring the secret intention in the event of American victory of stripping the French population of its language, religion and culture.
While some of the British mercantile types cottoned to Franklin’s pitch, there was not much of a groundswell of affection for the American invaders.
Alas, Franklin’s mission was aborted in 1776, thanks to the New Year’s Eve heroics of British defenders in Quebec City against the assault of the miserably exhausted assault force led by Benedict Arnold, arriving from Maine, and the ill-equipped unit under Richard Montgomery, arriving from Montreal.
Washington’s desire to claim Canada as part of the expulsion of the British from North America died in a confused battle in a snowstorm, hastened by the end of year expiration of soldiers’ contracts.
Still, Franklin had another go at claiming Canada in peace negotiations with the British in Paris, and, say historians, nearly succeeded.
It should be noted that besides the postal service, Franklin left another enduring legacy in Canada. A newspaper publisher himself, Franklin is said to have been instrumental in bringing to Montreal a French printer by the name of Fleury Mesplet.
It was Mesplet who, despite being imprisoned after the American invasion, stuck around Montreal and founded what is now Quebec’s only remaining English daily newspaper: the Montreal Gazette.
So you might say Franklin did indeed put his stamp on Canada in a way he could not have imagined.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.