When Trinidadian Joe Fortes arrived in Vancouver in 1885 via Britain where he had worked for a few years, little did he know that he would become a celebrated Canadian citizen.
As the city’s first official lifeguard appointed in 1900, he saved dozens of lives and taught many young people how to swim. A decade later, the city recognized him for community service with a gold watch, cheque and an illuminated address. When he died in in 1922 at age 59, thousands of Vancouverites turned out for his funeral.
The coastal seaport city dedicated a monument in his memory, the city’s public library has a branch in his name, the Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House restaurant is a popular eatery and the Vancouver Historical Society named him “Citizen of the Century” to mark Vancouver’s centennial year in 1986.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Fortes’ birth on February 9, 1863, Canada Post has released a postage stamp celebrating Black History Month (BHM).
Montreal-born pianist, Oliver Jones, who spent two decades in Puerto Rico working as a musical director for shows in local clubs before launching his jazz career in the late 1970s, joins Fortes as this year’s BHM stamp honourees.
An Order of Canada recipient, Jones taught at Laurentian and McGill universities and was the subject of a National Film Board documentary, Oliver Jones Live in Africa.
The stamps focus on portraying each individual in their environment. Jones is shown in a candid moment and at the helm of what helps define him musically – a piano – while Fortes is pictured in the scenario that he loved most – keeping a mindful watch over Vancouver’s English Bay, where he served as a lifeguard for many years.
“The vast musical career of Oliver Jones is one of the brightest in Canada and Joe Fortes’ hard work and dedication to the people around Vancouver’s English Bay is inspirational,” said federal Minister of State & Transport, Steven Fletcher.
Deepak Chopra, Canada Post president and chief executive officer, said Fortes and Jones are unique in their accomplishments and contribution to Canada.
“Telling their stories through our stamps is what our philatelic program is all about,” said Chopra.
Canada Post media relations officer, Keisha McIntosh-Siung, launched the stamps at this year’s Ontario Black History Society Black History Month kick-off.
“Both Joe and Oliver are significant parts of Canadian history,” she said. “Joe came to a new country and left his imprint while Oliver has made his mark as a musician and is following his friend and mentor Oscar Peterson as distinguished Canadians to be honoured with stamps.”
Peterson, who died in December 2007, was the first living Canadian to be recognized with a stamp for his lifetime work.
Other Black Canadians to be honoured with commemorative stamps in the last five years include Viola Desmond, Ferguson Jenkins, John Ware, William Hall, Abraham Shadd and Rosemary Brown.
A millennium stamp bearing the image of Portia White – considered one of Canada’s greatest vocalists – was issued in 1999 while Canada Post issued a domestic stamp to mark Peterson’s 80th birthday on August 15, 2005.