During the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal played a key role in the exploration of the New World. Many Portuguese explorers, including Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco de Gama and Gaspar Corte Real explored lands previously unknown to Europeans, and it was their expeditions that led Pedro da Silva, 'dit le Portugais,' to embark on a journey of discovery to what is now Canada. Da Silva is credited as being the first officially-commissioned Courier of New France. Canada Post honours da Silva and the 50th anniversary of Portuguese immigration to Canada with a single, domestic rate ($0.48) stamp available to collectors in a pane of 16.
King Henry 'the Navigator'
During the 15th century, King Henry, 'the Navigator,' established a navigation school in Sagres, in the Algarve region. From this school emerged a series of explorers who discovered water routes to the Indies, South America, North America and Africa. It is believed that Pedro da Silva was probably a seasoned and experienced sailor. He might have studied in such a school before deciding to journey to New France.
A pioneer of discovery
Not much is known with certainty about da Silva's life in Portugal, except that he departed the country at some point before 1673. In 1677, da Silva, who was also known as Pierre da Sylva, married and later had 14 children. Based on the 1681 census, da Silva had settled with his family in Beauport, Quebec where he worked as a common carrier. He later moved to Sault-au-Matelot in Quebec City's lower town, and became involved with the shipping of goods. His proximity to the St. Lawrence River gave da Silva easy access to the ships off-loading goods for delivery within Quebec City and the colony. It is believed that da Silva built a good reputation for transporting goods, packages and letters by offering delivery in all seasons, even the harsh winters.
New France's first courier
In July 1693, documentation shows that da Silva was paid 20 sols (roughly the equivalent of a British pound) to take a package of letters from Montreal to Quebec City. On December 23, 1705, da Silva received a letter of commission signed by Jacques Raudot, Intendant of New France, bestowing on him the duty of 'first courier' in Canada. He also received permission to carry letters "… from private persons to their address and to bring back the replies…" It was da Silva's punctuality, "…diligence and loyalty…" that earned him the privilege of being a 'regular messenger' of goods as well as royal dispatches and those of the Governor General of New France between Quebec City and Trois-Rivières or Montreal.
About the stamp's design
Designed by Clermont Malenfant, the Pedro da Silva stamp features an image of Quebec City based on an engraving done by P. Canot (c. 1759-1761). Canot's engraving was in turn inspired by a drawing by Richard Short. A magnificent red seal used by the Sovereign Council of New France displays the King of France's coat-of-arms, symbolizing a new era of communication and the secrecy and privacy of the hand-written letter. Embellished with excerpts from the official letter of commission signed by Jacques Raudot, along with da Silva's signature, the stamp comprises several elements that bespeak da Silva's role as New France's first courier.