The 2017 Black History stamp features Mathieu Da Costa, believed to be the first person of African descent to reach Canada, whose name survived history. It is speculated that Da Costa was a free man who worked as an interpreter for Europeans trading with Indigenous people in the New World. Evidence of this includes a document stating that, in 1608 – the year Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Québec – Da Costa agreed to work for French fur-trader, explorer and governor of Acadia, Pierre Dugua de Mons.
Depicting a centuries-old figure without a visual record is a challenge, to say the least – and a common dilemma when it comes to historical subjects. Designer Andrew Perro and illustrator Ron Dollekamp worked closely with Canadian historical illustrator and storyboard artist Francis Back to painstakingly ensure that all elements – from the style of clothing to the type of sailing ship – were right for the time and place.
While Da Costa’s story may never be fully known, his unique connection with our country is a reminder of the values of respect, acceptance and diversity that Canadians cherish and celebrate.