by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- The Year of the Snake slithered into Vancouver a month early on Tuesday when Canada Post unveiled two stamps marking the occasion as part of its annual series celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year.
With a similar unveiling happening simultaneously in Toronto, the national carrier issued the first 7.5 million stamps honoring the Year of the Water Snake, also known as black water snake, believed to be the wisest and most enigmatic of the 12 zodiac creatures.
Altogether, 5 million stamps featuring a slithering red and gold serpent are being issued for the domestic market, while 2.5 million international stamps are adorned with gold and jade snake coiled into a figure eight.
The issue, held in conjunction with the Canadian Mint, also features a silver-dollar coin, a 15-Canadian-dollar coin, a first-day issue envelope, sheets and booklets of stamps and framed stamps, all bearing the snake images.
Participating in the unveiling of the stamps with Mao Runlong, China's acting consulate general in Vancouver, was Canadian Member of Parliament Wai Young who noted that famed world leaders such as Mao Zedong, Mahatma Ghandi and Abraham Lincoln were born in the Year of the Snake.
The Hong Kong-born politician who represents the riding of Vancouver South said the stamps also paid tribute to an important group of Canadians.
"I think one of the critical things that people acknowledge is that the Chinese community helped to build Canada, as well. We've been here for well over 150 years, so therefore when you get this kind of acknowledgement (in these stamps), where the Canadian government is saying, 'Yes, this is an important community, it's part of building Canada and we're going to commemorate that.'"
Mao added that the issuing of the Chinese Lunar New Year stamps demonstrated the appreciation of different cultures and fine traditions that helped make Canada a great nation.
"On this occasion I would like to express my special heartfelt appreciation and thanks to Canada Post Corporation for their hard work and great effort in development of the multiculturalism in Canada and promoting a better understanding about the traditional Chinese culture," he said.
For Canada Post, the specialty stamps, which account for some 10 percent of its annual output, are a lucrative revenue source. Last year's Year of the Dragon was the most successful issue in the then 16-year history of the zodiac issue, while one philatelist estimated about 40 percent of the stamps would be kept out of circulation by collectors.
"We're seeing through our philatelic side of the business. People are actually ordering online from all over the world," said Greg Kabatoff, Canada Post director of retail sales.
"Through our dealer network here locally in Vancouver we have people from the Chinese communities certainly purchasing these stamps to, like I say, hold on for keepsakes or to send to family and friends around the world," he added.
Among those eyeing the snake stamp as investment was collector Dong Guohua. The Guangzhou native waited in line for the opening of the Canada Post's Vancouver headquarters to purchase almost 600 Canadian dollars worth of stamps and first-day envelopes for her family's collection.
"My husband has a lot of friends in China, and they collect them, and we just give them to them," she said. "And if China has a new stamp, they give it to us."
Another philatelist Clement Yee told Xinhua he had been collecting stamps since he was a little boy in Hong Kong. He compared the stamps to tracking history and bought nearly 300 Canadian dollars of the snake issue, which he said would not even rank as one of his major purchases this year.
"It's a feeling because when a new stamp is coming I will go to buy it and then just keep it you know? And then sometime, when you have time, just take a look back and then you see, 'Oh, that year' to remember what happened you know. It's a hobby."