Surrey resident Eleanor Collins, considered Canada’s “first lady of jazz,” is featured on a special new Canada Post stamp, revealed Friday (Jan. 21).
“A living legend” at age 102, the stamp booklet notes, the Edmonton-born Collins starred alongside Canada’s top musicians and in myriad TV and radio productions from the early 1940s to the 1980s.
She was among the first Canadian women and Black artists in North America to host a national television series, “The Eleanor Show,” in 1955, and “confronted racial prejudice by cultivating the principles of equality and acceptance through her professional and volunteer work.”
“I am grateful to be alive in this new age, for the quality of life I have somehow been able to maintain, for the lovely acknowledgements of my life and work, and for everyone who has been a part of my journey,” Collins says in a news release from Canada Post. “It has all been a real blessing.”
Friday’s stamp unveiling included tributes to Collins, in video on Canada Post’s YouTube channel.
Available on the website canadapost.ca, the stamp features an illustration by David Belliveau based on photographs by Franz Lindner, from the CBC Still Photo Collection. Printed by Lowe-Martin, the stamp issue includes a booklet of six domestic-rate stamps and an “Official First Day Cover.”
The booklet includes a photo of Collins on the set of the television program “Quintet” on Jan. 3, 1962, also by Lindner.
Collins made her last concert appearance in Vancouver when she was in her mid-90s.
In 2017, the last time the Now-Leader caught up with Collins, she was aged 98 and living in the Guildford area.
“I have a beautiful view of the mountains,” she said a phone interview. “It’s spectacular.”
At the time, she’d been a Surrey-area resident for close to 25 years.
When Collins received a Member of the Order of Canada in 2014, it took some convincing for her to attend the ceremony in Ottawa.
“You know, they were giving me an award for something that happened quite some time ago in my life,” Collins said in 2017. “I’m not a singer anymore, I’m not on TV anymore, I’m not this and I’m not that. But my family said to me, ‘Mom, it’s something special, you should go,’ and I did.… In the end I was glad I went, and it was magnificent.”
Collins began her singing career at age 16. By 1948, she was ostracized upon moving into one of Burnaby’s predominantly white neighbourhoods.
“She responded by fostering the values of equality and acceptance within her community, and consequently became a civic leader and pioneer in the development of British Columbia’s music industry,” according to a biography of Collins posted on the Order of Canada website (gg.ca).
Collins’ story is told in the book “They Desire a Better Country: The Order of Canada in 50 Stories,” written by Lawrence Scanlan for Figure 1, a Vancouver-based publisher.