'It's a beautiful stamp': Canada Post honours 1st black mail carrier

This week in Toronto, Canada Post unveiled a commemorative stamp featuring Albert Jackson — the city's first black mail carrier — more than 100 years after his death. For his great-great-grandson Jamaal Jackson Rogers, it was a surreal moment.

Albert Jackson fled slavery with family and ended up delivering letters for 3 decades

Canada Post has issued a new commemorative stamp to honour Albert Jackson, Canada's first black letter carrier. (Toronto Public Library)

Jamaal Jackson Rogers is filled with pride at the thought of having his great-great-grandfather honoured with his very own stamp.

This week in Toronto, Canada Post unveiled a commemorative stamp featuring Albert Jackson — Canada's first black mail carrier — more than 100 years after his death. 

"It's surreal," Jackson Rogers, a City of Ottawa poet laureate, told CBC Radio's All In A Day.

"The first thing I told myself, when I heard about him being put on a stamp, was they better do him justice," he said. "It's a beautiful stamp." 

Ottawa poet-laureate Jamaal Jackson Rogers said it was 'surreal' to find out that Canada Post would be issuing a commemorative stamp featuring the image of Albert Jackson, his great-great-grandfather. (Mario Carlucci/CBC)

Family fled slavery

Jackson was born in the state of Delaware during the 1850s. His two eldest brothers were sold as slaves, which is said to have triggered the death of Jackson's father.  

His mother, Ann Maria, escaped from the United States to Canada with seven children on the Underground Railroad. Albert was the youngest and just a toddler at the time.

As an adult, Jackson ended up as a letter carrier for the post office in Toronto. He worked his first day on May 12, 1882.

It was a difficult beginning, as his white colleagues refused to train him.

Honoured with plaque, play, book

Jackson worked at the post office for 36 years until his death in 1918. 

In 2017, Heritage Toronto honoured his memory by unveiling a commemorative plaque at the old Toronto General Post Office, near where Jackson used to pick up mail to deliver on his routes.

In addition to the commemorative stamp and the plaque, Jackson has also had a play and a book created in his name. A small street behind his former home in Toronto has also been named Albert Jackson Lane.

Jackson Rogers didn't make the trip down to Toronto for the ceremony, but many of his extended family members were there. 

He also said he and his family only gradually learned about his ancestor's legacy.

This commemorative plaque, unveiled in Toronto in 2017, details the life of Albert Jackson, Canada's first black letter carrier. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

'I think I'm going to call myself a messenger'

"His story was discovered through a woman named Carolyn Frost. She was putting together a book of black slaves who came through the Underground Railroad to Canada," Jackson Rogers said

"That's the first time I heard about Albert Jackson and [his] family."

He broke cultural barriers in the 1890s when he became Canada's first black letter carrier. 8:13

It's only been recently that Jackson Rogers has come to appreciate a connection between his great-great-grandfather's job as a mail carrier and his own work as a performance poet.

"Someone asked me, 'Hey can you perform something?' And ... right on the spot I said, 'You know, I think I'm not going to call myself a performer anymore. I think I'm going to call myself a messenger, delivering messages.'"

"And I didn't know at the time, when I had said that, that Albert Jackson was my [relative]. So there is something serendipitous."

With files from Taylor Simmons and Mario Carlucci