He died over a century ago, but Petty Officer William Hall can still draw an impressive crowd.
About 400 people — including cadets, military personnel, veterans, RCMP officers, and members of the public — packed both levels of the Black Cultural Centre in North Preston yesterday to watch as Canada Post unveiled a brand new stamp honouring the naval hero.
In 1859, Hall became the first Canadian sailor, the first Nova Scotian, and the first black man awarded the Victoria Cross — Britain’s highest honour.
“It’s a very proud day for myself and the family,” said Master Cpl. Phillip Safire, whose great-grandmother was Hall’s first cousin. “Considering he had no funeral with military honours, I think this is a good way to honour him.”
Safire said he grew up hearing about his ancestor’s heroic defence of a British garrison during a battle in India in 1857. History recorded that Hall continued fighting long after most of his comrades had been killed.
“He was held as a beacon and a standard to emulate,” Safire said. “I hope one day, in some small measure, to live up to that expectation.”
The stamp shows an older, fully decorated Hall standing proudly in front of the ocean. A navy ship can be seen in the background. Robert Waite, chairman of Canada Post’s Stamp Advisory Committee, said the selection of Hall as a subject was one of the easiest decisions the committee has ever made.
“February is Black Heritage Month, and this year being the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Navy … It all came together,” he said. “There was really no great debate.”
Waite, who has attended dozens of unveilings, said he was extremely impressed with the turnout for yesterday’s event.
“The only one in my memory being close to this was the one for Oscar Peterson in Toronto,” he said, glancing around the room. “As far as a community event, this is certainly the largest.”
Approximately 1.6 million William Hall stamps have been produced, and are now available for sale across Canada.