Canada Post Remembrance Day stamps features Mona Parsons

Canada Post is honouring Mona Parsons, the only non-military Canadian woman to be imprisoned by the German army during the second World War, with its annual Remembrance Day stamp.

Parsons’ story, although unfamiliar to most Canadians, is one of “courage, determination, and overcoming obstacles,” says Canada Post.

The stamp, unveiled on Monday, shows the portrait of a young Parsons with a photograph of infantry soldiers of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders advancing into the Netherlands in the background. It was designed by Larry Burke and Anna Stredulinsky from Halifax’s marketing boutique, Burke & Burke.

Monday’s unveiling includes a large-sized, eight-foot-six version of the stamp, serving as a permanent installation outside of a post office in Wolfville, N.S., the town where Parsons grew up.

Doug Ettinger, president and CEO of Canada Post, told in a phone interview this is the first time Parsons is getting this level of recognition in Canada.

“I think this is a story that Canadians will be inspired by,” he said.

“She’s a hero that really put everything on the line and sacrificed everything for the good of her values, her basic dignity and democracy back in (the Second World War).”

Canada Post’s Remembrance Day stamp of Mona Parsons was unveiled on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. (Submitted)

Parsons was born in Middleton, N.S., in 1901. She was the youngest of four children and grew up in a generally comfortable situation as her father was a businessman and a stockbroker.

The family moved to Wolfville, where Parsons started her post-secondary journey in Acadia University before moving to New York to pursue a career in theatre. However, her theatrical pursuits did not take her far and she eventually became a nurse.

In 1937, Parsons married a Dutch businessman named Willem Leonhardt and moved to Holland, where they lived a privileged life until Germany invaded the nation in 1940.

The couple joined a resistance unit that rescued allied airmen whose planes had been shot down. They helped with false identity papers, ration cards, clothing, shelter and offered their house as a stopping point. In 1941, they were arrested and held in separate prisons.

Parsons was one of the first and few women to be trialed by a military tribunal in Nazi occupied Netherlands, according to Andria Hill-Lehr, author of Mona Parsons: From Privilege to Prison, from Nova Scotia to Nazi Europe.

“She showed such poise and dignity and calm that the head of the tribunal went to her afterwards and said that they would allow her to appeal,” said Hill-Lehr, who nominated Parsons for the stamp feature.

Instead of being sentenced to death, Parsons was transported to a jail in Germany where she spent the next three years under “atrocious conditions,” explained Hill-Lehr.

There she met Baroness Wendelien van Boetzelaer who helped her escape in 1945.

By the time Parsons reached safer grounds in the Netherlands, she weighed just 87 pounds as a five-foot-eight woman. She sought help and had a serendipitous encounter with a soldier from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders unit who had advanced into the country.

Eventually, Parsons returned to Nova Scotia, where she remarried and lived until her death in 1976.

“Mona never wore a uniform, never carried a gun and she was willing to put everything on the line for her values, which were justice and freedom,” said Hill-Lehr.

More than highlighting a war hero, Hill-Lehr said this stamp is about bringing positive change in society as women have often been overlooked in history.

“I’m hoping that by bringing these women’s stories to light and appreciating who they were as human beings that we might actually begin to affect real change and departure from the status quo,” she said.

Parsons’ stamps will be available for purchase across Canada starting Tuesday, Nov. 7. The booklets of 10 permanent stamps will cost $9.20 and the five stamps package cost $4.60.

Remembrance Day stamps have been issued as part of Canada Post’s annual commemorative stamp program since 2012. 

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