Canada – Special Vimy Pilgrimage Passport 1936

I stumbled over this unusual Canadian passport during research, which I had never heard of before, but the story behind this special passport is of national significance. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is a place for all Canadians who served their country in battle during W.W.I. 60,000 Canadians were killed. Over 11,000 of those killed died in France, but they have no known grave. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial bears the inscribed names of 11,168 missing Canadians, killed in action in France but whose remains have not been found or identified. Special passport issued by Canada for the 1936 Vimy pilgrimage

Dedication Ceremony, July 1936

The Government of Canada issued around 6000 free-of-charge Special Vimy Passports. These passports were provided for people who wanted to make the pilgrimage to France for the unveiling ceremony of the Vimy Memorial and visits to other sites of Canadian sacrifice.

Over 6,000 pilgrims set sail for France on five ocean-going steamships, leaving the port of Montreal in Canada on Jul 16, 1936. The five ships were the S.S. Montrose, S.S. Montcalm, S.S. Antonia, S.S. Ascania, and S.S. Duchess.

During the Pilgrimage visit, the S.S. Montrose also carried 300 wreaths to be laid at Canadian sites on the 1914-1918 Western Front battlefields. Over 1,000 Canadians also traveled from England.


The date of the dedication and unveiling ceremony was Jul 26, 1936. There was a massive crowd of approximately 100,000 people present at the ceremony. Many thousands of them were of Canadian, British and French ex-Servicemen. About 8,000 Canadian Veterans had traveled there from Canada.

There were family members of the surviving Veterans and their comrades who had been killed, widows and mothers, dignitaries, and royalty. There were also 50 children from the five French communes who had donated the land as a gift to Canada and another 200 children from Arras.

King Edward VIII unveiled the memorial as King of Canada. As Prince of Wales before he was crowned king, Edward had been on the Staff of the Canadian Corps in France during the war. The President of France, Monsieur Albert Lebrun, participated in the official unveiling. During the ceremony, King Edward pulled a cord to release the Union Flag (Union Jack), which covered the statue of “Mother Canada” on the northern wall of the memorial.

In 1996, the Vimy Memorial and the battlefield site surrounding it were established as a National Historic Site of Canada. There are over 950 National Historic Sites of Canada. All but two of the sites are located in Canada. The two sites located outside Canada are the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial on the Somme battlefield. Veteran Affairs Canada maintains the site.

Learn more about this historical site…

It's not exaggerated when I say THIS document is the rarest travel document type in Canadian passport history!

The passport has the number 673 (of about 6000), so quite a very early issue, and the document condition is just excellent. On May 2, 1936, the passport was issued in Ottawa to Police Constable Charley Bumstead Esq. The passport expired on Aug 1, 1937. Page nine shows the only stamp in the passport = Quebec Immigration, Sep 25, 1936.

How many of these special passports survived?

I’m aware of merely THREE instances. One is held by a Canadian collector, another resides within a Canadian archive, and the third is within my own collection. Government records indicate approximately 6000 passports were issued, yet nearly nine decades later, it’s reasonable to assume only a microscopic fraction remain existing.

This passport is for SALE!

Special passport issued by Canada for the 1936 Vimy pilgrimage

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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...