Check Out This Canadian’s Impressive Rare Pin Collection

For this Edmonton native, road-tripping south of the border and conversing with a stranger trigged a deep passion for pin collecting.

Rare pins from around CanadaPhoto: Courtesy of Sandra Graham

Meet the collector of rare pins

On May 4, 1974, as fireworks boomed overhead and 50,000 helium balloons floated upwards, the words of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon rang out, “It is my high honour and privilege to declare Expo ’74 officially open to all citizens of the world.” More than five million visitors attended the world’s fair, the first one to be based on an environmental theme: “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.” Ten countries, including the Soviet Union, Canada and the United States, hosted pavilions on the 100-acre site near Spokane, Wash.

Our family did not have a lot of money in the early years. In fact, our home consisted of two granaries that were pushed together. Lengthy trips were not the norm for us, but Mom and Dad felt we should take a road trip to attend Expo ’74. At only six years of age, I had no idea what this trip would have in store for me.

I remember the magnitude of the buildings with their white tilted vinyl canopies, and swarms of people from every culture mingling together and sharing their stories.

We first attended the Canada Pavilion on what came to be known for a time as “Canada Island.” The entire island was an outdoor exhibit featuring playgrounds, totem-carvers, and an open-air theatre. The pavilion was noted for having a perfect display for an environmental theme.

Mom’s parents came from the USSR, so we had a considerable interest in attending the 54,400-square foot Soviet Pavilion. Greeted by a massive statue of Lenin’s head, we walked into this mirage of spotlights. One kind man approached us and talked with our family extensively before getting down on one knee and speaking directly with me. He removed the USSR Expo ’74 lapel pin he was wearing and placed it into my hand. He said, “This is for you.” I was elated with this colourful pin. I cherished it and carefully carried it with me until I returned home. That gentleman’s act of kindness started me on my pin-collecting journey, and, with more than 400 pins to date, my collection is still growing. Ever since the USSR dissolved in 1991, this particular pin has become quite vintage and rare.

I have also begun different pin collections. They consist of international pins, sports pins, Olympics pins and awareness ribbons.

With such a vast collection, I have organized all of my categories into separate, special binders with pages made from thick, reinforced cloth. I have them all organized with one theme per page. All of my Olympic pins are on one page and all of my international pins are on another. Believe it or not, I have one entire books designated for my Canadian pins.

Every pin I own has a different shape and size and each of them are designed with beautiful graphic art. This is what compelled me to keep collecting. My many pins have come to represent a series of memories, things I’ve done, places I’ve worked, specific travel destinations and even memories of people. A great example I always fall back on is of my “Ward Willard Calgary Stampede Wagon” pin. Mom taught Mr. Willard in grade school and he has now passed away, so it is a great memory of all the years our family watched him compete in the Rangeland Derby.

Favourites from my rare pin collection

Now my main focus is on completing my collection of U.S.A.-state-shaped pins and those from new travel destinations. Although my set of Canadian provincial pins were the most memorable to collect, I do have a few individual favourites because of the particular memories they bring.

Each pin has a different story and meaning. Each involves people, culture, nature or the environment, much like the “breakthrough” environmental theme of Expo ’74, where it all started for me.

Rare pin collection: USSR Expo 74Photo: Sandra Graham

USSR Expo ’74

A symbol of how the kindness of an individual from across the world, and a different culture, could impact a life. “Do a deed of simple kindness; though its end you may not see, it may reach like widening ripples, down a long eternity.” — Joseph Norris

Rare pin collection: Precious feetPhoto: Sandra Graham

Precious Feet Pin

These are the exact size and shape of an unborn baby’s feet at ten weeks after conception, and it has been used as the International Pro-Life symbol. Being adopted, I’m grateful that my birth mother chose life for me.

Rare pin collection: Scottish Man pinPhoto: Sandra Graham

Scottish Man

Dad loved everything Scottish—even Scottish jokes. His special love was the bagpipes. He never played them, but it was his dream to be able to one day. I picked this pin out with  my dad on a trip we took to visit his family’s roots in New Brunswick.

Rare pin collection: Canadian flagPhoto: Sandra Graham

Canadian Flag

I waited until this past year to add this latest pin to my collection. At only .5″ x 1.0″ this is one of the smallest ones I have. Mom didn’t wear jewellery except for her wedding rings and this one tiny Canadian flag pin. When she changed her shirt or coat, she adjusted the pin to suit what she was wearing. Last year, as mom was facing her last days in the hospital at age 89, she asked me to get her flag and pin it onto her hospital sweater. She wore it proudly to the very end.

Next, check out this Canadian’s incredible phonograph collection.

Originally Published in Our Canada