The Arrival Of The Loonie

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The Canadian dollar goes back a very long way. Before Confederation, dollar notes were issued through the governments of the Colony of British Columbia, the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The most common type of banknote came from the Province of Canada, which is evident in the fact that for a short period after Confederation in 1867, the first national currency of Canada was the Province of Canada notes. The first official Dominion of Canada notes were issued in 1870, in several denominations including one dollar.

For the next 119 years, the one dollar note would be a staple of Canadian currency, changing little beyond the colour and the monarch on the front of the note.

Then, in 1987, something else came along and the one dollar Canadian bank note would disappear. Its replacement would become something uniquely Canadian, which is definitely a part of our heritage. The Loonie.

The Loonie was not the first dollar coin Canada ever used. In 1911, the first silver dollar was struck and in 1935, another was created to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. This dollar, known as the Voyageur Dollar, thanks to the image of a voyageur and Indigenous man on the reverse, would be struck on a nearly annually basis and was used in circulation. Its last circulation strike would be in 1987, just as work was beginning on introducing The Loonie.

This brings us to The Loonie.

In the early 1980s, vending machine operators and transit systems were lobbying the Canadian government to replace banknotes with coins. At the same time, the Royal Canadian Mint was also working on a new composition for a dollar coin that they hoped would lead to increased circulation.

In 1985, a House of Commons committee released a report that stated it would be best for the dollar bill to be eliminated, even though there was no evidence of whether or not Canadians supported the move. For the government, the change seemed like a good idea considering dollar bills could only last less than a year before they needed to be a replaced, while a dollar coin could last upwards of 20 years. This durability would result in a cost savings of between $175 to $250 million based on government estimates.

On March 25, 1986, the Government of Canada announced that a new dollar coin would be introduced and the dollar bill would be phased out. The initial pressing of coins would be 300 million in total, costing $31.8 million, or $67.5 million today. Thanks to the difference between the cost of production and the value of the coin, it was expected that the Mint would make up to $40 million a year on the coins, and the proceeds, $60 million over five years, would be put towards funding the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

The government also announced that the coin would be the same size as the failed Susan B. Anthony coin in the United States, slightly larger than a quarter, and would be eleven-sided and gold in colour.

The original plan for the Loonie was to continue with the voyageur theme of its predecessor but the master dies for the coin that were struck in Ottawa, were lost on their way to Winnipeg on Nov. 3, 1986.

This was a major problem and a House of Commons committee investigated and found that there was no documented procedure by the Mint for transporting master dies and that the die had been shipped by a local courier in order to save $43.50. This was not the first time it had happened, as an investigation found that the Mint had lost three dies in five years, but this was the most public.

Usually, the protocol is to package each side of the coin dies separately and send them in separate shipments. This was done so that if the dies every came into the hands of counterfeiters, they only had one side of the corn. For some reason, both sides of the die were shipped together. Officials waited in Winnipeg for the shipment for 11 days, but it never arrived. On Nov. 14, the RCMP were called. The Mint attempted to keep the loss under wraps from the public hoping the dies would turn up, including hiding the theft from Monique Vezina, the Minister of Supply and Services.

The RCMP investigated and came to the conclusion that the dies were lost in transit. The Mint disagreed with this, feeling that the dies had in fact been stolen. Whatever happened to them, they were never found again.

The Mint had thought to make a small alteration to the voyageur design that would hopefully reveal the location of the thief over time, but they decided that it was best just to do a new design and they would replace the voyageur with the image of a common loon floating in water, which was designed by Robert-Ralph Carmichael. Carmichael was an artist who lived near Echo Bay, Ontario and in 1992, the town would honour him with a monument in the shape of the Loonie along the highway. Carmichael passed away in 2016. Interestingly enough, Carmichael had submitted his Loon design in 1978 to be on the $100 coin but it was rejected. Thankfully for him, his design would become iconic as a result.

With the coin having a loon on the face, it would result in the name Loonie beginning to be adopted by the public.

The Loonie officially entered into circulation on June 30, 1987 with 40 million coins introduced around the country. By the end of the year, 205 million had been printed.

Over the course of the next 21 months, a loonie and one dollar note were produced at the same time until the Bank of Canada officially ceased production of the banknote. The final dollar bill was printed on June 30, 1989. That same year, 184,773,902 Loonies had been printed.

At first, people were not in favour of the new Loonie and wanted a return to the dollar bank note. The Bank of Canada knew that people would not be in favour of the change at first, but by taking the bank note out of circulation, the acceptance of the Loonie was gradual with Canadians.

The number of Loonies put into circulation would fall over the next few decades, going from 68 million in 1990 to 17 million in 1996, followed by no Loonies being produced from 1997 to 2001. Production would increase from 2.3 million in 2002 to 120 million in 2013, before falling sharply again to 24.9 million in 2014.

Over the course of the first 20 years of the Loonie, 800 million would be struck into circulation. By 2017, 1.3 billion Loonies had been produced, with each Loonie lasting an average of 20 years. There are so many Loonies out there now that if you put them side by side in a line, they would span across Canada’s entire national highway system, a distance of 37,000 kilometres.

Today, the Loonie is not a coin, it is an iconic symbol of Canada. Loonie is now synonymous with the Canadian dollar. The Loonie would reach new levels of mythical status in 2002 at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics when Dan Craig, the NHL’s ice making consultant brought his ice crew from Edmonton to make the ice for the Olympics. Trent Evans would secretly place a Loonie at centre ice. Only a few people knew about the placement of the coin and they were sworn to secrecy. The men and women’s teams were told and both teams would go on to win the gold and several members of the women’s team kissed the spot where the Loonie was hidden after they won. After the men won gold, the Loonie was dug up and given to Wayne Gretzky, who revealed it to the world at the post-game press conference. Today, the Lucky Loonie sits at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Information for this piece comes from Wikipedia, CBC, Ottawa Rewind, CoinBooks.Org, Kelowna Now,

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