Update: see previous posts – March 30, 2012 A Penny for your Thoughts!, March 15, 2012 Never Iron the Canadian Polymer $100 Banknote – Ironing Both Shrinks and Shrivels the $100 Banknote, November 14, 2011 $100 Polymer Bill (A Robbie Borden) Released on November 14, 2011, October 9, 2011 New Canadian Plastic Bank Notes To Be Released in Nov./11, March /12 and the End of 2013
It’s already been 25 years, and yet Canada’s most famous loon doesn’t seem to have aged at all.
Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the $1 coin replacing the paper bill, a transition that gave Canadians more change to rattle in their pockets, and a new word for their vocabulary: the loonie.
As a way of celebrating the loonie’s big day, the Royal Canadian Mint has produced a commemorative $1 silver coin that will feature two Common Loons swimming past one another, “one admiring the loonie’s eventful journey over the past 25 years while the other looks to the future and the many adventures to come,” according to a statement from the Mint. A total of 15,000 coins will be issued and available starting July 16.
What makes the anniversary particularly special is the fact the artist whose original design became the loonie has also designed the two loons for the commemorative coin.
“It’s quite an honour and a privilege, I can’t believe it’s already been 25 years,” said Ontario artist Robert Ralph Carmichael.
But if it were not for a bit of bad luck on the Mint’s part, the loonie may have never actually become the loonie. Carmichael, 74, recalled with vivid detail how the Mint’s original master dies for the dollar coin featuring a motif of a voyageur were lost on their way from the Mint in Ottawa to its processing plant in Winnipeg. The dies have never been found.
Fearing that counterfeiters could get their hands on the motif, the Mint decided to go with a new design, Carmichael’s loon, which he had originally submitted years earlier for a commemorative gold coin, but had not been chosen at the time.
“The theme for that gold coin had been Canadian unity … I chose the loon because of the beauty of the bird, the fact that it’s one of our oldest birds,” said Carmichael.
The design for the gold coin featured an Arctic Loon with the tundra in the background. When it was selected for the dollar coin in 1987, Carmichael was asked to instead draw the more well-known Common Loon, and the tundra was replaced by an island.
Carmichael was paid $6,000 for his work, but for him it’s not about the money. “It’s about the satisfaction of just seeing it on the coin,” he said.
The coin’s predecessor, the $1 bill, last produced in 1973, can still be found in many Canadian households and collectors shops today. But despite its age, don’t start thinking it’s terribly valuable. Several shops in Toronto sell the bill for no more than $2 to $3, and only if it’s in uncirculated condition. Otherwise, the dollar bill is worth just that: a dollar, and can in fact still be used today, if you don’t mind a weird glance from the cashier.
Much has of course changed since the loonie’s introduction into Canadian society in 1987, including what a Canadian could actually buy with a loonie. Below is a short list of items available for $1 dollar, before taxes where applicable, taken from ads in 1987 editions of the Star:
• One TTC adult fare (today: $3) or four TTC children’s tickets (today: 75 cents each);
• Ritz crackers (today: about $2.99);
• Pair of men’s dress socks (today: anywhere from $2 and up, unless shopping at a discount store);
• A box of Saran wrap (today: about $2.99);
• Four rolls of Dove bathroom tissue (today: approximately $3 and up for any kind of bathroom tissue).
These days, you can’t even buy a chocolate bar for a dollar, unless of course you head over to the beloved dollar stores, one of the rare establishments where the loonie — accompanied by a bit of change for taxes — still reigns supreme.