I have revised a piece I wrote about the arms of my high school (Trinity College School of Port Hope, Ontario), and placed it on its own page. Unfortunately, for now, no link is appearing on the bar above.
From Brilliant Maps: Making Sense of the World, One Map at a Time (hat tip: Tim Furnish): a map of what North America might have looked like if the Annexation Bill of 1866 had passed.
The bill would have authorized the President of the United States to, subject to the agreement of the governments of the British provinces:
publish by proclamation that, from the date thereof, the States of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East, and Canada West, and the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan, and Columbia, with limits and rights as by the act defined, are constituted and admitted as States and Territories of the United States of America.
Or to put it more simply, the bill would have annexed Canada, before Canada became a country.
I believe that annexing Canada, as a long-term policy goal of the United States, was only abandoned following the First World War. Throughout the nineteenth century, I understand, the USA saw British North America in the same way that the PRC views Taiwan, or the Republic of Ireland views Northern Ireland: as the rump state of the previous regime, and thus morally illegitimate.
Although I note that the bill does not mention Newfoundland, which had become crown colony in 1854 and was never part of Canada East; the map should probably reflect that.
A road trip to Canada for the holidays allowed us to see a couple of things on our List.
1. Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ontario (completed in 1835). The home of Sir Allan Napier MacNab, Baronet, veteran of the War of 1812, lawyer, real estate investor, railway developer, colonel in the colonial militia and opponent of William Lyon Mackenzie during the rebellion of 1837, member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, and premier of the United Province of Canada 1854-56. As a colonial grandee he built himself a house (designated a “castle”) on the shore of Lake Ontario at Hamilton, where he entertained other such grandees. It’s now run as a museum by the city of Hamilton, and you get to see how rich people lived in the nineteenth century, including up-to-date conveniences like gas lighting, water closets, and bell pulls. Our guide Luke, in period costume, was a delight.
On the grounds is the Hamilton Military Museum, devoted largely to the War of 1812, which I regret to say I know little about. The War has especial relevance to the site of Dundurn Castle, since at the time the British built an ammunition dump there; this later was incorporated into the Castle as a subterranean wood storage area.
2. The Kirtland Temple, Kirtland, Ohio, dedicated 1836. Unfortunately it was closed when we stopped by, but it sure looked pretty amidst all the snow that had fallen the previous evening. This was the first temple built by the Mormons; like the majority of historic Nauvoo, Illinois, it is now in the hands of the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), although like at Nauvoo, the LDS Church has also established a presence in the town. A Community of Christ church sits across the street from the Temple, and a visitors’ center is not far away. These were also closed, but I look forward to coming back someday when they’re open; unlike with a regular LDS temple, non-church members are allowed inside.
The Mormons largely abandoned Kirtland in 1838 in the wake of the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society.
August 19 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, an ill-fated mission during World War II that taught the Allies that any invasion of France would have to be planned a lot more carefully. (Just as the English Channel saved Britain from Nazi invasion, so also did it prevent an easy counterattack.) From the Globe and Mail (Toronto):
Dieppe raid, 75 years later: The country’s bloodiest day of the war
Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr is leading a Canadian government delegation to France to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid during the Second World War.
The raid, launched on Aug. 19, 1942, would prove to be the bloodiest single day for Canada’s military in the entire war.
The Prime Minister released a statement Saturday to honour the hundreds of Canadians who lost their lives in the battle.
Of the nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers who took part in the ill-fated mission, more than half became casualties, and 916 would die on the rocky shore of Puys Beach on the northern coast of occupied France.
The beach landing was supposed to happen under the cover of darkness, but the Canadians, along with 1,000 British and 50 American soldiers, were late arriving on shore, and as the sun rose they were left exposed to withering fire from German troops on the cliffs above.
Justin Trudeau said the loss at Dieppe taught Allied forces valuable lessons, which he said helped “to turn the tide of the war on D-Day” less than two years later.
“As we commemorate the Dieppe Raid at events in Canada and France, I ask all Canadians to honour the people who gave so much at Dieppe, as well as their families at home who suffered the loss of their loved ones,” Trudeau says.
Governor General David Johnston noted that this year marks the centennial anniversary of two great victories for Canada — the battles at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in the First World War — but it’s equally important to remember the losses, like the one at Dieppe.
“We must never forget the terrible cost of armed conflict and ensure that future generations remember, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past,” Johnston said in a statement.
See also this recent Mark Steyn interview with screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd (video, starting at 22:45).
The first Monday in August in most parts of Canada is a statutory holiday, essentially an excuse for another long weekend between Canada Day (July 1) and Labour Day (first Monday in September). In Ontario, this holiday was usually known the placeholder name “Civic Holiday,” although I seem to remember that the monicker “Simcoe Day” was becoming more and more common by the time I left in the 1990s. It turns out that Simcoe Day is only what it’s known by in Toronto, while other municipalities have named the day after their own local heroes, like Colonel By (Ottawa), Joseph Brant (Burlington), and John Galt (Guelph). But Simcoe Day would make a good province-wide name for the Civic Holiday, because its namesake John Graves Simcoe was the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada (1791-96), the polity that became Ontario in 1867. Simcoe is perhaps most famous for legislation that gradually abolished slavery in Upper Canada. From a CBC article from four years ago:
Simcoe was a known supporter of abolition.
“His bill was brought about by an incident — the Chloe Clooey incident,” said Natasha Henry, a curriculum consultant specializing in African Canadian history.
Simcoe received word of a slave owner violently abusing his slave, a girl by the name of Chloe Clooey, on his way across the Niagara River where he went to sell her into the United States. It was said that her screams were heard by many and the matter was brought to Simcoe’s attention by Peter Martin, a former slave.
“It was his impetus to introduce the bill, but it was then met by objection from a number of the members of his government,” Henry said.
Many members of the legislative assembly at the time owned slaves of their own and so resisted Simcoe’s urge to abolish slavery in Canada.
The resulting law was a compromise that would gradually lead to the end of enslavement.
The act allowed slave owners to maintain the workforce they already had — who would remain enslaved until their death.
Owners were not allowed to purchase new slaves from the United States and any children of female slaves that were born after the act was passed would become free at the age of 25.
Simcoe’s anti-slavery act was the first to pass in a British colony and remained in effect until August 24, 1833, when Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act put an end to slavery in most of the empire.
Like the Satanic Panic noted below, another rumor I recall learning about in the 1980s (although its origins were earlier, of couse), was the notion that Paul McCartney, bassist and lead singer for the rock band The Beatles, had died and was replaced by a lookalike named Billy Shears from Ontario, Canada, who had been given additional plastic surgery and voice training so that he was indistinguisable from the original Paul. You could search for clues explaining this situation in the Beatles’ song lyrics and on the covers of their albums. A newly-made friend in junior high school expanded my universe by explaining some of them to me; I was no longer in grade school, for sure.
In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band, here is an image of the gatefold picture, featuring all four Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper’s uniforms – and one of the clues:
The patch on Paul’s left shoulder, I’ve read in several places, reads “O.P.D.” – allegedly a Canadian abbreviation for “Officially Pronounced Dead.” But it in fact reads “O.P.P.” and is the shoulder flash of the Ontario Provincial Police.
The patch, according to Wikipedia, had been “given to John Lennon the day after their 1966 concert in Toronto by a summer student working in the garage of the OPP Headquarters (The group was being transferred to a police van for the trip to the airport).”
But the Ontario origins of the patch doubtlessly contributed to the notion that Paul’s replacement was from that particuar Canadian province.
Still celebrating Canada 150 here at First Floor Tarpley! Here is an article I noticed last week on the road. It serves as a reminder of how the nineteenth century was the first great age of globalization, and of the putative origins of the word “Canuck”:
Hawaiian-Canadians and ‘Buffalo’ Canadians: The hidden history of confederation
One hundred and fifty years ago, a disparate collection of peoples, nations, population clusters, companies, outposts and colonies began to cobble themselves together into Canada.
The story of how that awkward colonial jumble turned into today’s plural, prosperous, but still half-finished democracy – often in spite of its founders’ intentions – is not widely understood. We need to turn away from the Heritage Minutes and look into the forgotten back alleys of our history. Look, for example, at two near-forgotten diasporas that shaped Canada before Confederation, and whose invisibility defines us.
The Hawaiian Canadians:
Canada is not a simple story of French, British and Indigenous nations. At the point when British Columbia became a colony in 1851, for example, the Pacific coast contained sizable populations of Indigenous nations, a thin scattering of British and U.S. trappers and miners and a well-established community of Hawaiian Canadians.
Indigenous Hawaiians, who crewed transpacific ships, had been settling the Vancouver and Victoria areas since the 1780s, jumping ship to take jobs in the burgeoning fur and later mining and timber industries; in the 19th century, they were recruited and imported by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In the 1830s, Hawaiian Canadians were the single most populous ethnic group employed by the company on the West Coast. By 1851, half the working-age population in Fort Victoria was native Hawaiian. By 1867, according to Tom Koppel’s history of their community, the Hawaiians had become farmers, landowners and fishermen, and were known, sometimes derisively, as “Kanaka” (the Pacific Island word for “man”). There was a substantial “Kanaka Row” shack town in Victoria, and sizable districts in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island. They had their own schools and preachers, and while they taught their children English, some subscribed to Hawaiian-language newspapers….
The “Buffalo” Canadians:
Canada is defined even more by the diasporas it creates elsewhere – after all, there is nothing more Canadian than being forced to leave Canada to succeed. Nowhere is this more evident than on the southeast coast of New South Wales, Australia, where an influential Canadian immigrant community reshaped reality in the middle of the 19th century.
The Canadians were not voluntary immigrants. They were political dissidents, 58 francophones and 82 English-speakers, well-educated and influential men who were convicted of fighting for democracy, public education and free trade in the 1837 rebellions. They avoided the executions and dismemberments [sic] meted out to others, and instead were shipped to the Australian prison colony aboard the HMS Buffalo.
There, the Canadians proved popular. The Bishop of Sydney sympathized with them and assigned many to serve as free labourers in Sydney, where they played a significant role in building the community physically and politically. Their presence is remembered in the names of Canada Bay, today a major suburb of Sydney, and nearby Exile Bay. And, according to Australian historian Tony Moore, they also proved politically influential, helping advance the causes of labour rights and governance (which, as a result of their defeat in the rebellions, lagged behind in Canada).
Read the whole thing.
From Maclean’s Magazine:
Five years ago, when I visited Hong Kong on think tank business, almost every politician, civil servant and business person I met emphasized two priorities vis-à-vis the regime in Beijing: How they in Hong Kong wished to retain capitalism and the rule of law.
The comments stood out because I’d never heard a Canadian civil servant or politician express such sentiments. But I recall them now for another reason: Because British influence mattered and positively so, not only in Hong Kong but, I would assert, in Canada.
For Hong Kong, the desire to retain the rule of law and free enterprise are utterly understandable today to anyone who looks across the territories’ border to the crony capitalism and politicized courts in China proper.
But the mostly beneficial British presence between 1841 and 1997 is also worth recalling given what Hong Kong escaped under British governance: China’s turmoil, civil war, communist insurrection and then murderous Mao-Tse Tung policies. In short, the population of Hong Kong was spared the worst excesses of what twentieth-century China endured while the United Kingdom governed the territory and until July 1, 1997.
By coincidence, July 1 was not only the 20th anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong to China but was, of course, the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada. Regrettably, there was a plethora of hand-wringing commentary that doubted and outright damned Canada’s birthday as not worth celebrating. I take a very different view: That Canada and her British heritage are infinitely valuable and worth every birthday candle that can be lit.
Be it Hong Kong or Canada, three British influences should be recalled and celebrated: The emphasis on free economies, free peoples and intellectual freedom.
Read the whole thing.
This week we celebrate the sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation the only way we know how… heraldically! This post will trace the history of the identifying emblem of Canada from the seal of the United Provinces of Canada (1841-67), through the confederated coat of arms (1867-1921), to the royal arms we’re familiar with today.
Prior to 1867, “Canada” referred to a polity that had been created in 1841, out of the union of two previous entities, Upper Canada and Lower Canada. These two British colonies had had their own seals, and the seal of the United Province of Canada displayed these seals side-by-side. Here is an example of this United Province seal reproduced on a pin dish manufactured by Doulton & Co. in 1967. The seal of Lower Canada is on the left, and the seal of Upper Canada is on the right.
This seal is also carved above a door to the East Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Of course, the two seals of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were not nearly as important as the Royal Arms hanging over the whole thing, which represented the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland… and by extension everywhere else that the British had conquered.
The seal of Lower Canada (“Can. Inf.”) features an oak tree, a river and ships at anchor, and, in the distance, a town and church on a hill. The motto, “Ab ipso ducit opes animumque ferro,” can be rendered as “it derives power and courage from the steel itself” (from the Odes of Horace). (Earlier versions of this seal had a pruning knife on the ground. The idea is that the knife had been used to prune the oak tree, thus the tree’s sawed-off branch. This likely refers to the creation of Upper Canada, which was carved out of Quebec in 1791, leaving a rump state designated Lower Canada.)
The seal of Upper Canada (“Can. Sup.”) features a calumet or peace pipe, with an anchor and a sword of state, all bound together by a crown of olives. Above this device is representation of the royal crown, and in the upper right hand corner is the Union Jack. Below it are two cornucopias. The text around the circle, “Imperi porrecta majestas custode rerum caesare,” can be translated as “The greatness of the empire is extended under the guardianship of the sovereign” (this is also from Horace).
Both of these seals may be seen inside the Parliament buildings (near the entrance to the House of Commons if I remember correctly).
But throughout the Empire, the Royal Arms are what mattered the most. Since 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the throne, they have existed in the form shown below. On the shield, the three gold lions on red represent England, the single red lion on gold represents Scotland, and the gold harp on blue represents Ireland. (England and Scotland are also represented, respectively, by the lion and unicorn supporters.) “Dieu et Mon Droit” (“God and my right”) is the motto of the British sovereign; “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” (“Shame be to him who thinks ill of it”) is the motto of the Order of the Garter, England’s premier order of chivalry. (The deer, fish, water, and boats are all decorative. This rendition was done by Alexander Scott Carter and was part of a larger painting celebrating the silver jubilee of George V in 1935. It adorned the ceiling of the lobby of the head office of the Imperial Bank of Canada in Toronto until the 1960s, when the building was pulled down.) These arms were used extensively in colonial- and dominion-era Canada, and you can still see them here and there, especially in courthouses.
On July 1, 1867 the first British North America Act went into effect. The Province of Canada was redivided and the new entities named Ontario and Quebec. But they were confederated, along with the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, in a new polity designated the Dominion of Canada.* This polity had its capital at Ottawa and enjoyed a sort of home rule status within the British Empire. Each of its constituent provinces was granted its own coat of arms, and the arms of the Dominion were simply these four coats of arms all combined on the same shield. Here it is in full colour; Ontario is in the top left, Quebec in the top right, Nova Scotia in the bottom left, and New Brunswick in the bottom right.
You can see it on the Canada Gate at Buckingham Palace in London.
On a monument to the Northwest Rebellion at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
And on the nineteenth-century letterhead of the Auditor General.
The Dominion of Canada, like the United States to its south, was expandable, and it wasn’t very long before other provinces joined Confederation. The first to do so, in 1870, was Manitoba, to the west of Ontario. And just as the US added a star to its flag with every new state, so also did Canada add a new coat of arms to its shield with every new province (although these arms could themselves change over time). A five-provinces shield may be seen on this Royal Canadian Insurance Company stock certificate, dated 1874. The arms of Manitoba, featuring a galloping buffalo, are in the bottom right. (The supporters, taken from the British Royal Arms, are unofficial, but I like the nineteenth-century custom of showing them leaping out from behind the shield.)
For some reason, this coat of arms appeared recently on the label of an Alsatian wine. My friend Rafal Heydel-Mankoo posted this to Facebook.
In 1871, British Columbia joined Confederation, and in 1873 and Prince Edward Island did as well, giving rise to a seven-quartered coat of arms. The lion, crown and leaves on the bottom left represented British Columbia until 1895; the trees on the bottom right are an early form of the arms of PEI.
Here is another rendition of the above, from a nineteenth-century butter keeper. The colours are a tad eccentric but we do see PEI’s motto, “Parva sub ingenti,” that is, “the small under the protection of the great,” from the Georgics of Virgil.
In 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were added as provinces, bringing the total number to nine. But the plate below, although featuring nine sections, actually predates 1905. It shows, in the seventh and eighth spots, E.M. Chadwick‘s designs for the Northwest and Yukon Territories (this is before Alberta and Saskatchewan were carved out of the Northwest Territories). In the sixth spot, it also shows his design for the arms of Prince Edward Island, which had not yet received a proper grant of arms. The arms in the center, with the Union Jack and sun, represent British Columbia.
Below is a proper nine-provinces coat of arms, in use from 1907 to 1921, on display on the Dominion Express building on St. James’s Street in Montreal. You can notice certain changes: in the center, British Columbia’s arms now have the Union Jack above the sun, and on the bottom left, Prince Edward Island has reverted to its trees (now also with a lion). Alberta’s mountains are in the lower center, and Saskatchewan’s wheat sheaves are in the lower right. The supporters are decorative.
Here is a coloured version of the shield above, on the fly of the Canadian red ensign. (It seems as though there was no standard ordering of the quarters; in fact, the original four-provinces shield remained in common use throughout this period.)
The trouble with a nine-quartered shield, of course, is that it is rather unwieldy. There were those who wanted to simplify it, and in the wake of the First World War that simplification took a certain British-patriotic form, emphasizing the ties that bound Canada to its metropole. Here is the full coat of arms as it was assigned in 1921.
I understand that the College of Arms was under orders from the Colonial Office to give the Canadians whatever they wanted – and what they wanted, at the time, was something that proclaimed a close association with the United Kingdom. So Canada’s Royal Arms ended up looking like a variant of the British Royal Arms, with identical quarters for England, Scotland, and Ireland. France (three gold fleurs de lys on blue) and Canada (three maple leaves on white) flesh out the design. The idea is that the top four quarters represent Canada’s “four founding races.” But Canada has always had more ethnic groups than the English, Scots, Irish and French – more importantly, the quarters displayed represent the royal arms of those particular places. Although Canada and the UK share a monarch, even in 1921 they were separate countries, and ideally we should not find lions and harps on Canada’s coat of arms, any more than we should find maple leaves (or kangaroos, or fern leaves, or proteas, or what not) on the royal arms of the UK.
But this is what we have got. At least a shield with five sections is simpler than a shield with nine. And it certainly looks classy! The motto, “A Mari Usque Ad Mare” (“From sea to sea,” from Psalm 72), is especially appropriate to Canada’s history and geography. Here it is carved above the doors of the Centre Block of the parliament buildings in Ottawa:
And here is the whole thing carved into the facade of Postal Station B in Ottawa:
Here is a numismatic rendition from the 1940s that I posted last year. I like how artist Kruger Gray has depicted a real compartment (actual ground for the supporters to stand on), and has omitted the motto, helmet, mantling and crest. This is an allowable artistic decision and nicely simplifies the composition.
For much of the twentieth century, Allan Beddoe’s rendition was standard, and appeared on the currency notes (shown is a detail of the one dollar bill that was in circulation between 1974 and 1989). The colour of the maple leaves at the bottom of the shield was undefined in 1921 – they were usually depicted as green, but in 1957 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker decreed they should be red, and thus they have remained.
In 1987, Canada Post released a stamp celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, featuring a handsome stylized version of the arms of Canada on a pinstriped background. I have in my possession a clipping of a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail (Toronto), taking issue with the torse – the red and white striped ribbon between the helmet and the lion above the shield. The correspondent points out that the white, not the red, stripe is supposed to be on the left. (This is true, but of all the things that can go wrong in heraldic art, not that big a deal, in my opinion.)
Since 1995, the standard rendition of the arms of Canada has been by Cathy Bursey-Sabourin, who serves as Fraser Herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority. The main substantive difference is the addition of the motto-circlet of the Order of Canada around the shield, bearing the legend “Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam” (that is, “desiring a better country”). I like how she has rendered the mantling on either side of the helmet as ten maple leaves, one for each province (Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949).
Here is a rendition of these arms on the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa. The famed Chateau Laurier hotel can be seen in the reflection.
What does the future hold for Canada’s coat of arms? My friend D’Arcy Boulton argued in the 1970s that it ought to be the three maple leaves alone, and I agree with him. (I would also substitute a proper compartment for the rose-thistle-shamrock-lily “bouquet” one normally sees beneath the shield, which is insubstantial and repeats the notion that Canada had four founding races.) A coat of arms blazoned Argent three maple leaves conjoined in one stem Gules would, like the current flag of Canada, be simple, accurate, and inclusive of all Canadians.
But as with anything symbolic, it would take a huge amount of political will to get it changed.
In the meantime, let us celebrate 150 years of confederation! Yay Canada!
Update: The demise of a coat of arms for Canada made up of the arms of its provinces has not diminshed peoples’ desire to see all the provincial (and territorial) coats of arms displayed together.
* Regarding the word “Dominion”: Canada is a monarchy, but officially it is not the Kingdom of Canada but the Dominion of Canada. The reason for this moniker, apparently, is that when the British North America Act went into effect in 1867, the British and Canadians were worried about annoying the United States with any forthright assertions of monarchy and so chose “dominion” as a euphemism, from Psalm 72:8: “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.” (The sentiment also appears in Zachariah 9:10, “His dominion shall be from sea even unto sea”). This verse also provided Canada with its motto, and “dominion” turned out to be a useful title, denoting home-rule status in the British Empire, later granted to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland, even if Australia was known officially as the Commonwealth of Australia, South Africa the Union of South Africa, and Ireland the Irish Free State.
You would never know that Canada was a dominion from anything official, however. Two alleged problems exist with the title: “Dominion” does not exist as a French word (the two Biblical verses are “il dominera de la mer à la mer” and “sa domination ira de la mer à la mer”), and it reeks of a colonial junior partnership. But neither complaint is valid. Yes, “dominion” didn’t exist in French in 1867, but surely there has been enough time for it to become domesticated in that language – I have found it in several French dictionaries in its precise sense of “self-governing country in the British Empire following the Canadian model.” Under the influence of French, “surveil” is now an English verb, and “imaginary” an English noun – surely we can allow some influence in the opposite direction?! “Dominion” need not connote an undesirable political situation either. It is true that, on account of the Statute of Westminster (1931) and the Constitution Act (1982), Canada now enjoys a lot more than “home rule,” but there is no reason why Canada cannot still be a “Dominion” – it was the original Dominion, after all, and as long as it is ruled by the Queen (or King) of Canada, the title is surely appropriate.
Addendum: there is a story behind the sesquicentennial logo at the top of this post. In 2013 the government announced a short list of five potential sesquicentennial logos, none of which was very inspired. In response, a group of Canadian designers announced their own list, which included some real gems (click and see) (update: Wayback Machine). The government then announced a contest and selected the winning entry, by a nineteen-year-old digital art student, in 2015. This did not go over well with the professionals. (I think they’re right on some level, but the winner was better than the original five, for sure.)
The National Post takes a stroll down memory lane. I’ve added some boldface for the parts that I found amusing and/or personally remember:
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Canadian one dollar coin now known as the “loonie.” In a celebratory statement, the Royal Canadian Mint boasted that their loonie had “found its way into our hearts” and was “welcomed” by 1987 Canadians.
That “into our hearts” part may be true, but over three decades we have forgotten just how hated the coin was at its birth. After all, the word “loonie” isn’t something that people typically append to something they love. Below, some of the darker secrets of our iconic 11-sided coin.
We had no choice
Many aspects of modern Canadian life were adopted grudgingly simply because the government told us to. We didn’t like learning the metric system, we weren’t too happy about official bilingualism and we certainly didn’t want a dollar coin. More than a year after the loonie’s introduction, polls were showing support for the coin as low as 39 per cent. “Nobody wants to carry coin. Do you know how heavy that would be on a tray? All the waitresses will have to start lifting weights,” Ontario waitress Lisa Vorkapich told the Windsor Star in 1987. Similarly, the U.S. had featured some version of a dollar coin since 1971 — but the American public has consistently refused to abandon their convenient and beloved $1 notes. In Canada, authorities decided that the best solution was to refuse to give Canadians a choice to hold onto their bills. As soon as loonies were in circulation, $1 notes were phased out and shredded as quickly as possible.
Using the loonie has secretly cost Canadians a hidden tax of about $200 million
The whole reason Canada replaced its $1 bill with a coin was as a cost saving measure. Coins last longer, went the reasoning, so it would save Canada the expense of having to reprint its $1 bills every few years. But this ignores a curious phenomenon with coins. Banknotes get spent almost immediately, whereas coins get stashed into jars and piggy banks, where they can remain out of circulation for months on end. To compensate for all these sock drawer loonies and keep enough dollars in circulation, Canada had to strike roughly two coins for every dollar bill it phased out. This worked out to about 300 million more loonies than there were dollar bills — which meant a revenue windfall for the Canadian government. A loonie is just a 30 cent metal disk after all, and since 1987 it has added up to about $200 million in extra revenue for the federal government.
“Loonie” was a term of derision
Outside Canada, it is still occasionally a source of giggles when people find out that we named our dollar with a synonym for “crazy” or “folly” (for context, the experience is similar to discovering that Vietnam calls its national currency the “đồng”). And for the dollar-coin-hating 1987 public, a ridiculous name was part of the point. “‘Loonie’ wasn’t the warm fuzzy word that it’s turned into now,” Bret Evans, editor of Canadian Coin News, told the National Post in 2012. It also helped that the word “loonie” rhymed with the name of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, allowing coin-haters to focus their derision on the “Mulroney Loonie.”
The coin’s original design — a canoe — was lost under extremely suspicious circumstances
To find a design for their new coin, the Royal Canadian Mint simply grabbed the motif from an existing one-dollar coin that had been minted in small quantities ever since the 1930s. Thus, the new coin would featured the time-tested image of a French-Canadian voyageur and an Aboriginal man piloting a canoe. But here’s where it gets weird: To save $43.50 on the cost of hiring an armoured truck, the Royal Canadian Mint entrusted a regular courier company to take the coin dies to Winnipeg. In an even bigger security oversight, the two dies were packaged together and even placed in a box clearly labeled “Royal Canadian Mint.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dies disappeared in transit. Presumably, they’re still out there somewhere.