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.