There’s a whole lot of history wrapped up in Canada’s coins and banknotes.
The currency has come a long way since New France colonists resorted to using playing cards — specially cut and signed by the local governor — to supplement a dwindling supply of French and Spanish coins in the late 17th century.
To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, the Bank of Canada has picked the $10 bill to host a commemorative anniversary series. Global News has taken a look at what the note used to look like through the ages:
A foreigner arriving in Toronto in the 1920s armed with just $10 would have been able to spend the night at the city’s famed Queen’s hotel (rooms starting at $5), according to a 1922 copy of Baedeker’s guide to Canada.
A $10 daily budget would have also allowed for plenty of cab rides across the city ($1 per hour for the horse-drawn kind and $4 per hour for the motorized version).
In general, visitors to Canada could safely plan on spending $9 per day or less in travel expenses, according to Baedeker’s.
But the bill our visitor would have used to settle his account could have been one of many being issued at the time by private Canadian banks.
In fact, Canada wouldn’t get its own central bank until 1934.
The first currency issued by the Bank of Canada (BoC) betrayed a national identity that was still very much a work in progress. It features a portrait of Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, rather than that of a Canadian leader.
Prime ministers Wilfrid Laurier and John A. MacDonald appeared only on bigger, less commonly used denominations.
The second series of BoC currency, issued just two years later, continued to feature only members of the Royal Family — this time King George V on all common denominations. But “glimmerings of a Canadian identity” were beginning to shine through, according to the Bank of Canada Museum.
The bills now featured both English and French. Typographers had to move portraits to the centre, which allowed for a symmetrical design that could accommodate both languages.
The new layout also had the advantage of protecting the King’s face from the ink-stained fingers of bank clerks, the museum notes.
By the 1950s, Bank of Canada officials had made up their minds that the next series of banknotes should display more of Canada. The bank wanted landscapes “that showed little or no evidence of human activity,” according to the BoC Museum.
The back of the $10 bill featured a picture of Emerald Lake and Mount Burgess in Yoho National Park, B.C., based on a photograph taken for the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The front of the note featured the Queen, like every other denomination, but the portrait was modified in 1956, after complaints that curls in the Queen’s hair resembled the devil’s face.
In the late 1960s, then-finance minister Edgar Benson decided the next series of Canadian money should feature Canadian prime ministers through most of it, setting the standard that applies today. On the back, the banknotes continued to feature Canadian landscapes, but this time ones that showed the imprint of human activity.
The BoC picked prime minister Macdonald for the $10 bill. The back showed the Sarnia, Ont.-based Polymer Corporation, a crown corporation that had been created in 1942 to produce artificial rubber when imports were cut off during the Second World War.
In the late 1980s, Canada printed a new currency series with internal identification features that the visually impaired could recognize with the aid of an electronic banknote reader. The back of the bills featured birds, a simple design that BoC officials believed would make it easier to detect imperfections on counterfeit notes.
The $10 bill featured an osprey in flight.
This was the first currency series to feature Canadians on both sides. The BoC relied on focus groups to choose scenes that portrayed the Canadian experience, from pond hockey to universal suffrage.
On the back of the $10 note is the picture of a female Air Force officer in a peacekeeping role. In the lower left corner is a quote from Lieut.-Col. John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields and its French adaptation, Au champ d’honneur, by Jean Pariseau. Issued in January 2001, the bill inaugurated the series.
In 2011, Canada joined countries like Australia in switching from paper to polymer currency. The introduction of what Canadians quickly took to call “plastic money” created a bit of brouhaha at first.
The bills, several reports alleged, were melting together or crinkling in the summer heat. They even became the subject of a comedy skit, with Rick Mercer joking that “if you reach into your pants for your car keys, when your hand comes out the money tends to fly away, but that’s great because the polymer bills have the magical flight properties of miniature hang gliders.”
Canadians, though, eventually made peace with their new money.
The polymer $10 note, along with the $5 bill, came into circulation in 2013. On the back, it features the Canadian, the VIA Rail passenger train that links Toronto to Vancouver, as captured in a photograph taken in Alberta’s Jasper National Park.
This special bill depicts four Canadian leaders on the front:
- George-Étienne Cartier, who brought French Canada, Manitoba and British Columbia into the Dominion
- Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to the House of Commons
- James Gladstone, Canada’s first native senator.
The back features five images of the Canadian landscape, from the mountains of the West Coast, through the Prairies, to the Laurentian Plateau and the Atlantic Coast. These are laid over the backdrop of the aurora borealis, a symbol of the North. The clear window on the bill carried the names of all of the provinces and territories and their dates of entry into Confederation.
Images by Michael Collins, Global News