High-tech Bank of Canada Museum brings Canada’s economic system to life

By Jeff Fournier

Visitors to the Bank of Canada Museum can take a selfie and put their face on a banknote, choose the colours and shapes to go along with it, and finalize the design with their signature to create their own custom banknote.

Once created, the design can be emailed to its creator and displayed on a smartphone or other digital device. That’s one of the more popular activities awaiting visitors of the Bank of Canada Museum in the nation’s capital city of Ottawa.

While a large institution like the Bank of Canada can be intimidating to people, its re-invented museum – known as the Bank of Canada Museum – counteracts this with a fun, entertaining and friendly atmosphere that makes learning incredibly enjoyable. Visitors create avatars to guide them through the displays, and digital, interactive stations help them learn along the way.

The traditional museum, filled with tons of artifacts, has been noticeably re-invented. There are fewer artifacts at the Bank of Canada Museum than there were at the former Currency Museum, but what’s on display is presented in more imaginative and creative ways. Coins, currency and other forms of money are supplemented by numerous digital platforms, which allow visitors to delve further into history and see the artifacts up close and often in three dimensions.

“The museum is about much more than just the evolution of money. We have a much broader mandate than that,” says David Bergeron, curator of the National Currency Collection. “It attempts to teach people about the operations of the Bank of Canada and the economy.”

NATIONAL CURRENCY COLLECTION

The Bank of Canada Museum owes its existence to the National Currency Collection, which began unassumingly by the Bank of Canada in the late 1950s. In 1962, its mandate to create the most comprehensive collection possible of Canadian coins, tokens and paper money was solidified.

Over the years, individual items obtained from large private collections and holdings from Library and Archives Canada helped form the basis for the collection. As the years went by, curators acquired thousands of examples of international currency and trade items from various historical periods as well as artifacts used for money production, storing, measuring and accounting.

In 1977, the collection was officially designated as the National Currency Collection, but it wasn’t until December 1980 when it opened its doors to the public. On display were more than 9,000 artifacts, including coins, tokens, medals, engraving paraphernalia and other related items. The museum fulfilled its mandate to educate the public on Canadian numismatics and economic history for more than 30 years.

The collection has since grown to nearly 120,000 artifacts. In fact, it is the world’s most complete collection of Canadian currency and related production items in existence, and it continues to grow.

“I will be at the Heritage auction in Chicago this April,” says Bergeron, “and I will be looking to purchase items from the Douglas Robins collection of Canadian tokens to add to our collection.”

MUSEUM REINVENTED

From a $460 million renovation to the Bank of Canada’s head office complex in 2013 came an opportunity to re-invent the bank’s museum as well. During four years of redevelopment, the museum underwent a name change (from the Currency Museum to the Bank of Canada Museum) and a complete re-imagining of its role.

The Bank of Canada wanted the public to learn more about its policies and functions as well as about its role in the Canadian economy. It also wanted to continue fostering the National Currency Collection.

The museum closed its doors in 2013 and began the process of reinventing itself. Four years later, on July 1, 2017, the museum re-opened. Within three months, it had already attracted nearly 35,000 visitors.

Catherine Callary, a senior director at Ottawa Tourism, said the museum’s interactive elements are likely what led to its success.

“Bringing a technology driven presentation into play means that information can be presented in new and engaging ways,” said Callary, when the museum re-opened last summer. “And these are intriguing to younger generations of visitors.”

MARCH BREAK OPPORTUNITY

Bringing a high-tech approach to jazz-up what used to be a static and traditional way of displaying artifacts helps the Bank of Canada Museum attract a wide range of age groups and appeal to families who are looking for something to do during holidays, such as the recent March Break.

“Our digital wall,” says Bergeron, “helps bring people into the museum.”

The digital wall is a 6.5-metre-long video wall that operates much like a tablet. Its touch screen serves as a computer database, content management system and entertainment unit rolled into one. Images of dozens of artifacts can be dragged and manipulated into viewing zones. The objects, such as coins, tokens and banknotes can be enlarged and explored in full detail. Images can be revolved, twisted and displayed in 3-D.

DIVIDED INTO ZONES

“The Museum is divided into zones,” says Bergeron, who added each zone uses interactive displays combined with real artifacts. “Each zone covers a different concept to help explain what the Bank of Canada and our mandate is all about.”

The wall in zone three has a beautiful 1858 specimen set – the first to ever be displayed. There is playing card money and an array of chartered banknotes. With interactive digital panels, the displays offer an opportunity to explore the artifacts in greater detail using digital manipulation.

A Bank of Montreal note is another scarce piece displayed alongside other chartered banknotes, including some from failed banks (which, incidentally, was the catalyst for the establishment of the Bank of Canada in 1935).

Zone five features Bank of Canada notes, which have been issued across seven series since 1935. The eighth series is slated to enter circulation later this year. The Bank of Canada is solely responsible for producing Canadian banknotes – a fact that sometimes alludes the average citizen.

“This is the Bank of Canada’s prime revenue source,” says Bergeron. “Any overage or profit from these do not stay with the Bank of Canada but is sent to the minister of finance.”

Bergeron adds the Bank of Canada actively attempts to differentiate itself from the Royal Canadian Mint.

“We leave the business of coins up to them.”

This fifth zone is also where visitors get to design their own banknote.

Zone six is where it all comes together and helps visitors “see the Bank of Canada and our economy in a new light” via a multi-media presentation.

ARTIFACT HIGHLIGHTS

If you’ve never had the opportunity to see a 1911 silver dollar, the Bank of Canada offers what’s likely the only chance most people will ever get to see one. It’s one of only two pieces in existence. The other example – and the only in private hands – set an all-time record for the sale of a Canadian coin in 2003, when it realized $1.1 million as Lot 15545 of Heritage Auctions’ sale of the Belzberg Collection of Canadian Coinage.

Another rarity is the complete cased 1936 specimen set, including the famous 1936 dot cent. In 2013, one of the three dot cent examples sold for about $253,000 during another sale by Heritage Auctions.

Soon, the museum is planning to work with educators across the country to develop programs that will teach citizens about the role of the bank and the nature of the economy. There is, however, still a huge amount of information available from the Bank of Canada Museum, some of which is available free of charge for training, education and consumer information purposes.

The Bank of Canada Museum is open throughout the year, and admission is free. For more information, visit bankofcanadamuseum.ca.

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