Today’s date marks the 20th anniversary of the unveiling of the Royal Canadian Mint’s two-colour, bi-metallic “toonie,” which would eventually replace Canada’s $2 bill.
On Sept. 21, 1995, a $2 coin featuring a polar bear design was unveiled at a ceremony at the Metro Toronto Zoo.
Canada’s $2 coin was first proposed by the federal Liberal government in its 1995 budget as a measure to save taxpayers more than $250 million through 20 years. This was because of the coin’s 20-year lifespan, which greatly exceeded the one-year lifespan of the old $2 banknote.
Festivities marking the toonie’s introduction were held on in cities across Canada, where bank-sponsored coin exchanges invited the public to trade their old banknotes and coins for the new toonie.
As of Feb. 19, 1996, the Bank of Canada stopped issuing the $2 banknote (although it remains legal tender and can be used as long as it’s in circulation). As of 2006—one decade after Canadians began trading their old banknotes for toonies—there were more than 100 million $2 notes yet to be recovered by Canada’s central bank.
The toonie’s polar bear design, by Canadian wildlife artist Brent Townsend, was overseen by Canadians.
In March 1995, a research group conducted a national survey on behalf of the Mint to explore Canadians’ attitudes toward possible themes for the design of a new coin. Of the Canadians polled, 65 per cent chose wildlife as the artistic theme, and among the most popular suggestions was a bear.
In commemoration of the new coin, Townsend’s hometown of Campbellford, Ont. constructed an eight-metre toonie monument similar to Sudbury’s Big Nickel and the Big Loonie in Echo Bay.
For the eventual February 1996 launch, the Mint produced 60 million bi-metallic toonies, each with an outer ring of nickel and an aluminum-bronze core.