The Royal Canadian Mint has revamped some non-circulating legal tender designs to bring out two circulating 25-cent commemorative coins, each one with two finishes, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. The expedition was ordered by prime minister Robert Borden, who dispatched two teams of explorers and researchers on an ambitious mission to map Canada’s western Arctic and study its peoples, wildlife and geology.
Ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson and zoologist Rudolph Anderson led the expedition with teams split into a northern party, headed by Stefansson to undertake the bulk of the mapping exercise, and Anderson’s southern party, which explored the geology, flora, fauna, and native inhabitants of the Arctic mainland. After travelling thousands of kilometres by sea, the northern party studied new islands and charted land that even local inhabitants had never seen. The southern party compiled 14 volumes of scientific data and gathered thousands of natural specimens and cultural artifacts, which for the first time opened the eyes of the world to the culture and way of life linking the aboriginal peoples of the Northwest Territories, Yukon Territory, Alaska and Siberia.
Artifacts, photos, and recordings from the expedition have formed the basis of numerous educational programs and museum exhibits and remain important pillars of the permanent national collections of the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
The 1903-2013-dated 25-cent circulation coin design, created by artist Bonnie Ross and originally used for a silver dollar last January, shows three explorers posing before a fully packed dog sled as they prepare to take their first northward steps into uncharted territory. The background of this scene is filled with the details of a compass rose, pointing northward to show their intended destination.
The second 25-cent coin, with a 2013 date, honours a celebration of the traditions and cultures that still endures in today’s North. Designed by Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut artist Tim Pitsiulak, the vision is rendered in classic Inuit art style to represent life in the North as seen by its inhabitants. The central design feature is a pair of beluga whales and a bowhead whale, common to Arctic waters and vitally important to the Inuit way of life.
The bowhead whale on this coin has been transformed into a canvas displaying multiple facets of Inuit culture and history. A large Dorset culture ivory mask on the dorsal part of the bowhead whale and smaller depictions on its lower jaw represent the Tuniit (paleo-Eskimos), which migrated from Siberia across the Bering Strait into North America. An amauti design on the tail represents hooded clothing worn by Inuit women, while an igloo pattern adorns its mid-section and the Thule ivory comb on its head symbolizes Inuit expansion across Canada. This scene is encircled by the silhouette of a breaching whale being pursued by a traditional whaling boat and kayaks along the coin’s rim. The design was used for a $3 silver non-circulating legal tender coin issued this fall. A total of 12.5 million examples of each 25-cent design were placed into circulation starting Nov. 22. Each is available in two combinations of frosted accents in mintages of 6.25 million coins. All 25 million coins in this commemorative program feature the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt on their obverse.
Coins are also being offered through exchanges at special events across Canada, as well as at the Mint’s Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver boutiques. Canadians can exchange a limited number through an online coin exchange at www.mint.ca/arctic. While supplies last, a free collector card will be shipped to each household participating in the online coin exchange.