20th anniversary of Canada’s newest territory marked with low-mintage gold coin

Described by Mint as ‘entirely Arctic, from its design to its metal content,’ newly issued coin features only Nunavut-mined gold

By Jesse Robitaille

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Canada’s youngest territory, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $20 pure gold coin crafted entirely of Nunavut-sourced gold on June 26.

With a limited mintage of 1,500 pieces, the one-tenth-ounce gold coin recaptures Germaine Arnaktauyok’s iconic drummer design, which first appeared on the $2 commemorative circulation coin celebrating Nunavut’s creation on April 1, 1999.

“The Mint is passionate about honouring Canadian talent and celebrating our exceptional cultural diversity through beautifully crafted coins,” said Marie Lemay, Mint president and CEO. “We are proud to honour Germaine Arnaktauyok’s artistic legacy, in pure Nunavut gold, to wish the people of this important territory a happy 20th anniversary.”

The coin, which has a weight of 3.14 grams, a diameter of 20 millimetres and a mintage of 1,500 pieces, features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt on the obverse (shown).

Arnaktauyok’s reverse design features an Inuk drum dancer bearing an outline map of the territory. Within the map, a traditional stone oil lamp – known as a qulliq – offers warmth and security and serves as a beacon of hope for the future. Beneath the dancer is the lettering “NUNAVUT ᓄᓇᕗᑦ,” the latter part of which spells “Nunavut” in Inuktitut, one of Canada’s main Inuit languages.

In addition to Inuktitut, the territory has three other official languages, including English, French and Inuinnaqtun, another Inuit language.

Speaking from her Igloolik home to Nunatsiaq News in 1999, Arnaktauyok said the drum dancer design symbolizes Canada hearing Nunavut’s people.

“When Nunavut become Inuit property, we thought – finally we will be able to be heard in Canada and internationally – you can hear that drum,” she said.


The newly released gold coin’s design is based on the 1999-dated $2 commemorative circulation coin (reverse shown) issued by the Mint to mark Nunavut’s creation.

The coin is crafted from 99.99 per cent pure gold mined at Agnico Eagle Mines’ Meadowbank mine, near Baker Lake, and TMAC Resources’ mine at Hope Bay.

In the same tradition as the Mint’s first Nunavut-sourced gold coin, “Symbols of the North,” issued in 2018, this year’s release is struck on a thin yet wide blank. After last year’s issue, it’s only the second coin to be struck on this blank, which has a diameter that’s 25 per cent larger than a regular tenth-ounce gold coin.

“Agnico Eagle is honoured and proud that gold from our Meadowbank mine is part of this special Royal Canadian Mint collectible coin commemorating Nunavut’s 20th anniversary,” said Sean Boyd, vice-chair and CEO of Agnico Eagle Mines. “We are also extremely proud to be working with our Inuit partners to responsibly develop the resources in Nunavut in a way that contributes to the economic and social prosperity of the territory.”

The “20th Anniversary of Nunavut” coin has a weight of 3.14 grams, a diameter of 20 millimetres and a mintage of 1,500 pieces.

Another gold coin, this with a face value of $100, was struck by the Mint in 2009 to celebrate Nunavut’s 10th anniversary.


Its name is a proud declaration that means “our land” in Inuktitut.

On April 1, 1999, Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut, formally came into existence, following the division of the Northwest Territories. The creation of Nunavut marked the culmination of more than two decades of negotiation between the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic and the federal government. The creation of Nunavut and its public government provided Inuit, who constitute a majority of the jurisdiction’s population, with the ability to lead their territory – a cherished homeland with a cultural heritage that has endured for thousands of years.

Nunavut spans a territory of about two million square kilometres – roughly a fifth of Canada’s total land mass – and its creation 20 years ago represented the largest land claim settlement in Canadian history.

Forming a new territory was first studied in 1973 and proposed in 1976, when the federal government was asked to divide the former Northwest Territories into eastern and western regions to settle Inuit land claims. Negotiations continued until the 1992 Nunavut Political Accord, which set the eventual date for the territory’s creation.

Nunavut is home to 25 communities, including Canada’s northernmost settlement, Grise Fiord, but none of these locations are linked by road or rail; instead, they’re all accessible only by air or sea.


In 2012, the Mint struck another Nunavut-themed gold coin, this with a face value of $300 and a mintage of 500 pieces.

In 1999, the Mint also issued a Proof gold coin featuring Arnaktauyok’s drum dancer design. Struck with a white gold outer ring and a 22-karat inner core, this coin has a weight of 11.4 grams, a diameter of 28 millimetres and a mintage of 4,298 pieces.

In 2009, the Mint struck another 5,000 gold coins, these with a face value of $100, to commemorate the territory’s 10th anniversary. This piece depicts a hunter performing a drum dance with past and future generations symbolized by faces in the background. It has a weight of 12 grams and a 27-millimetre diameter.

In 2012, a 14-karat gold coin was struck by the Mint with a limited mintage of 500 pieces as part of its Provincial Coat of Arms series.

Nunavut’s coat of arms was granted by Governor General Roméo LeBlanc in 1999. Created by Inuit artist Andrew Qappik in partnership with the Canadian Heraldic Authority and the elders and leaders of Nunavut, it’s a distinct blend of ancient Inuit symbolism and European heraldic tradition. Resting upon the shield is an iglu, which was essential to survival and represents the traditional way of Inuit life and the modern gathering of legislative members. Holding the shield is a caribou and a narwhal while the motto – written in Inuktitut – reads “Nunavut Sanginivut” (or “Nunavut our strength”). Lastly, the territory’s status in Confederation is symbolized by the royal crown above.

More recently, a $20 coin struck with gold sourced from Nunavut was issued by the Mint last year.

This $300 gold coin has a weight of 60 grams and a diameter of 50 millimetres.

More recently, in June 2018, the Mint issued its first coin crafted entirely of Nunavut-sourced gold. Also designed by Qappik, the reverse of this coin highlights the walrus, ptarmigan, polar bear, bowhead whale and narwhal, each of which is framed within the outline of a maple leaf.

For more information, visit mint.ca.

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