Bank of Canada outlines plan to choose iconic Canadian woman

By Jesse Robitaille

On April 4, governors from the Bank of Canada spoke to Ottawa elementary school students about the plan to select the first Canadian woman to be commemorated on a new banknote.

Carolyn Wilkins, senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, told students the country’s banknotes are more than mere currency.

“I like to think of them as being little pieces of art that tell Canada’s story, and they’re a bit like the projects that you did,” said Wilkins, pointing to the students’ artwork displayed behind the podium. “They basically tell a story of inspiring and important people or important things that Canada has done.”

One of the displays showed the word “inspiration,” something Wilkins said should come when Canadians see their country’s currency.

“We want the banknotes to be inspiring so that every time you pull a banknote out of your pocket, you’re going to be reminded of how great Canada is as a country, all the things that we’ve accomplished, and how lucky we are to live here.”


Wilkins said the Bank of Canada has been making money since 1937 – more than 80 years ago, so “a really long time,” she added – and in all that time, only one woman has had her portrait grace a Canadian banknote.

Bank of Canada Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Wilkins told students what came to mind when she thought of 'iconic Canadian women.'

Bank of Canada Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Wilkins told students what came to mind when she thought of ‘iconic Canadian women.’ (CreativeCommons)

“Does anybody know who that is?” Wilkins asked the audience, which responded quickly and correctly with Queen Elizabeth II. “What we wanted to do was have more women on banknotes so we could tell a little bit more of Canada’s history and also inspire girls and boys to do great things.”

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz explained how the bank will work with Canadians from coast to coast to coast to make its choice.

“We’re asking Canadians to suggest a woman to go on a new banknote, and the nominations have been pouring in,” said Poloz, who added the bank will accept submissions until next Friday, April 15. “We’ve had over 18,000 nominations already.”

That list, which includes the names of about 120 Canadian women, will then be taken to seven “really smart people” who know a lot about Canada’s history and culture, added Poloz.

“We’ve got historians and educators, like Merna Forster, Margaret Conrad, Francine Descarries, Dominuque Giroux; and we’ve got writer Gurjinder Basran; and we’ve got Michael ‘Redhead’ Champagne, an activist from Winnipeg who helps aboriginal kids find opportunities; and we even have a world champion, an Olympic athlete in Perdita Felicien.”

The advisory council will decide on a list of 10-12 finalists before Canadians are surveyed one last time, said Poloz. The council will then take this information, along with other expert advice, to determine a final list of three to five people.

Bill Morneau, minister of finance, will make the final choice from that list of three to five iconic Canadian women.

“It’s great to see women from different times and places inspiring children today,” said Poloz, of the students’ artwork. “We hope that this new banknote will inspire all girls and boys to see themselves as notable – perhaps even one day ‘banknoteable’ – contributors to Canada.”


Wilkins said when she thinks of inspiring and iconic Canadian women, she thinks of determination, courage, intelligence and generosity.

“I think generous, much like the woman this school is named after, Roberta Bondar,” she said. “She has an amazing story; she’s a doctor who became an astronaut who then got on this big rocket and went out into space to do science that would help people. Accomplishing that must have meant that she was determined, courageous and smart.”

For more information about the Bank of Canada’s advisory council members; to nominate an iconic woman; to see the list of nominated candidates; or to learn more about the bank’s principles for banknote design, click here.

Once you’ve submitted a nomination, you’re encouraged to tweet it using the hashtag #bankNOTEable.

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