By Jesse Robitaille
A city perhaps better known for its cows, Calgary is also a hotbed of numismatics, with its “western spirit” echoing the true spirit of a coin show—its camaraderie.
This July, Canada’s numismatic community came together for the 66th annual convention of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA) in Calgary, where western hospitality had collectors touting the hobby’s fellowship.
“It’s a real honour to be here today,” said Royal Canadian Mint Master Marie Lemay, who – at her first numismatic convention – was joined by other officials from the RCNA, American Numismatic Association (ANA) and local host club Calgary Numismatic Society (CNS) at the opening ceremony on July 18.
“I’m looking forward to going around and meeting a lot of people,” said Lemay, who was appointed as president and CEO of the Mint this February.
“I’ve had the opportunity since I’ve started to see how passionate people are about coins.”
Convention chair James Williston also welcomed show-goers alongside Lemay, outgoing RCNA President Henry Nienhuis, and original CCN consultant Clifford Mishler.
They, along with RCNA Executive Secretary Paul Johnson, cut the ribbon to open the show – but not before “a Calgary tradition” was initiated by Williston, who’s also a former president of the CNS.
What began in 1950 with a new mayor presenting dignitaries with white hats from Smithbilt, a Calgary hat shop in business since 1919, has since become the local equivalent of bestowing the “key to the city.”
“Calgary really prides itself on its western heritage and the hospitality we extend to visitors whenever they’re here,” said CNS member Steven Hyde, who handled the so-called “white hatting ceremony” with Lemay, Nienhuis and Mishler.
“We look at ourselves as the ‘Gateway to the Rockies’ driving west, the ‘Gateway to the Prairies’ driving east, and of course, the ‘Gateway to the West Edmonton Mall’ driving north,” he said, with a laugh.
“We’re very proud of our position in the west.”
Nearly seven decades after the first white hat was presented, the ceremony is held upwards of 25 times a year by the mayor’s office. Past recipients include Queen Elizabeth II; former Governor General Michaëlle Jean; former U.S. President George W. Bush; and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The tradition is also shared at thousands of other local events, including the RCNA Convention in 2012, the last year it was held in Calgary.
All recipients must recite an oath, and so too did Nienhuis, Lemay and Mishler: “We, having visited Calgary, and having been duly treated to exceptional amounts of heartwarming western spirit, do solemnly promise to spread this white-hat brand of hospitality to all folks who cross my trail hereafter.”
A highlight for show-goers, the convention’s camaraderie is also a boon for attendance, drawing like-minded collectors from across Canada and the U.S.
Some people travelled hundreds – or in some cases, thousands – of kilometres to attend.
“I collect Canadian, and I made the trip up here just to see what the RCNA was really about – and see it firsthand – and I was really struck by the camaraderie, not only with the collectors but with the dealers,” said collector Rob Turner, of Las Vegas, who attended his first Canadian convention in 2006, when the RCNA was known as the Canadian Numismatic Association.
In the 13 years since he attended the 2006 convention in Niagara Falls, he has worked his way deep into the numismatic community north of his national border.
This year, Turner received an RCNA President’s Award, which is given to “supporters, whether individuals or corporations, for outstanding support of the association.”
Specializing in Canada’s Victorian cents, Turner has authored four widely used books focusing on the series’ die varieties. In 2011, he received the Canadian Numismatic Research Society (CNRS) Fred Bowman Award for Numismatic Research for his book, Dies and Diadems, and is also a Fellow of the CNRS.
This year, Turner travelled about 2,250 kilometres to Calgary, and while next year will be even farther to Halifax, “I’ll be there,” he added.
“If you really want to network with people, this convention is the place to do it. For collectors, it’s about finding people of like mind, who collect similar things – or even who collect different things, but can help with some insights – and these people are incredibly helpful. From the dealer standpoint, it’s important to know who you’re doing business with and build a relationship with somebody you’re going to spend a lot of money with.”
He keeps coming back, he said, because of the unmatched camaraderie of Canadian shows.
“If you go to U.S. coin shows, they’re much bigger affairs and it’s a lot easier to get lost in the shuffle. Here, you meet the same people each year to catch up, and you develop not only professional relationships in the hobby but also friendships, and it’s a great thing.”
“It’s turned out to be a very successful show,” said CNS President Trevor Phillips, who added the response from both collectors and dealers and the bourse was “fantastic.”
“Especially with some of the receptions and outings we’ve had – the CAFNE (Canadian Association for Numismatic Education) reception in particular – people were very happy. We had some people tell us even though next year is in Halifax, we have to do the CAFNE reception here in Calgary again because it was so good.”
Phillips echoed many collectors’ comments about camaraderie, which he said is “one of my favourite parts of a show.”
“The chance to be on a first-name basis with people who know all sorts of things I don’t know but I want to learn is incredible. These people are just a lot of fun.”
“We tend to think similar ways and we tend to get along well with each other for the most part. Having a group of like-minded people and being able to volunteer alongside them and serve them through this capacity has been quite rewarding.”
Next year’s RCNA Convention will be held July 21-25, 2020, in Halifax, N.S.