Canada’s new $10 note wins 2018 ‘Bank Note of the Year’

By Jesse Robitaille

This is the first story in a three-part series highlighting Canada’s new $10 banknote.

For only the second time since the “Bank Note of the Year” competition began in 2004, a Canadian banknote has taken home the honour of the world’s top piece of paper money.

The voting membership of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS) chose the Bank of Canada’s latest $10 note – a vertically oriented bill featuring Nova Scotia businesswoman turned civil rights activist Viola Desmond – to receive its 2018 Bank Note of the Year Award.

“Almost from the start, Canada’s new vertically oriented $10 bill dominated the voting, followed by Switzerland, Norway, Russia and the Solomon Islands banknotes,” reads a statement issued by the IBNS this April. “This is the fifth consecutive polymer-containing note to win the coveted IBNS Bank Note of the Year Award.”

While more than 150 new banknotes were released worldwide last year, only 10 per cent of these issues “were of sufficiently new design to be nominated,” added the IBNS statement.

“Printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company in the same distinct purple colour as the previous horizontal-format $10 polymer note, this note is just fractionally larger than neighbouring U.S. currency bills. Incorporating the latest in technological standards, the bold security features are easy to check and difficult to counterfeit.”

No stranger to the IBNS’ annual competition, Canada won the inaugural IBNS Bank Note of the Year Award in 2004 before placing second three years in a row (2011, 2012 and 2013) and finishing in third place last year.


How the Desmond note came to fruition is “quite a story,” said Boyd Laanstra, senior analyst of visual content at the Bank of Canada.

It begins with understanding the central bank’s “principal role,” which is “to promote the financial and economic welfare of Canada,” Laanstra said, adding there are four main areas of responsibility.

They include:

  • monetary policy with the aim of keeping inflation “low and stable”;
  • promoting “safe, sound and efficient” financial systems in Canada and internationally;
  • acting as the fiscal agent of the Government of Canada, for which the bank manages public debt programs and foreign exchange reserves; and
  • currency, including its design, issuance and distribution.

The Bank of Canada has issued seven series – 47 notes in total – since its first release in 1935, the year it was founded.

Our paper money – or as we know today, our polymer money – is distinct from the Royal Canadian Mint, which produces Canada’s coins,” Laanstra said, adding the creation of a new Canadian banknote “is always a very special project.”

Perhaps most importantly, a banknote is a medium of exchange; however, it can also serve as a cultural artifact.

“Banknotes help to both define as well as make up a part of a country’s identity; they’re a reflection of a nation’s joint values or – if that’s perhaps not entirely accurate – what we aspire those values to be.”


New notes are produced “to stay ahead of counterfeiting threats and to keep pace with advances in technology,” Laanstra added.

“Creating a new banknote is a rare occurrence – it’s a special thing – and our new $10 banknote featuring Viola Desmond is, I think, especially so.”

It’s the first regularly circulating banknote in the bank’s 84-year history to feature a woman as a portrait subject – with the exception the reigning monarch and other members of the royal family.

“The Queen is in good company.”

It’s also the bank’s first vertically orientated bill, but there are other reasons this note is “so special,” said Laanstra, whose role at the bank is to research and recommend what appears on Canadian banknotes before working alongside designers and technology experts to integrate that visual content into the note’s design “in the best way possible.”

“You might think that my role – researching and recommending what appears on new notes – would involve a lot of talking, and maybe today it does. But in fact, for this role to be carried out well, I need to do a lot of listening.”

This “open ears” concept is part of what makes the new $10 note “so unique,” Laanstra added.

“In creating it, the Bank of Canada heard from thousands of Canadians from every region, whose voices helped to shape who and what appears on the new note. These voices came from young, old and transcendent demographics. The voices, at times, sought to inspire the future and at other times came echoing from the past.”

In telling the story of the new $10 note, Laanstra focused on those diverse voices “to let them speak out once again.”


The story starts, Laanstra said, with the voice of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who began serving as Canada’s 23rd prime minister in November 2015 and is up for re-election this October.

“On International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016, he announced a Canadian woman would be featured on Canada’s next regularly circulating banknote,” Laanstra said.

In his speech three years ago, Trudeau called on all Canadians to nominate iconic Canadian women for that honour.

“Having a woman appear as a subject on a Canadian banknote has been something the Bank of Canada has wanted for a long time,” said Laanstra. “Thrilled by the prospect of making it happen, we launched what was called ‘the banknote-able campaign.’”

Nominees had to:

  • be Canadian by birth or naturalization;
  • demonstrate “outstanding leadership, achievement or distinction in any field, benefitting the people of Canada or in the service of Canada”; and
  • have been deceased for at least 25 years.

Fictional characters were also impermissible.

“So ‘Anne of Green Gables’ would have to wait,” Laanstra said. “But who should appear on the banknote was discussed and debated across Canada on TV, online and in print media. Communities and towns advocated for local champions. Teachers challenged their students to think about the women who had inspired them.”

One month after Trudeau’s announcement, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Wilkins visited Ottawa’s Roberta Bondar Public School, whose students produced artwork of inspirational Canadian women.

It was only the beginning of the fervour surrounding Canada’s latest banknote.

“Canadians visited our website to nominate who they felt were ‘banknote-able’ women to let their voices be heard,” said Laanstra, who added more than 26,000 nominations were submitted from every province and territory in the six-week campaign.

“This resulted in 461 iconic Canadian women who met the initial qualifying criteria. This was an amazing response by Canadians, one that showed how important it was – and important it is – to be including a portrait of a woman on the money that we see and we use every day.”

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