Four coins honour Canada’s first PM

Collectors will be watching their pocket change for their latest circulating commemorative coin, a $2 piece honouring the 200th anniversary of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

Launched on Jan. 11 in Kingston, Ont., the community most associated with Macdonald, the coin shows a portrait of the father of Confederation on the core, with a modern map of Canada in the background. The outer ring has the dual dates 1815 and 2015. The security features of micro-engraved maple leaves and laser etching also appear on the obverse.

Glen Green created the design, using archival photographs. The coin has the same specifications as other circulating toonies: an outer ring of tri-plated steel with a nickel finish, and a tri-plated aluminum bronze core with brass surface; a weight of 6.92 grams, a diameter of 28 mm, and interrupted serrations on the edge with maple leaf engraving.

A total of five million coins are being struck with distribution through coin events at locations, in circulation, or at the Royal Canadian Mint’s boutiques in Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. The Mint is also operating an online coin exchange for residents of Canada. The exchange, available at, offers five coins for the face value of $10, with free shipping. The coins are shipped by lettermail and the offer is only available to Canadians.

The coin is the part of an ongoing series leading up to 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

“Today we are celebrating the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, an architect of Canada’s Confederation and one of our country’s most important political figures,” said Joe Oliver, minister of finance and minister responsible for the Royal Canadian Mint.

“His profoundly influential story as a historic nation-builder and fierce defender of our values and borders now has a permanent place on a circulation coin which will touch Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”

“The Mint is proud to share great Canadian stories, including the remarkable Sir John A. Macdonald on our coins,” said Marc Brulé, interim master of the Royal Canadian Mint.

“As Canada counts down to the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, the Mint will continue to honour people and events which have shaped our nation and we will soon ask Canadians to actively participate in our program.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the event as well, offering remarks on Macdonald’s accomplishments as a nation builder.

On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was created. Macdonald, a key architect of Canadian Confederation, became the new nation’s first prime minister. On the same day he was knighted by Queen Victoria for his role. He led the nation until his death in 1891, with only a single interruption in his leadership, from 1873 to 1878.

Macdonald was born on Jan. 11, 1815, in Glasgow, Scotland. He and his family immigrated to Kingston, Upper Canada in 1820. With a successful law practice, and having held political office at the municipal level in Kingston, Macdonald joined the Upper Canada cabinet in 1847, serving as receiver general and commissioner of Crown Lands. In 1854, he entered the cabinet of the United Province of Canada, serving as Attorney General for Canada West. Taking on a heavy portfolio of legislative work and providing important legal counsel to various departments of the government, his responsibilities grew until he and George-Étienne Cartier were jointly leading the Government.

By the 1860s, it was clear that some form of constitutional change was necessary. Macdonald, along with George Brown, Cartier, and their colleagues presented a vision of a united British North America to the leaders of the Maritime colonies at the Charlottetown Conference in September 1864.

Other coins

In addition to the circulating coin, the RCM is offering two silver and one gold non-circulating legal tender coin.

One silver coin shows a three-quarter length portrait of Macdonald, and has a face value $10.

Designed by Joel Kimmel, the coin has selective plating applied to the portrait. Struck in .9999 silver, it has a diameter of 34 mm and weight of one-half ounce. The mintage limit is 10,000.

The second silver coin has a $20 value.

It shows a close-up portrait of Macdonald, with patterns of maple leaves to the sides. In the background are the first Canadian parliament buildings. Those building, which were officially opened in 1866, were destroyed in a fire in 1916, and rebuilt with a slightly different look. Only the Parliamentary Library, to the rear of the centre block, survived the fire.

Designed by William Lazos and struck in .9999 silver, the coin weighs one ounce and has a diameter of 38 mm. The mintage limit is 8,500. It bears the single date 2015.

The third coin is a $100 gold issue struck in 14-karat (58.3 per cent gold) purity.

Also designed by Green, it pays tribute to the role of the railway in forming modern Canada. Considered one of Macdonald’s achievements, the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway linking British Columbia to the rest of Canada played a pivotal role in bringing that province into Confederation in 1871. The design shows a portrait of Macdonald, a map of Canada, the dates 1815 and 2015, and a steam locomotive. The locomotive chosen, Canadian Pacific’s number 374, pulled the first transcontinental passenger train to arrive in Vancouver in 1887.

The coin has a weight of 12 grams, diameter of 27 mm, and mintage of 1,500.

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