Local collector funds trade token for Hornby Island

By Jesse Robitaille

Businesses in Hornby Island, B.C. – a Salish Sea island located east of Vancouver’s Comox Valley – are now accepting municipal trade tokens as a form of currency.

The tokens were designed and funded by Jim Bulmer, a coin collector for more than 50 years. He donated $8,000 to produce 1,000 tokens and collectible pins. The tokens, each of which have a denomination of $20, can be redeemed for their full amount at participating businesses, which make a small profit; however, the majority of the funds will go towards the Hornby Island Community Fund to support local committees.

“We have 1,000 tokens to sell as well as 2,000 matching pins. If all goes well, there will be enough money to donate a healthy chunk to the community fund and to fund this project for another year,” said Bulmer, who has been a part-time coin dealer since retiring from the Canadian military.

“Island businesses have been very positive about this project and are coming up with their own ideas, such as inter-business games with serial numbers; who sells the most; and a design competition.”

Last year, Bulmer and his wife Dr. Barbara Froehner moved back to Hornby Island from Germany after nearly two decades abroad. Upon his return to the close-knit community of about 1,000 people, Bulmer became inspired to create municipal trade tokens.

“After being away for some time, we came back with fresh eyes. Familiarizing ourselves with the island by reading old newspapers, it seemed – as with everywhere else – one of the main activities was fundraising. Everyone needs money, and there just isn’t enough for everyone.”

While in Lincoln, Nebraska about 15 years ago, Bulmer stumbled upon a comprehensive collection of Canadian municipal trade tokens with pieces from across the country.

“I learned how municipal trade tokens work and their history, and I thought this fundraising idea might work on Hornby.”

Bulmer said he believes his plan will benefit both businesses and the island community at large.

“It is a proven concept in an untried market with good tourist turnaround,” he said, adding “fortune favours the bold,” and his motives are simple.

“First, the ability to do something useful in a capacity where I have the expertise to do it. Second, this could potentially bring in a lot of money to the island over several years. What greater thrill for a coin collector than to design, produce and issue a successful series of coins?”


Bulmer’s collection of municipal trade tokens dates from 1958-90, and most of the older pieces are single-metal, coin-like items in denominations of $1 or $2.

“Most were minted in fairly large quantities and sold as change from participating businesses,” he said, adding his newly minted tokens – released in May and valid until October 2018 – are different.

“With a value of $20, it is large, has multicoloured enamels filling the designs and it is sold by customer request. They are very much a ‘souvenir dollar’ with beautiful motifs and a timely message which reflects Hornby Island.”

For $20, each customer will receive a large two-inch solid brass and enamel token with a mintage of 1,000 pieces. They are “possibly” the first in a series of releases, Bulmer said.

“They are not cheap, but your $20 gets you value for money.”

The pins, which measure one inch, are made of brass and enamel and cost $3.

“Municipal trade tokens work best when they are the product of fundraising for a charitable organization,” said Bulmer, “so it would be best for this project to be sponsored by one of the island’s charitable organizations, but however good an idea might be, it takes money and time, and boards of directors always need ‘numbers.’”

So he and his wife decided to do it all themselves.

Bulmer was responsible for the design of the tokens, the obverse of which feature Hornby Island superimposed on a Canadian maple leaf resting atop blue waves from the flag of British Columbia. The words “HORNBY ISLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA” are also engraved around the top of the rim, and a serial number is included at the bottom.

The reverse depicts a forester planting a tree alongside a breaching orca. The words “GOOD FOR $20 MAY 1 – OCTOBER 31 2018” are shown along the theme of this year’s tokens, “CONSERVATION.”


Bulmer began his project by publishing an article about the history and use of municipal trade tokens in the island’s monthly paper. He then talked to Hornby’s economic council as well as its community fund managers to determine profit allocation and how to market that information. He then created a design, sent it to Awards Canada in Winnipeg for preparation and started advertising.

“After a couple more newspaper articles, the municipal trade tokens arrived and I started introducing them in earnest, going to public meetings and local businesses,” he said. “Most had an inkling of what I was talking about from the newspaper articles, but seeing them, holding them and the small pins that are with them, the interest and energy began to grow.”

While the island is “a very accepting place” and its residents and businesses have “been very positive” about Bulmer’s project, he said some are “a wee bit perplexed.”

“More than anything, it is a souvenir to take home, your $20 has gone to support a worthy cause and all money stays on the island,” he said.

“The token is for – and about – the entire island, and so anticipates co-operation and acceptance by the whole island, but there are some, who for many reasons, are uncomfortable with strange money ideas, and I am thrusting it upon them.”

The project’s first mission, he added, “is to cause no one harm.”

“This has to be cost- and hassle-free for all involved, so if a customer decides to spend a token at a local vendor, that vendor will be reimbursed immediately, then the token goes for resale. For those who live here, the tokens are always redeemable and no one will lose money – except me, if it doesn’t work.”

For more information, contact Bulmer at jbulmer57@hotmail.com.

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