On today’s date in 1996, the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) officially launched its new $2 coin — the “toonie” — into circulation at Bens De Luxe Delicatessen and Restaurant in Montréal.
The toonie was first proposed by the federal Liberal government in its 1995 budget as a measure to save Canadian taxpayers more than $250 million over 20 years. This was because of the coin’s 20-year lifespan, which greatly exceeded the $2 banknote’s one-year lifespan. Festivities marking the toonie’s introduction were held across Canada, including in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, Halifax and Edmonton. At bank-sponsored coin exchanges, the public was invited to trade in their old notes and other coins for the new toonie.
As of Feb. 19, 1996, the Bank of Canada stopped issuing the $2 banknote, but it remains legal tender and can be used as long as it’s in circulation, which it is. In fact, as of 2006 — one decade after Canadians began trading their old $2 banknotes for toonies — there were well over 100 million $2 banknotes yet to be returned to the Bank of Canada.
The toonie’s polar bear design, by Canadian wildlife artist Brent Townsend, was overseen by Canadians. In March 1995, a research group conducted a national survey on behalf of the RCM to explore Canadians’ attitudes toward possible themes for the new coin’s design. Of the Canadians polled, 65 per cent chose wildlife as the artistic theme, and among the most popular suggestions was a bear. The town of Campbellford, Ont., Townsend’s home, constructed a 27-foot toonie monument similar to Sudbury’s Big Nickel and the Big Loonie in Echo Bay to commemorate the new coin.
For the February 1996 launch, the RCM produced 60 million bimetallic toonies — each with a nickel outer ring and an aluminum bronze core. The polar bear design was unveiled a few months earlier in September 1995 at a ceremony at the Metro Toronto Zoo.
This year, as Canada looks forward to the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017, the RCM celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald, the nation’s primary architect and first prime minister, by featuring him on the 2015 commemorative edition of the toonie.