Today’s date marks the 26th anniversary of the unveiling of the Royal Canadian Mint’s two-colour, bi-metallic “toonie,” which eventually replaced Canada’s $2 banknote.
On Sept. 21, 1995, a $2 coin featuring a polar bear design was unveiled during a ceremony at the Metro Toronto Zoo by former Cabinet minister David Dingwall, then in command of public works and government services.
Canada’s $2 coin was first proposed by the federal Liberal government in its 1995 budget as a measure to save taxpayers more than $250 million through 20 years—the coin’s 20-year lifespan greatly exceeds the one-year lifespan of the old $2 bill.
TOONIE INTRODUCED NATIONWIDE
Festivities marking the toonie’s introduction were held in cities across Canada, where bank-sponsored coin exchanges invited the public to trade their old banknotes and coins for the new $2 coin.
As of Feb. 19, 1996, the Bank of Canada stopped issuing the $2 banknote (although it remains legal tender and can be used as long as it’s in circulation). As of 2006 – one decade after Canadians began trading their old banknotes for toonies – there were more than 100 million $2 notes yet to be recovered by Canada’s central bank.
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 Mint to explore Canadians’ attitudes toward possible themes for the design of a new coin. Of the Canadians polled, 65 per cent chose wildlife as the artistic theme, and among the most popular suggestions was a bear.
In commemoration of the new coin, Townsend’s hometown of Campbellford, Ont., constructed an eight-metre toonie monument similar to Sudbury’s Big Nickel and the Big Loonie in Echo Bay.
For the eventual February 1996 launch, the Mint produced 60 million bi-metallic toonies, each with an outer ring of nickel and an inner core of copper, aluminum and nickel. Between 1996 and 2012, the toonie had a weight of 7.3 grams; a diameter of 28 millimetres; and a thickness of 1.8 millimetres.
Since 2012, the toonie has been composed of an outer ring of multi-ply nickel-plated steel with a multi-ply brass-plated aluminum bronze core. Today’s $2 coin has a weight of 6.92 grams; a diameter of 28 millimetres; and a thickness of 1.75 millimetres.