New $20 commemorative a crowning achievement

By Jesse Robitaille

On Sept. 9 at about 12:30 p.m. EST, as Queen Elizabeth II added another milestone to an already lengthy list, the Bank of Canada unveiled – for only the third time ever – a commemorative banknote to mark the occasion.

Only the third commemorative bill to be issued by the Bank of Canada since it first began issuing banknotes in 1935, this new $20 note honours Her Majesty’s historic reign, which, on Sept. 9, became the longest in modern Canadian history at more than 63 years (however, the longest-reigning monarch of Canada was arguably Louis XIV, who ruled for 72 years, although many will ignore these pre-Confederation sovereigns).

“Prince Philip and I are very grateful for the warmth of your welcome on this occasion,” said Elizabeth II at a speech made at the new Borders Railway, which she declared open to the public, in Scotland on Sept. 9. “Many … have also kindly noted another significance attaching to today, although it is not one to which I have ever aspired. Inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones; my own is no exception. But I thank you all, and the many others at home and overseas, for your touching messages of great kindness.”

Meanwhile, back in Canada, celebrations were held from coast to coast to coast, including at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, where Governor General David Johnston and his wife, Sharon, hosted a special event to celebrate. Also on hand were a trio of Crown corporations, including the Bank of Canada, Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Post, which respectively unveiled a banknote, a series of coins and a stamp marking the historic milestone.

“These lasting items, created with such care and attention, symbolize the trust we place in Her Majesty and she places in us,” said Johnston to about 100 attendees. “As our Queen, she has conducted 22 royal tours of Canada, the most of any Commonwealth nation.”

The Queen also visited Canada while still a princess, Johnston said, adding some might recall the now-famous photo of Her Majesty square dancing in Rideau Hall during her 1951 visit.

“It was one of many memorable moments we’ve all shared,” he said. “During her reign, Her Majesty has participated in some of the key moments in our history; she was here in 1967 for our centennial celebrations.”

It’s interesting to note the last time the Bank of Canada issued a commemorative banknote was for the nation’s centennial, when a modified version of the 1954 $1 note was issued bearing the date 1967. The first commemorative honoured Elizabeth II’s grandfather, George V, who had his 1935 Silver Jubilee commemorated on a $25 note.

At the ceremony on Sept. 9, a third commemorative banknote – this a variation of the existing $20 note from the Polymer series – was unveiled by Johnston and Bank of Canada’s Chief of Currency Richard Wall.

“This is a unique milestone in the history of the monarchy in our country, and the Bank of Canada is honoured to mark the occasion in this special way,” said Wall. “Over Her Majesty’s reign, the technology behind our banknotes has continually evolved to the state-of-the-art polymer notes we have today. It is therefore fitting that we are commemorating this historic occasion by using one of the most advanced security features of our current notes: the large holographic window.”

Wall explained the new note is identical to the current $20 note except for one distinct difference: its large window contains a range of special design elements, including a portrait of Her Majesty wearing a crown for the first time on a Canadian banknote. The portrait is based on a 1951 photo by renowned Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh; in fact, it’s the same photo that inspired the portrait engraving of Elizabeth II without her crown on the 1954 Canadian Landscape series and the 1967 $1 commemorative note. What’s more, since her accession to the throne in 1952, an image of Her Majesty has appeared on every series of Canadian banknotes.

The Bank of Canada will issue 40 million of these commemorative notes, the first of which became available to attendees of the ceremony via a $20-for-$20 exchange. The following day, the new notes were made available at financial institutions across the country, where they will circulate alongside the existing $20 note, which will continue to be issued and “will comprise the vast majority of $20 notes in circulation,” said representatives from the Bank of Canada.

During a reception that followed the unveiling, the Bank of Canada, Canada Post and the Mint each had displays where attendees could view the many representations of Her Majesty on Crown corporation products over the years.

“Today was less about longevity than about the strength of the Queen’s dedication to Canada. … As a gesture of our admiration on this occasion, Canada’s vice-regal family sent a statement of loyalty to the Queen,” said Johnston, who, along with representatives from each province and territory, signed the statement of loyalty.

The statement read: “We, Your Majesty’s loyal and dutiful subjects, the Governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant Governors of Your provinces, the Commissioners of Your territories, beg to offer our sincere congratulations on this significant milestone in Your Reign as Queen of Canada. May Divine Providence preserve Your Majesty in health, happiness and the affection and loyalty of Your people for many years.”

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