OTD: Loonie enters circulation

On today’s date in 1987, the “loonie” entered circulation as 80 million $1 coins were introduced in major cities across Canada.

Two years later, the Bank of Canada ceased production of the country’s $1 banknote, which was said to be 20 times less durable than coinage. At the time, it was the most significant change to Canada’s coinage system in more than 50 years.

While the $1 coin was introduced as a cost-saving measure, it wasn’t immediately popular with the public. It did, however, quickly earn its “loonie” moniker, which was owed to the solitary loon gracing the coin’s reverse.

“‘Loonie’ wasn’t the warm fuzzy word that it’s turned into now,” Bret Evans, former CCN editor, told the National Post in 2012.

The year it was introduced, Ontario waitress Lisa Vorkapich told the Windsor Star: “Nobody wants to carry coin. Do you know how heavy that would be on a tray? All the waitresses will have to start lifting weights.”

Even a year after the coin entered circulation, polls pinned support for the loonie at less than 40 per cent, the Post reported.

Fast forward 25 years, however, and more than 70 per cent of Canadians consider the loonie a “recognizable symbol of Canada,” then-Mint CEO Beverley Lepine told a U.S. congressional committee in November 2012.

Before the introduction of the loonie, Canadians used green and white $1 banknotes. The paper notes wore out quickly, lasting between nine and 12 months.

FROM VOYAGEUR TO LOON

The original master dies for the $1 coin – the one depicting a motif of a voyageur – were lost on their way to Winnipeg in November 1986.

Because the dies for both sides of the coin were shipped together, it was possible a counterfeiter could obtain them and wreak havoc on Canada’s banking system.

The government authorized a redesign, which depicted the lonely loon.

Designed by Northern Ontario wildlife artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael and engraved by Royal Canadian Mint engraver Terrence N.E. Smith, the original loonies were struck in 91.5 per cent nickel and 8.5 per cent bronze and had a weight of seven grams, a diameter of 26.72 millimetres and a thickness of 1.95 millimetres.

The 11-sided $1 coin is produced at the Mint’s Winnipeg facility along with the rest of Canada’s circulation coins.

Since 1987, about two billion loonies have been produced.

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