OTD: Renowned Canadian artist, loonie designer Robert-Ralph Carmichael dies

On today’s date in 2016, Canadian artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael, whose extensive numismatic design work earned widespread recognition, died peacefully at a hospice in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Among Carmichael’s many claims to fame is his now-legendary loon design, which has adorned the reverse of Canada’s $1 coin since it was first issued in 1987.

“The coin was instantly dubbed the loonie after the solitary loon that graces the coin’s reverse side; the nickname caught on and Canadians have embraced it ever since,” reads a statement issued by the Royal Canadian Mint two days after Carmichael’s 2016 death. “Mr. Carmichael’s loonie design has stood the test of time due to its simplicity in depicting an icon of Canadian wildlife.”

Carmichael created his iconic loon design after the denomination’s original master dies were lost in transit between the Royal Canadian Mint’s Ottawa facility and its Winnipeg production plant. The Mint hoped to save $43.50 by using a local letter-courier firm rather than a high-security armoured service.


As the now-famous story goes, the federal government only authorized the loonie design after the original master dies were lost while in transit in November 1986.

The original design depicted the famed voyageur-in-a-canoe design, which was used on earlier Canadian silver dollars.

In 2012, Carmichael told the Sault Star the loonie was his first design accepted by the Mint after a decade of submitting proposals.

“The loon dollar was the first, and I suppose the greatest,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better introduction to having your work produced as a coin than that one. Everything followed that.”

A silver $1 collector coin features a design by Carmichael marking the 25th anniversary of the original loonie.

Nearly three decades ago, in 1987, the introduction of the $1 coin became the most significant change to Canada’s coinage system in more than 50 years. Since that time, Carmichael’s design has graced more than a billion loonies.

“We thank him for his remarkable contribution in creating what has become a true Canadian symbol,” added the Mint’s 2016 statement.

Carmichael’s work is also found in several national collections, including those of the Canada Council Art Bank in Ottawa; the Art Gallery of Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie; the University of Calgary; the Government of Ontario at Queen’s Park in Toronto; and the Alberta Arts Foundation in Edmonton.

The ‘loonie’ entered circulation on June 30, 1987, as 80 million $1 coins were introduced in major cities across Canada.

In 1992, a monument paying tribute to his most famous work – an oversized loonie – was erected in his hometown of Echo Bay, Ont.

More recently, in 2012, Carmichael created a new loon design for the Mint’s Fine silver $1 coin commemorating the original loonie’s 25th anniversary. A total of 15,000 coins were struck.

Altogether, his work is featured on about 15 different Canadian coins, including a 2004 silver dollar marking the 400th anniversary of the first French settlement in North America; a 2001 $100 coin marking the 100th anniversary of the Library of Parliament; and a 1988 silver dollar marking the 250th anniversary of the Saint-Maurice Ironworks.

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