OTD: Birth of the loonie

On today’s date in 1987, Canada’s first $1 circulation coin—now affectionately known as the “loonie”—was unveiled by the Royal Canadian Mint at its Winnipeg facility.

Canada’s eleven-sided $1 coin was introduced as a cost-saving measure to replace the old dollar bills. The coin’s iconic loon design was created by wildlife artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael, who died in July 2016 at the age of 78.

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 coin was initially slated to depict the voyageur design, which was used on earlier Canadian silver dollars.

In 2012, Carmichael told The Sault Star the loonie design was his first to be 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.”

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.

“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 on July 18, 2016. “Mr. Carmichael’s Loonie design has stood the test of time due to its simplicity in depicting an icon of Canadian wildlife. We thank him for his remarkable contribution in creating what has become a true Canadian symbol.”

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