As regular readers will know, I am a big fan of circulating commemorative coins. I believe that many collectors start because they notice unusual or different coins in pocket change. At one time, that was different people on the obverse, but with the reigning monarch on the throne for six decades, the attention has shifted to reverse designs. At the same time, I think that circulating designs need to resonate with collectors. For example, the Canada 125 series worked because it had a sense of completeness and appealed to our vision of Canada as a confederation of provinces.
The Millennium series, on the other hand, fell somewhat short because it was more abstract and didn’t make the same connection with the public. This year’s offerings, around the War of 1812, are sort of in-between. There is no doubt that the conflict was a watershed moment in Canadian history. Before the war, Upper Canada in particular was becoming more Americanized while north-bound trade was steadily growing. Some historians have argued that without the war, Canada would have eventually sought political union with its most significant trading partner. Ironically, the war made that impossible by helping to create, for the first time, a Canadian identity that transcended linguistic and cultural origins.
Still, there can be no denying that probably 80 per cent or more of the war took place in Upper Canada, specifically between Kingston and Windsor. Collectors in that part of the country have forts, battlefields, and monuments at hand to make the history seem real and tangible. Collectors in the West can be forgiven if it seems less immediate to them. They have textbooks and Pierre Burton. Still, the series is relevant, and a stirring reminder of those individuals who helped lay the cornerstones of our great country.