Not loved at first, now iconic
In 1986, the Canadian government announced it would be introducing a new one dollar coin the following year. This was proposed as a cost saving measure to replace the one dollar banknote.
Not all that popular for the first several years, it became almost a proud symbol following the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. A Canadian was helping with the ice making for the hockey games and hid a loonie beneath the ice at centre rink. After a bad start, the Canadian men went on to win the gold medal, breaking a 50 year dry spell. The Canadian women’s team also won gold, and the legend of the “lucky loonie” was born.
For the 2006 winter Olympics, golden loonies were hidden beneath the ice at the curling rink and Canadian Brad Gushue’s team won gold.
Since then Canadians have often surreptitiously hidden loonies in, on, or under playing surfaces during international sports matches.
In the beginning
It was argued that banknotes lasted only a couple of years, whereas the coins would last a couple of decades and save millions in printing costs. The government claimed those savings would be anywhere from $175 million to $250 million over 20 years.
There was also pressure from vending machine operators, transit companies and cities in relation to parking meters who wanted to raise prices in coin operated equipment.
With the new coin, the central bank would then phase out printing one dollar banknotes within the following two years.
It should be noted that Canada had had one dollar coins since 1935. Composed of a high silver content they were introduced to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reign of King George V. Relatively large and heavy due to the silver, they were not particularly popular and as such were fairly rare in circulation. Because of the relative rarity, they were often simply kept as collectibles when found, increasing their rarity in circulation.
The Canadian government was somewhat nervous about introducing a new dollar coin given the non-acceptance failure of the Susan B Anthony dollar in the U.S.
That silver coin was unpopular because it too closely resembled a 25-cent coin particularly in weight, and colour.
The Canadian dollar would be the same size as the Anthony dollar to fit in American –made vending machines, but have 11 sides and be gold in colour to clearly distinguish it from a 25-cent coin, commonly referred to as a ‘quarter’.
Unlike the U.S. though, Canada would force acceptance of the coin by phasing out printing one dollar banknotes within the following two years.
The original plan was to continue the theme of the current dollar coin, i.e. the voyageur image on the reverse.
However, the master dies struck in Ottawa Ontario were somehow lost in transit to the minting facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
A Parliamentary investigation showed that the mint had no security plan to ship master dies, and had simply hired a local courier to save $43.50 over the cost of secure transport. Obverse and reverse dies were also supposed to be shipped separately, but while packaged separately they had been sent together in the same shipment.
It was also the third time in five years the mint had ‘lost’ master dies.
Another investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police concluded the dies had been ‘lost’ in shipment, while the mint insisted they had been stolen. The dies have never been recovered.
With fears of counterfeiting, a new design for the reverse to replace the ‘voyageur’ was needed. This was created by Robert-Ralph Carmicheal showing a common loon floating on water.
Several names were proposed for the new coin, but ‘loonie’ stuck, mostly because of the loon image, but also because those not in favour thought the coin idea was ‘loony’ or foolish.
June 30 1987: loonie in, June 30 1989, dollar bill out.
The coin was introduced on this date with 80 million distributed to banks across the country. Although not enthusiastically received by the public, the issue of its acceptance became forced when the mint printed the last dollar banknotes two years in April 1989, and ceased distribution on June 30, the anniversary of the loonie’s introduction. Since their introduction, some 1.5 billion loonies have been minted,
They’ve lost a tiny bit of weight since their introduction as the metal composition was changed in 2012 from mostly nickel alloy with a bronze surface plating (for the gold colour) to the now half gram lighter multi-plated steel, another cost saving measure.