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1987: Introducing the loonie

The Story

Release the loons! On June 30, 1987, 80 million golden "loonie" coins -- named after the bird that appears on the back of the coin -- are circulated across Canada. They replace the paper $1 bill. As we see in this clip from The National, the new coin is a hit with tourists, collectors and vending machine operators. It is decidedly less popular with a business operator who is faced with hauling hundreds of the coins to the bank each day.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: June 30, 1987
Guest(s): Michael Borse, Vern Lawrence
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Usten Reinhart
Duration: 2:01

Did You know?

• Before the introduction of the loonie, Canadians used green and white paper one-dollar bills. The bills wore out quickly -- most lasted between nine and 12 months. Canada also had a large, silver-coloured dollar coin, but it was seldom used by anyone other than numismatists (coin collectors).

• By switching from a bill to a coin that would last 20 years or longer, the government calculated it could save taxpayers $175 million to $250 million over 20 years.

• The solution was to design a more attractive and versatile dollar coin, and simultaneously stop making paper dollars available. The loonie, an eleven-sided coin made of bronze-plated nickel, was smaller than the old dollar coin. It was released into general circulation on June 30, 1987. The Bank of Canada stopped printing paper dollars in April 1989 and began removing them from circulation that June.

• The new coin featured a portrait of the Queen on the obverse ("heads" side), and an image of a common loon by artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael on the reverse ("tails" side). It weighs seven grams, and is 1.75 millimetres thick and 26.5 millimetres in diameter. To get just the right colour and resistance to tarnishing and wear, a new electroplating process was invented by Sherritt Gordon Limited.

• The loon was not the original design for the one-dollar coin. A scene depicting voyageurs had been chosen, but the master dies for minting the coins were lost en route from Ottawa, where they had been produced, to the minting facility in Winnipeg.

• Because the dies for both sides of the coin were shipped together, it was possible a counterfeiter would obtain them. The mint turned to an alternative design and the loonie was born.

• The coin was universally nicknamed the loonie almost immediately. Because it was introduced under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, it was briefly called "Mulroney's loonie" or the "Mul-loonie." The word loonie applies even when the bird is absent from special edition coins, and has become the colloquial term for the Canadian dollar in general. A loonie is called a "huard" (loon) in French.

• Polling by the mint revealed that the loonie was not embraced by Canadians so long as paper $1 bills were still available. In July 1988, 39 per cent of Canadians said they liked the coin, 25 per cent were indifferent and 36 per cent disapproved of it. But certain groups were pleased with it, including vending-machine companies, transit authorities, and the visually impaired.

• At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Canadian icemaker Trent Evans buried a loonie at centre ice. Both the Canadian men's and women's hockey teams went on to win gold. Evans donated the "lucky loonie" to the Hockey Hall of Fame. You can hear an interview with Trent Evans about the famous loonie in our clip called 2002 Salt Lake City: Men's & women's hockey.

• Special editions of the coin have featured other images on the reverse side: the Parliament Buildings (1992), the National War Memorial (1994), the Peacekeeping Monument (1995), Terry Fox (2005) and two "lucky loonies" to celebrate Canadian Olympic athletes (2004 and 2006).

• In 1995, Canada's new two-dollar coin debuted and became known as the toonie. It began circulating in February 1996.

• The United States minted its own dollar coin, the Susan B. Anthony dollar, from 1979 to 1981 and again in 1999. The public roundly rejected the coin because it looked too much like a quarter. A newer coin, the gold-coloured Sacagawea dollar, was introduced in 2000. Both coins remained in circulation. In 2005 the treasury was asked to investigate taking the 888,842,452 Susan B. Anthony dollars out of circulation.



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