Toonie turns 20 years old

Hard to believe, but it's been 20 years since Canada's $2 bill was permanently retired and the metallic coin known as the toonie came into circulation.

In 1996, Jean Chretien was PM, the Macarena dominated dance floors and the $2 coin was born

According to the Royal Canadian Mint, more than 880 million toonies have been produced since 1996. The coins are manufactured in Winnipeg. (Pawel Dwulit/Bloomberg News)

Hard to believe, but it's been 20 years since Canada's $2 bill was permanently retired and the metallic coin known as the toonie was born.

The two-toned coin, featuring a polar bear on one side and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth on the other, went into circulation on Feb. 19, 1996. Leading up to its launch, there was much debate over what the new $2 coin should be called. The "bearie," the "toonie" (or "twonie") and the "double loonie" were among the contenders.

According to the Royal Canadian Mint, 375 million toonies were produced that first year. 

Having trouble recalling what you were doing during the year of the toonie? Perhaps a few 1996 flashbacks will jog your memory.

Jean Chrétien, who was then prime minister, took down a protester who confronted him at National Flag of Canada Day in Hull, Que., on Feb. 15 that year. 

Prime Minister Jean Chretien talks with reporters shortly after an altercation with a protester in Hull, Que., on Feb. 15, 1996. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

If you went to any dances, weddings or just listened to pop music in 1996, you likely couldn't escape the Macarena. The Bayside Boys mix of the Spanish music duo Los del Rio's dance hit spent 14 weeks from August to November in the number 1 spot on the Billboard charts.

The internet was gaining traction. In February 1996, AT&T was promoting its dial-up Worldnet service. 

New Yorkers try out the internet on an AT&T mobile lunch truck in Manhattan on Feb. 27, 1996. (Mark Cardwell/Reuters)

It had also been almost 10 years since the paper Canadian dollar made the transition to coin. The loonie began circulating in 1987.

The loonie replaced $1 bills back in 1987. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The more durable coins were meant to replace $1 and $2 bills as a cost-savings measure. According to the mint, each toonie is expected to last more than 30 years. 

Over the last two decades, the mint has issued special versions of the toonie to commemorate significant events in Canada, including the founding of Nunavut in 1999, the 400th anniversary of Quebec City in 2008, the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 in 2012 and the 100th anniversary of Canadian John McRae's First World War poem In Flanders Fields in 2015.   

The Royal Canadian Mint issued a commemorative $2 coin in 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of In Flanders Fields, the iconic poem associated with Remembrance Day. (Royal Canadian Mint)

The toonie continues to change. Originally, its core was made of aluminum and bronze and the coin's outer ring was made of nickel. According to the mint's website, the March 2010 federal budget set a mandate to change its metallic composition because of the fluctuation in nickel and copper prices. The new coins are manufactured with multi-ply, nickel-plate steel for the outer ring and multi-ply, brass-plated aluminum bronze for the insert.   

The Royal Canadian Mint's infographic for the latest toonie. (Royal Canadian Mint)

With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press and YouTube


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?