How does putting King Charles on Canadian money make people feel? It's a coin toss
Despite lack of support, Canada moving ahead with facelift for coins, banknotes
Canadian currency is getting a facelift — literally.
To mark the coronation of King Charles III, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed on Saturday that Canadian coins and the $20 banknote will be updated with the new monarch's image, replacing that of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth.
Trudeau said he has asked the Royal Canadian Mint to create an effigy of His Majesty to appear on the obverse, or "heads," side of Canadian coins in circulation. He also confirmed that he has asked the Bank of Canada to update the $20 bill — the only Canadian banknote left bearing a royal's face — during its next design process.
Canada is not obligated to put the monarch on its money, but it is tradition. While the new look may be an exciting switch for people who are fond of the monarchy, history buffs or collectors of currency, many Canadians are not thrilled that King Charles is the country's head of state and may not care to see his face in their wallets.
An Angus Reid Institute poll conducted ahead of the coronation indicated that an average of just 38 per cent of respondents want to see the new sovereign on their coins and bills. Support was highest in Ontario and the Prairie provinces, and lowest in Quebec.
Sixty per cent of respondents opposed even recognizing Charles as King, according to the same poll. Only 28 per cent say they have a favourable view of Charles, while nearly half (48 per cent) did not.
A time for change
Canada has been printing and minting money bearing the likeness of its sovereign since 1908, when the Royal Canadian Mint began producing coins. The Bank of Canada only began issuing banknotes in 1935.
Alex Reeves, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mint, said this will be the first time any Canadian who is 65 or younger will have seen such a significant change to its change.
It's also an important moment for those working on the update. "You can't help but feel like a witness to history," he told CBC News.
"To be able to be part of that transformation of our currency — and to create a design that's going to be beautifully executed and will grace Canadian coins for for years to come — is a really special moment."
Reeves said there will be other differences that Canadians should look out for. First, King Charles will face left on the new coins, once minted, while his mother's image was looking to the right.
The change of direction is a tradition that dates back centuries in British royal history, to differentiate one monarch's reign to the next.
There will also be a new inscription surrounding the king's effigy: It will change from "D.G. Regina (Dei Gratia Regina)," meaning "By the Grace of God, Queen" in Latin, to "Rex," meaning "King."
Reeves couldn't offer a timeline as to when new coins would be minted, but he said the Mint would like to get them into circulation as soon as possible.
The Crown corporation, he said, has had "a team in place and a process mapped out" in anticipation of this moment.
The Mint will select an original portrait created by one of an "inclusive field" of artists the institution works with, he said, and, once approved by the Canadian government and Buckingham Palace, the dyes will be produced to strike the King's image on coins of each denomination, and production can begin.
Although a new minting will see hundreds of millions of coins across all denominations being produced, there will be no need to remove coins with Queen Elizabeth's effigy, as they will remain legal tender.
In fact, the mint wants to get as much use out of the coins already in circulation because producing new coins comes at a cost and with a carbon footprint, Reeves said, noting that the lifecycle of a coin is about 20 years.
A notable moment
Stephen Woodland, president of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association, an organization for coin collectors, is waiting to hear more about what the Mint has in store for the coins. But when it comes to the new $20 bills, he said there will be a lot of excitement about the redesign.
"Banknote collectors eagerly await this 'noteworthy' event and will certainly actively pursue gathering notes for their collections," Woodland said in an email.
But not just any regular green polymer note that comes out of an ATM.
Collectors will be on the lookout for "notes with different serial prefixes, specialty serial numbers, various plate numbers and, of course, any errors that escape into circulation," he said.
But they'll likely have to wait a while yet. The Bank of Canada is still in the redesign process for a new $5 note, one that began in 2020. Like the recently redesigned $10 banknote, the $5 bill will feature a prominent Canadian instead of a monarch or past political leader.
The Bank of Canada has a short list of eight "bankNOTE-able Canadians" who are contenders to be the new face of the blue bill, narrowed down from a field of more than 600 qualified people nominated by members of the public.
But deciding to retain a British royal on at least one banknote keeps with the tradition that began when the central bank first issued banknotes nearly 90 years ago.
Canada was actually the first country to feature the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II on its currency, the 1935 $20 note, when she was an eight-year-old princess. She became a fixture on all Canadian coins beginning in 1953, the year of her coronation, and on banknotes in 1954.
A face of symbolism
The decision to include the portrait of King Charles on banknotes and coins is largely symbolic. But even symbolic details can reflect the relationship between a country and the monarchy, as well as the level of public support for the institution.
"Different countries are going to approach it differently, depending on the level of attachment to the monarchy and the strength of the republican movement in each country," Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, told The Canadian Press, referring to campaigns that seek to separate countries from their relationships with the Crown.
In the Caribbean, many countries have been contending with conversations on what role the monarchy should play. Barbados, for example, cut ties with the British monarch as its head of state in 2021. Other Caribbean nations that still belong to the Commonwealth have said little about whether King Charles will be depicted on their bills and coins.
However, the Antigua Observer reported earlier this year that Timothy N.J. Antoine, governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, which is the the monetary authority for a group of eight island economies, said there may be "no appetite" for a royal makeover of their money.
But Canada may also be an outlier among Commonwealth nations with closer ties to the monarchy, namely Australia and New Zealand.
Australia is going to revamp its coins, but it has decided not to replace Queen Elizabeth with her son when it updates its $5 notes. Instead, the Reserve Bank of Australia intends to honour Indigenous culture and history in its design. New Zealand may bide its time. The country said it will be a number of years before it needs to update its coins and possibly longer for banknotes.
Recent polling in New Zealand found that 44 per cent of respondents would support remaining a constitutional monarchy if a referendum were held, while a similar number believed the monarchy is "part of a colonial past that has no place in the country."
The United Kingdom, of course, is already in the process of changing its currency. The banknotes aren't expected to go into circulation until mid-2024, according to the Bank of England. The Royal Mint began producing and circulating coins with the effigy of King Charles last year.
With files from Julia Wong and The Canadian Press