'Respect the penny': Montrealer scours city to find lost coins

If you lost a coin in Montreal’s west end, there’s a good chance it was picked up by Young S. New. But he didn't slip that coin in his pocket with the intent of spending it on himself — he picked it up so he could give it away.

Young S. New has donated hundreds of dollars worth of change over the last 12 years

Young S. New, an avid coin collector, says he wants Canadians to respect coins because they are an important part of the country's economy and culture. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

If you lost a coin in Montreal's west end, there's a good chance it was picked up by Young S. New.

But he didn't slip that coin in his pocket with the intent of spending it on himself — he picked it up so he could give it away.

"It's not my money. I just found it on the street," said New, while expressing frustration with those who neglect coins.

"Why don't they care? I do care. It is the property of Canada. It's part of the Canadian economy."

The 77-year-old has dedicated his retirement to finding and donating misplaced change. He says the practice helps keep him fit as he walks in his Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, searching for lost or forgotten coins.

His long-standing message to Canadians is simple: "Please take care of your change."

"It costs about 11.2 cents to make a nickel," New said. "Losing one nickel means 16.2 cents is gone."

According to New, every cent counts because somebody who is one penny short of a million dollars is not a millionaire, he said.

"That is what I learned from my father in Korea when I was young: respect the penny."

Young hobbyists join the cause

Over the last 12 years, he's found hundreds of dollars in spare change and, in that time, he started a coin-collecting club of young hobbyists who did the same — scouring telephone booths, parking meters and curbsides while learning about both foreign and domestic currencies.

The coins that Young S. New finds are often beat up, scratched and dirty. He still finds the occasional Canadian penny and lots of American coins as well. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

For several years, some of New's collected money went to his church while the rest would go to The Gazette Christmas Fund. Members of his club, the Montreal Hainneville Collectors (MHC), would also chip in.

Though the club's regular meetings have tapered off, the more than two dozen members say New's teachings about stamps and currency have stayed with them.

"He is very memorable," said Minsik Kim, who joined the MHC with his two young children about seven years ago as a fun family activity. "He loves collecting. He loves Canada. He has a lot of knowledge of other countries too."

Kim said he enjoyed attending meetings with his children because it helped them learn about Canadian culture and history through stamps and money. New always had new challenges and activities for the kids, he said.

Giving directly to the homeless

These days, New's walks are slowing down and are less frequent. He no longer heads out three or four times a day, but he still goes searching when the weather permits, strolling east on Monkland Avenue and west on Sherbrooke Street, checking all the usual spots.

Instead of giving the collected coins to to charity, he now gives the found coins directly to people living on the street. He tends to give the coins to the older homeless people whom he regularly sees around the local Metro stations and parks.

Maybe a small donation to somebody in need, he said, "will help prolong their life just a little."

Young S. New regularly walks Monkland Avenue in NDG, checking coin slots of parking meters and payphones in search of lost or forgotten change. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

'Mr. New is somebody you can't forget'

Nowadays, New is finding fewer coins on the street.

It may be because the penny was pulled from circulation in 2012. It may be because people are using plastic more than cash. But New believes some are responding to his message.

An avid collector and dedicated diarist who has kept a a daily journal since childhood, New has documented his life — a life that includes immigrating to Canada in November 1987 with his wife and two young daughters. New retired some two decades later and now has five grandchildren.

New has collected currency from almost every country in the world. It's through exploring the meaning and stories behind the unique design of each coin or note — from the faces to the inscriptions — that he learns about each country's history and culture.  

New began volunteering in Montreal soon after immigrating.

Spending his retirement walking around the neighbourhood in search of lost coins is a good way to keep in shape, says Young S. New with a smile. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

New, deeply involved in Montreal's Korean community, was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his volunteer efforts.

It was former MP Isabelle Morin who, representing the NDG-Lachine riding, handed it to him. She said she will never forget her interactions with the impassioned coin collector, visiting him in his small NDG apartment many years ago.

"Mr. New is somebody you can't forget," she said. "He's a very generous man."

Morin said she has met many generous people in her life, but "to give away the coins that you find, that was the first time I have heard of something like that." 

About the Author

Isaac Olson

Isaac Olson is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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