How to Look at the Canadian Dollar Coin
© Copyright 2017 Marceleen Ehrig, Ryerson University.
These are photographs of the famed Canadian Dollar coin, dubbed the “Loonie”. For a coin that is more or less always in a Canadian’s possession, the coin’s testament to Canadian patriotism and art often go unnoticed to the average human eye. But a focused and intense look into the coin’s origin, evolution, and symbolism reveals Canadian history many would otherwise not be made aware of.
The gold coin features two sides; one showing the Canadian loon, the other an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II facing right. Since the Dollar features a Loon, an aquatic bird found in the Northern Hemisphere, the coin has been nicknamed “The Loonie”. Though often perceived as a “round” coin, the Dollar actually features eleven edges. Depending upon the lighting and the age of the coin, the Dollar illuminates and shimmers when placed at an upright angle (shown in Figure 2).
Even though at present the Dollar is a popular and well-received form of money amongst the Canadian population, this was not always the case. In 1987 the Royal Canadian Mint unveiled the one-dollar coin to replace the paper dollar on the grounds that the coin outperformed the bill in manufacturing costs and longevity. However, the “Loonie” was not the first of its kind. Since 1935 Canada has featured a silver dollar coin which included an effigy of King George V on one side, and a voyageur image on the reverse side. The original Dollar was unpopular amongst Canadians who argued the large size and heavy weight made the coin odd to carry.
Soon afterward the Canadian government yielded to societal pressure to update the Canadian dollar. The initial plan was to use the same voyageur image and make the Dollar sizeable to fit American-made vending machines. This plan was destroyed when the master dies were lost in transit en route from the Winnipeg facility of the Royal Canadian Mint. Although the Royal Canadian Mint insisted the dies were stolen, an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police concluded the dies were “lost”. Till this day, the dies have never been recovered. In the event the dies were stolen, the Canadian government opted for a different image to combat forgers. The government selected a design of a loon floating on water, created by artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael. The artist’s initials “RRC” can be seen on the right hand side of the coin above the water (shown in Figure 1).
To stay consistent with patriotism the Canadian government chose to keep the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. Although Canada is a currently a sovereign country, the Queen still represents a prominent symbol of nationalism since Canada remained under British rule until the Canada Act of 1982.Figure 2 shows the words found on the coin: “Elizabeth II” and the Latin phrase “D.G. REGINA” meaning “By the Grace of God, Queen”. Though often overlooked, the Dollar exhibits minuscule facial features of the Queen including: details in her hair, shading around the eye area to emphasize wrinkles, tiny dots on her face to show facial spots, and shading around the neckline and jaw area to show definition.
While the front of the Dollar is a testament to patriotism, the reverse is a testament to art. Aside from the words “Canada Dollar”, the coin shows a loon swimming in a lake surrounded by coniferous trees. Making use of Martin Jay’s concept of “rectilinear”, Carmichael utilized horizontal lines to define the space in the water, and to establish a horizon. To indicate movement, the artist strategically placed ripples on the water’s surface. The nearly invisible dots produce a wonderful frame to encapsulate the tiny nature-filled world Carmichael created.
The Dollar gets ignored because of its traditional design. But don’t let the coin’s testament to nationalism prevent you from truly seeing the beauty in the coin’s origin and use of art. Next time you are paying for your transit ticket take the time to examine the Dollar. Draw out its invisible details. Inquire into the history and symbolism they represent. Who knows, you just might come to appreciate the Dollar’s simultaneous testament to nationalism and art.
Ehrig, Marceleen. The Canadian Dollar Coin (Front). 2017, photograph, Ryerson University,
Ehrig Marceleen. The Canadian Dollar Coin (Reverse). 2017, photograph, Ryerson University,
Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000
James, R.D. “Loon.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, 22 Mar. 2015,
Maple, Mickey. “Canadian History for Kids: The Loonie.” Canadian History for Kids, 29 Apr.
Montgomery, Marc. “History: June 30, 1987: Introducing the ‘loonie’.” Radio Canada
International, 30 June 2016, http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2016/06/30/history-june-301987-
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.