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Canadian Coins

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Canada was discovered in 1497 by John Cabot who, sailing under Letters Patent from Henry VII, claimed it for England. However, it was not until 1534 when the French took possession of the country, giving it the name of `New France' that any continuous history of the country is known. In 1541 another French expedition led by M. de Robesval gave it its present name by thinking the native name for huts, `kanata', was the name of the country. The first settlement was made at Port Royal, now Annapolis, in 1605 and subsequent settlements were made at Quebec in 1608. Despite various attempts by England to regain possession of the country it remained in French hands until 1763, when it was ceded to England by the Treaty of Paris.

During the French regime, silver coins valued at five and fifteen sols, dated 1680 and bearing the bust of Louis XIV on one side with a crowned shield on the other, circulated together with billon marques (PLATE XII, 2) and half marques. Copper twenty, twelve, nine and six deniers were struck, but only the nine deniers were actually ever circulated, the bulk of the other denominations being returned to France where they were subsequently melted down.

Much of the early numismatic history of Canada has, in fact, already been covered in the preceding chapter on North America. The same conditions prevailed-farm produce and other objects being used as a form of barter-the gradual influx of traders to the seaports necessitating some form of currency which the British Government was reluctant to supply-the varieties of foreign coins being used before a regular currency was introduced.

We have seen that belts of wampum were used as currency in America and these were also current in Canada, remaining so until about 1700; the Indians continued to accept them until the early 1800's. The Spanish-American milled dollar was also circulated at this period and Prince Edward Island provides us with one of the first examples of a `holey dollar', i.e., a Spanish dollar with the centre punched out. In the instance of the Prince Edward Island coin, the centre piece was circular and both the resultant ring and centre passed as currency, the former at five shillings and the latter at one shilling. It was soon discovered, however, that the centres were worth approximately Is 3d, for the metal value and a large quantity of these were accumulated for shipment to England for melting. The ship carrying them was unfortunately wrecked and today the centre pieces are extremely rare; the rings may be classed as `very rare'.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Canada was expanding rapidly, towns such as Quebec, Halifax, and Montreal felt the need for some form of currency and to this end a series of tokens struck in England were imported to fill the need. Many varieties of these exist, a large proportion of them bear the bust of Wellington on one side and some device (usually the seated figure of Britannia) on the other; some others bear an Irish harp on the obverse, and the legend SHIPS/COLONIES/&/COMMERCE on the reverse. One interesting piece that has definite ties with Canada is that bearing a figure of Hibernia seated holding a harp, the date 1781 below and the legend NORTH AMERICAN TOKEN; the reverse depicts a ship in full sail with the word COMMERCE above. These tokens were circulated in large numbers in North America and Canada generally, having been imported from Ireland, presumably at a much later date than that given on the token.

Following the importation of the tokens into Canada local banks and companies began to issue their own pieces. Perhaps the most interesting of these is that issued by the North West Company in 1820. This company was founded in Montreal in 1784 and operated in an area to the south of the Hudson Bay and as far west as the Pacific coast. The token, which was current for one beaver pelt, depicts on the obverse a beaver resting on a tree stump with the legend NORTH WEST COMPANY and on the reverse a laureate bust facing right with TOKEN 1820 around it. The Hudson's Bay Company also issued tokens about the year 1857. Four types were struck and were current for one, half, quarter, or one-eighth of a made beaver skin, the latter being the unit of currency in the company's forts.

Among the tokens that were struck in Canada, those issued by the Bank of Montreal are perhaps the commonest. In 1835 when many of the tokens that were either lightweight or made of brass were declared illegal, the Bank of Montreal issued a copper token bearing a bouquet of flowers on one side and the value uN sous within a wreath on the other. Two years later, during a rebellion by the French Canadians against the government, who they felt did not represent them, an extensive series of tokens was issued imitating those of the Bank of Montreal. They are very similar in design and upwards of forty different varieties are known. In 1838 and 1839 the bank issued a number of pennies and halfpennies depicting a view of the side and front of the bank building. The manager did not like the design, however, and most of them were withdrawn, causing them to be among the rarest and most popular tokens in the Canadian series. In 1842 the bank issued another series of tokens, this time showing only the front of the building and these were soon circulating in large quantities.

In 1841, the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada joined together to form the Province of Canada which in 1858 adopted the decimal currency, striking as its first coins copper one cent and silver five- ten- and twenty-cent pieces. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick likewise adopted the decimal currency in 1860. The former issued cents and half cents in 1861 and 1864. New Brunswick had a more extensive series consisting of silver five-, ten- and twenty-cent pieces and copper cents and half cents. Of this series, the half cent is the rarest denomination, the reason for this being a rather unusual one. In 1861 cents and half cents were struck at the Royal Mint in London and shipped out to New Brunswick. On their arrival it was discovered that the half cents had never been ordered and they were consequently returned to the mint where, owing to their similarity to those struck for Nova Scotia, a few became mixed in with these coins and returned to Canada where they circulated, thus providing the Canadian series with quite a rare little coin.

Prince Edward Island, which gained its name in 1800 from Prince Edward, duke of Kent, did not adopt the decimal currency until 1871 and then only issued one denomination-the cent. It is interesting to note that throughout the whole of the Canadian series, it is the only coin to have the queen's title in EnglishmcTOmA QuEEN and that although it was struck at Heaton's mint in Birmingham it does not bear the customary H to denote this.

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada united in 1867 to form the Dominion of Canada, Prince Edward Island joining them in 1873. The first coins to be struck by the new dominion were the five-, ten-, twenty-five- and fifty-cent pieces dated 1870. The design for each denomination is basically the same; the young head of Victoria facing left with VICTORIA DEI GRATIA REGINA CANADA On the obverse and on the reverse the value with the date below it, encircled by a laurel wreath with a crown at the top separating the ends of the wreath. On the twentyfive and fifty-cents the queen wears a coronet. Various changes were made in the design of this coin throughout the years. The usual reverse design of the ten-cents was replaced in 1937 by a ship, that of the twenty-five cents by a caribou head and the fifty cents by the royal coat of arms. The five-cents underwent more changes; in 1921 the size of the coin was increased and it was made of nickel instead of silver, the reverse type also being changed. Nickel became a scarce commodity in 1942 owing to its importance in the war effort and for the next two years the coin was made of tombac (88 per cent copper and 12 per cent zinc). In 1944, this time due to the scarcity of copper, the composition was changed to chromium plated steel but the year 1946 saw the reversion to nickel, the original metal. In 1937 when the reverse designs were changed on the other denominations, that of the five-cents was also altered, the value in figures and words above two maple leaves being replaced by a beaver resting upon a log. This design was again altered in 1943; a large v behind a torch, the date either side with two maple leaves below; above and below this central design the words CANADA-CENTS. This design, emblematic of victory and sacrifice is surrounded by a legend on the border in morse code, `We win when we work willingly'. From 1942 the five-cents was struck as a twelve-sided coin instead of a round one. From 1951 to date the reverse design has again been that of the beaver first used in 1937 but in 1951 a special five-cent piece was issued to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the isolation of nickel by a Swedish chemist. The design is that of a metal refinery with the word CANADA above and NICKEL 1751-1951. The 1951 type that reverted to the beaver design was struck in steel, again due to a shortage of nickel. This predicament lasted until 1955 when nickel was again used.

The first cent for the dominion was not struck until 1876 and although two changes were made to its reverse design, the principal alteration was to its size, which was greatly reduced in 1920.

The remaining silver coin to be mentioned is the dollar, which was first struck in 1935 to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the accession of George V. The dies were prepared in London and shipped to the Ottawa mint where these and all subsequent dollars have been struck. The reverse design for this coin depicts an Indian and a trapper in a canoe against a background of the Northern Lights behind a tree. This design has remained constant with three exceptions; in 1939 to commemorate the visit of their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, in 1949 to commemorate the entry of Newfoundland into the confederation of the Dominion of Canada and in 1958 to commemorate the centenary of the establishment of British Columbia as a crown colony.

The rapid growth of the dominion made it necessary for her to have her own mint and in 1901 it was agreed that a mint should be set up in Ottawa as a branch of the Royal Mint in London. Construction of the buildings began in 1905 and three years later the first coins were struck, the mint being formally opened by the governor-general, Earl Grey. British sovereigns were struck at Ottawa until 1919 (with the exception of 1912 and 1915) and can be distinguished by the letter c that appears on the ground line just below the horse and above the date. Gold five- and tendollar pieces were also struck in 1912,1913 and 1914.

Early in the eighteenth century Newfoundland was separated from Nova Scotia and became a separate province with its own governor. In 1865 the province issued its first decimal coins: the copper cent, the silver five-, ten-, and twenty-cents and, the gold two dollar; no further coins were struck until 1870 when the fifty-cents made its appearance. The cent was not struck again until 1872 and in 1938 was reduced to a smaller size, the reverse design also being changed. The reverse design for the silver and gold coins remained constant with only minor alterations throughout the whole of the eighty-two years of Newfoundland's own decimal currency. As seen above, the province joined the Confederation in 1949 when the dollar depicting John Cabot's ship, the Matthew, was issued.

Throughout the entire Canadian series of decimal coinage many coins were struck at Heaton's mint in Birmingham and consequently bear the H mint mark; those struck at the Royal Mint have no mark whilst certain issues struck at the Ottawa mint such as the sovereign produced for England and certain issues since 1917 for Newfoundland, bear the c mint mark. All coins of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were struck at the Royal Mint, London.