Our one-cent coin—aww, we miss you!—has always depicted the maple leaf in some form, starting with the very first design in 1858: a wreath of leaves. (The only exception was the coin minted in 1967 for Canada’s centennial. That penny showed a flying rock dove.) The penny’s last design—two leaves attached to a twig—was tweaked between 1982 and 1996; this was to make it easier to ID by touch for someone who was visually impaired.
Our nickel’s ultra-Canadian beaver design was created by artist G.E. Kruger-Gray; the coins hit people’s pockets in 1937. That was the year that the government wanted to “modernize” the look of our currency. The original 5-cent piece showed two crossed maple boughs, and it was tiny, smaller than the current dime. Crazy fact alert: the 1943-1945 “Victory Coin” nickel has the message “We win when we work willingly” engraved in Morse code on the rim.
Artist Emanuel Hahn used photos of the famous Bluenose to develop his design for the 10-cent coin. Even though the Bluenose was originally a racing schooner, the dime’s image was meant to symbolize both the “magnitude of the fishing industry in Canada and the maritime skills of Canadians.” Our commemorative 1967 dime’s image had a fishing theme too: a mackerel.
Our 25-cent coin didn’t come into circulation until 1870, 12 years later than the penny, nickel, or dime. The caribou has been there since 1937, but over the years, the quarter’s reverse side image—that is, the side that doesn’t show the monarch—has had more variations than the rest of our currency. Remember the 25-cent “red poppy” coin? That was the world’s first coloured coin in circulation.
The what-now? Yes. The Royal Canadian Mint produces a few thousand 50-cent coins every year, but they’re rarely used in commerce (which is why you’ve probably never had one in your wallet, and probably never will). The current design depicts the Canadian Coat of Arms and includes the motto of the Order of Canada: Desiderantes meliorem patriam (“they desire a better country”). Hey, don’t insult this country, fifty cents!
The one-dollar coin was minted in 1987, to replace our one-dollar bill. (Coins are less expensive to produce and can last longer—up to 20 times longer—than paper money.) Robert-Ralph Carmichael, a wildlife artist, created the design. Look carefully at the coin: you can spot his initials in the water in front of the loon.
Another renowned wildlife artist, Brent Townsend, drew the design for our two-dollar piece. The coin was released on February 19, 1996. Like the loonie, it has a secret. Tip a toonie side to side, and you’ll see (in the right light) that an image of two maple leaves—first one, then the other—appears at the top of the coin as you move it back and forth. Ooh, clever, Royal Canadian Mint.