Source: MTL Blog
Since its creation in 1867, Canadian currency has been changing, adapting, and improving to fit requirements made by the Royal Canadian Mint. These improvements have caused the discontinuation of the half dollar, 50-cent coin in 1964, and, more recently, the penny in February 2013. Canadian currency is especially known for its colourful bills, having been ridiculed for being compared to Monopoly money, brightly-coloured currency from the popular board game. Many people, however, pay much less attention to the detailed, symbolic images that are displayed on the Canadian banknotes themselves – that is, until March 2018.
For the past 3 years, Canadians have shared their opinions about the new 10 dollar bill, featuring human rights activist Viola Desmond, that started circulating in early March of 2018. This new, vertically-designed Canadian $10 note marks the beginning of a new series of Canadian currency and a new step towards the celebration of inclusivity and diversity in our everyday lives.
Viola Desmond is both the first person of colour and the first woman, other than the Queen, to be featured on a Canadian bank note. She was a black Nova Scotia businesswoman and beautician who participated in the civil rights movement, most prominently when she challenged racial segregation in New Glasgow in 1946 by refusing to leave an area of the Roseland Theatre marked whites-only. And, as important as her contribution to the civil rights movement is, it is considerate to ask: which famous white man’s image did Desmond replace on our purple 10 dollar bill? Canadians may be shocked to learn that Desmond took the place of Sir John A. Macdonald, our country’s first prime minister and a dominant figure in Canada’s Confederation.
There is controversy around the subject of the celebration of Sir John A. Macdonald’s role in our country’s history; last August, there was backlash towards the government of British Columbia about the removal of a statue displaying the first prime minister. With more research, I learned that the image of Sir John A. Macdonald will, in fact, remain on a banknote with a higher denomination to be developed in coming years. In turn, both Sir Robert Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King, the prime ministers of Canada during the First and Second World Wars, respectively, will be removed from Canadian banknotes. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly important that we do not lose sight of the realities of these controversial claims. We, as Canadians, do not wish to appear as if we are trying to replace history. And, though I can agree that a new, refreshing, more diverse presence on our country’s currency is a step forward, we must also come to terms with the truth that the entirety of Canadian history is not something to be celebrated, and especially not something to be forgotten – such was discussed extensively during the Canada 150 festivities.
During this Black History Month, Canadians must learn to continue to recognize the successes, celebrations, and, in turn, large missteps and negligences made by the Canadian people over our extensive history. Canadians must learn to recognize the realities of our country’s imperfect history while continuing to strive for a more inclusive, diverse, and resolutely better tomorrow.