Are Canadians crazy? Or “loonie”? Why would they call a piece of currency, the “Loonie”? or the “toonie” for that matter?
Well let’s start this one by reminding you about the common loon, which is very common in Canada. Loons are freshwater aquatic birds (also called ‘Divers’ in Europe – probably because they dive for their food) and are very distinct with their black and white patterns. The common loon is the official bird of the Canadian province of Ontario. Their call is unmistakable.
So, since the loon is so common in Canada, it’s not surprising that Canadians would decorate their money with one! Back in 1987, we decided to do away with the one-dollar bill and replace it with a gold-coloured coin. The dollar disappeared from circulation two years after the coin was introduced.
So, aside from the obvious (a coin with a loon on it), how did the Canadian one-dollar coin become known as the “loonie”? The Royal Canadian Mint says that the coin was “instantly dubbed the ‘loonie’ after the solitary coin that graces the coin’s reverse side”, but does anyone know who gets credited for first calling it the loonie?
I looked into this. But had some difficulty finding a firm answer. At the beginning, it was called “Mulroney’s loonie” after the serving Prime Minister at the time, or the “Mul-loonie”. I couldn’t find anything directing me to the exact source of the name, however whoever it was came up with an idea that spread like wildfire, without the help of social media!
But! The Canadian one-dollar coin almost never became the ‘loonie’! Originally, the coin was to have the same design as a previous 1956 dollar coin – two voyageurs in a canoe. The master dies for this coin were lost in transit on their way from Ottawa to Winnipeg in 1986 (what’s interesting is that the Royal Canadian Mint sent the dies via letter-carrier instead of an armoured service in order to save about $44 on the shipment!). Fearing counterfeiting, the Canadian Government quickly authorized a new design, the loon by Robert-Ralph Carmichael.
To this day, the original dies have never been located.