I have just returned from a wonderful 10-day trip to beautiful Nova Scotia and the Canadian wilderness, and as a dedicated numismatist, I couldn't help but observe the way that the Canadian populace dealt with their money, particularly their coins. Canada has pretty much the same denominations that the U.S. has: Cents (that don't buy much, and which nobody picks up off the ground just like in the U.S.,) nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars (called "Loonies" because the standard design depicts the bird called a Loon,) and two-dollar bi-metallic coins (called "Toonies," apparently named in honor of the one dollar coin of which Canadians are very fond.) The various Canadian coins are all the same sizes as their U.S. counterparts although they are made of very different metals.
U.S. and Canadian Coins Are Similar
The Canadian penny has been made from copper-plated steel since 2000. The circulating Canadian nickel, dime, and quarter are all currently made from nickel-plated steel, although the dime was made of pure nickel from 1968 to 2000. Like the U.S., Canada has a half dollar denomination that very rarely circulates, and which is only struck for Mint Sets currently.
The Canadian dollar coin is very nearly the same size and color as its U.S. counterpart, but again made from very different metals. The one dollar "Loonie" is 11-sided and made from an alloy the Royal Canadian Mint calls "aureate" (bronze-plated nickel.) As noted before, the two dollar "Toonie" is bi-metallic, from 1996 to 2011 it had an outer ring of pure nickel, with a center made of a primarily copper alloy. Beginning in 2012 the outer ring is made of steel with nickel plating, the inner core is made of aluminum bronze and plated with brass.
Circulating One Dollar and Two Dollar Coins
The Loonies and Toonies circulate in Canada as if things had always been this way. If I spent 89 cents and handed over a $5 note, I was as likely to get 2 Toonies, as I was 1 Toonie and 2 Loonies in my change, although I never got 4 Loonies. I noticed that most Canadian cash drawers don't have enough slots for all the coins.
One of the big complaints we hear from U.S. dollar coin skeptics is, "where will cashiers store the coins since there's no room in the cash drawers?" Canadian cashiers merely toss the Loonies and Toonies together in the same compartment, as they are easy to distinguish from each other, being of different sizes and colors. Canada has since stopped producing the penny in 2012 and I suppose cashiers use the empty coin spot to separate the $1 and $2 coins.
So, how did the Canadians succeed in getting these dollar coins to circulate? Simple, they merely stopped producing the $1 banknote and it was a done deal. There was very little controversy or complaining; the government simply took action and people adjusted as needs must. Why Americans can't seem to take a similar step is a curious statement about our society. Even as we continue to hem and haw, the Canadians I asked said they'd be happy to see a $5 coin, too. Once they started using the higher-value coins, the Canadians I spoke to immediately saw the benefits and actually consider the paper $5 to be a nuisance now!
Circulating U.S. Currency In Canada
Another interesting observation during my Canadian trip was how U.S. currency circulates side by side with Canadian specie in many places, especially in transit centers and border cities.
The Canadian and U.S. dollars are about equal in value these days, and most Canadian merchants were taking U.S. Dollars at par value to Canadian dollars for smaller purchases, although for a larger purchase I made, the merchant checked the Web for the latest exchange rate and did an exact calculation (but didn't charge any percentage for the transaction.)
When purchases were made with U.S. Dollars, Canadian change was always given, with the Dollar notes being stashed under the change drawer. The merchants I asked said they didn't usually take U.S. pocket change unless it was all someone had, and they didn't mix it with their Canadian coinage. Since Canadian Dollars are worth more than U.S. Dollars these days, I was a little surprised not to see merchants trying to dump U.S. currency off on people who spent U.S. currency.
My single, most enduring impression of executing commerce in Canadian money was the ease with which the Loonies and Toonies changed hands. Indeed, it was a hassle to dig out my wallet to extract a $5 bill when it turned out that I didn't have a couple of Toonies in my pocket!
Edited by: James Bucki