See my newest package of words and photos
in the December edition of Canadian Geographic


n June 30, 1987, when 100 million new one-dollar coins were circulated across the country, Canadians didn’t know what to make of the 11-sided piece of gold-coloured currency. Vending machine operators were overjoyed: they envisioned higher amounts of cash being dropped into coin slots. But plenty of passionate Canadians preferred the old one-dollar banknotes to the bulky coins, even if those coins sported an adorable common loon floating grace-fully by a tree-lined shore.

As the loonie turns 25 years old in 2012, you could say that Canadians have been won over. The loonie was the treasured talisman for the country’s Olympic hockey teams, among others, and is now ensconced in the lexicon of uniquely Canadian terms. Surveys confirm it has Canadian icon status.

The keeper of the coin is the Royal Canadian Mint, headquartered in Ottawa. Since the loon design by wildlife artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael first swam into view, about one billion loonies — made of 91.5 percent nickel and 8.5 percent aureate bronze — have been produced in the Mint’s Winnipeg facility. Here, some 280 people turn raw materials mined from Canadian bedrock and beyond into pocket change tossed onto the counter at the corner coffee shop. The Mint has efficiency and quality control down to a science: production volumes can now reach 20 million coins per day.

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