Money | The Canada Guide (2023)

A cashless society?

Cash (which is to say, paper and coin money) is used less and less in Canada these days, and Canada is often ranked highly as a country in which "cash free" shopping is very easy. Most Canadian stores and restaurants allow purchases to be made with credit cards or debit cards, and many of these cards now use chip technology allowing for one-touch "tap" purchases through wireless payment machines, making paying for things vastly faster and easier than handling cash.

The Canadian Dollar

Inearly Canadian history, people in Britain’s Canadian colonies used a varietyof different currencies to buy things, including British pounds, American dollars, Spanish pesos, and even uniquecolonialcurrencies made by local banks and governments. In 1867, the new unified Canadian government gained exclusive constitutional power over currency, and in 1870 it used this power to pass theDominion Notes Act(now known as the Currency Act)which made the Canadian Dollar ($) the official currency of Canada.A Canadian dollar is made up of 100 Canadian cents ().

Originally tied to value of theBritish pound, and then the price of gold, since 1931 the Canadian dollar has been a so-called “free-floating” currency with a value determined by the international marketplace. Like most advanced countries, Canada also has a national bank, known as the Bank of Canada, that has the power to both print and buy currency in order to help control the currency’s value.In the opinion of the International Monetary Fund, the Canadian dollaris one of the world’s seven reserve currencies known for its stability and reliability even in times of economic uncertainty.

The Canadian dollar is usually measuredin comparison to the American dollar. It is almost always worth less, but the exact value can vary quite a bit depending on what’s going on in the world. At its worst, the Canadian dollar may be worth around 65 American cents; at best, it can be very close to par.

Canadian Coins

Loonie (one dollar)

The Loonie is a large coin made of gold-coloured nickel. There used to be a one dollar bill, but it was phased out in the 1980s. The coin is called a “Loonie” because it has a picture of a loon, the national bird of Canada, on it.

Toonie (two dollars)

The Toonie or Twoonie is a distinctive-looking coin made of two different colours of metal. It replaced the old two dollar bill in the mid-nineties. It has a polar bear on it.

Quarter (25 cents)

The "Quarter" (so named because it's worth a quarter of a dollar) is a silver-coloured 25 cent piece. It depicts a caribou, one of Canada’s beloved antlered animals.

Dime (10 cents)

The "Dime" is the nickname of the 10 cent piece. It's the smallest coin by size, and quite thin. It has a famous Canadian sailboat on it, known as the Bluenose, that was the fastest racing ship in the world for almost 20 years.

Nickel (five cents)

The "Nickel" is what they call the 5 cent piece. It’s actually larger than the dime, which can be confusing. At one time, five cent pieces were made of nickel (hence the name), but today they're made of steel.

Penny (one cent)

The penny is made of copper-plated steel and features the maple leaf, a common symbol of Canada. In 2013, the Government of Canada officially stopped making pennies and is currently in the process of taking them all out of circulation, but completion of this goal is still many years away. Larger business and chains in Canada may not accept penny payments and instead demand customers round cash payments down or up to the closest five cents.

Canadian Coins are produced by the Royal Canadian Mint, which is known among coin collectors as one of the most extravagant and creative coin-producing entities in the world. In addition to the standard-usecoins above, the Mint also produces a vast variety of “special edition” coins in a wide variety of denominations and designs, including very high value coins of pure gold, silver, and platinum, as well as gimmicky novelties like full-colour coins, glow-in-the-dark coins, and Marvel superhero coins.

Canadian Paper Money

Canadian paper money, also known as bills,banknotes, or simply notes, is used for larger currency denominations. The current designs, known as the Polymer Series, are actually not made of paper at all, but a sort of thin, flexible plastic known as polymer. Paper bills from the last series — known as the Canadian Journey Series — which began in 2001 and started being officially phased out in 2011,are still sometimes used. Canadian banknote designs usually change every 10 years or so.

5 Dollar Bill

Canada’s smallest bill, the $5, is blue and features a portrait of former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919), the first French-Canadian to lead Canada. On the reverse, it depicts the Canadarm, a robotic arm that was designed in Canada and used on NASA missions between 1981 and 2011.

Money | The Canada Guide (1)

Money | The Canada Guide (2)

10 Dollar Bill

The purple $10 bill features a portrait ofJohn A. Macdonald (1815-1891), Canada’s first prime minister and founder of the nation. On the back, there’s atribute to the cross-country Canadian railroad — Macdonald’s signature accomplishment — and a picture of The Canadian, which is the Vancouver-to-Toronto train service run by VIA Rail, Canada’s state-run railway.

Money | The Canada Guide (3)

Money | The Canada Guide (4)

20 Dollar Bill

The $20 has an aged, green portrait of Canada’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) on it. She used to be on the $1 and $2 bills, too, back when those existed. The other side features theCanadian National Vimy Memorial, which is a monument in France honouring the more than 3,000 Canadians who died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge (1917), a decisive allied victory in World War I (1914-1918).

Money | The Canada Guide (5)

Money | The Canada Guide (6)

50 Dollar Bill

Canada’s red $50 banknote depicts William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950), the famously eccentric prime minister who led Canada through World War II (1939-1945) and much of the early-to-mid20th century. The reverse depictsthe CCGS Amundsen, which is a state-of-the-art icebreaker shipthat is used to help the Canadian Coast Guard do research and exploration work in the Canadian arctic.

Money | The Canada Guide (7)

Money | The Canada Guide (8)

100 Dollar Bill

Last and most obscurely, we have the Canadian 100 dollar bill, featuring the face ofRobert Borden (1854-1937), who was prime minister of Canada during World War I (1914-1918). The back has a salute to Canadian science research, including a depiction of insulin, which was discoveredby Canadian scientist Frederick Banting (1891-1941).

A lot of shops in Canada won’t take $100 bills these days, since they’re often counterfeit (or so many sceptical shopkeepers assume). Counterfeiting large bills is a problem in Canada, which is the reason why the government discontinued the $1,000 bill— previously the next largest Canadian bill after the $100 — in 2000 (see sidebar).

Money | The Canada Guide (9)

Money | The Canada Guide (10)

More About Canadian Money

Quick Facts

  • Canada's currency is known as the dollar, which is divided into 100 cents.
  • The Canadian dollar is one of the world's highest-value currencies.
  • Canadians make purchases using a variety of small-value coins and five larger-value bills.
  • Canada's bills and coins all feature pictures of important national symbols.
D.G. Regina

All of Canada's coins have a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the reverse side, and are inscribed with the Latin phrase D.G. Regina, or Dei Gratia Regina, which means "Queen by God's Grace." The Queen's portrait is updated every so often, meaning it's easy to tell at a glance how old a coin is based on how old Her Majesty looks.

Money | The Canada Guide (11)

Old Notes

Most living Canadians will have memories of the three previous banknote designs. Seen below, from top to bottom, this includes the Canadian Journey series, which was in use from approximately 2001 to 2011, the Canadian Birds series, which was in use from 1986 to 2001, and the Scenes of Canada series, which was in use from 1969 to 1986. Since 1969, all the bills have had the same people on them, though the pictures on the back have changed. The colour-coding has been in place since the 1930s.

Money | The Canada Guide (12)

Money | The Canada Guide (13)

Thousand Dollar Bill

Technically, there is a sixth Canadian bill, the 1,000 dollar bill, though it's almost never seen today. Released as part of the 1986-2001 banknote line, it quickly became a favourite of gangsters and drug dealers, who were the only people who had a regular need to make cash transactions that large. It was discontinued in 2000, but according to a 2018 CBC story, there are still more than 700,000 in circulation across Canada. In 2018 the federal government announced a plan to begin de-legalizing the missing bills so they can never be used again.

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