Keeping currency current: Finding a female for Canadian money

By in Opinions

An iconic female will soon appear on Canadian currency following public consultation. While picking one person is a hefty challenge, some University of Saskatchewan students weigh in on the issue.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made waves on Mar. 8, announcing that the Bank of Canada would consult with the public to select a woman to be featured on the next run of currency in 2018.

The criteria is open to almost any figure in Canadian history — any non-fictional Canadian woman who died before Apr. 15, 1991 — apologies to the still-living 5 Dollar Bill - Jeremy BritzMargaret Atwood and Joni Mitchell.

While spots on money are usually reserved for political figures, Hannah Cooley, a fourth-year history major and co-president of the History Undergraduate Students’ Association, feels that a shift away from this is logical and precedented.

“That is actually one of the things I find really interesting about Canada’s money — one side is always reserved for a big-time politician or monarch, but the other is available for events, objects, art, etc. that have contributed to Canada’s culture,” Cooley said in an email to the Sheaf.

“I do not think it is actually all that much of a stretch to put a woman who was not a queen or prime minister on a new bill, because we have at least somewhat already moved away from that trend.”

Likewise, Patrick Johnson, a second-year political studies student and vice-president of internal affairs for the Political Studies Students’ Association, suggests that the field of choice can extend past this traditional limitation.

“I think that if someone could be found that is not a politician but has still made great contributions to society, then they should have a fair chance of being on the currency,” Johnson said in an email to the Sheaf.

When pressed for picks, both Cooley and Johnson looked to the field of women suffragists for choices.

“One group, as opposed to a singular person, could be the ‘famous five,’ Johnson said, referring to the suffragist quintet comprised of Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Edwards. “But if only individual people, then maybe Nellie McClung would be a suitable choice.”

Cooley, on the other hand, feels there may be better choices from the suffragist camp, such as Violet McNaughton.

“McNaughton was one of the leaders of the suffrage movement in Saskatchewan, and compared to many of the other influential suffrage leaders — Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, etc. — she was very progressive,” Cooley said. “She was much less racist than most Anglo-Canadians at the time, was a major supporter of the co-operative movement and was an advocate for rural schooling and healthcare.”

While picking a woman to go on a bill is a substantial decision, there now arises a secondary concern. Assuming there won’t be a new denomination of currency created, adding a woman means someone from the current roster will need to be removed. This is a headache, but a couple of options arise.

“I’m personally not a huge fan of Robert Borden,” Cooley said. “Mostly his legacy is just the Conscription Crisis and crushing the Winnipeg General Strike, so I do not see him as holding the same influence even as the other prime ministers included on the bills. But so few people carry around $100 bills anyway.”

While I personally remain torn on who should be added to Canadian currency, for my money, the immediate removal pick would be taking Queen Elizabeth II off of the $20 bill. While it undoubtedly seems counterproductive to add one woman to our currency at the expense of another, Liz is an obvious candidate.

While the monarchy has certainly been a prominent force in Canadian history, in the era of truth and reconciliation, monarchs remain a somewhat damning reminder of colonialism and imperialism — one that I’m not sure we ought to celebrate. Besides, she’s already on every one of our coins, so she’s doing just fine.

Choosing a single woman to go on our money is no doubt going to be a challenge. Luckily we have until Apr. 15 to make up our minds and nominate at bankofcanada.ca.

Photo / Graphic Illustration: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor