Culture  Could Canada spare some change?

Angus Sharpe comes face to face with our currency’s faces

Canada’s getting new bank notes, and it’s important. As the great-great-grand-nephew of impressively mustachioed Brit, Sir Edward Elgar, who was recently and ruthlessly erased from the British £20 note in favor of some Scottish wanker, Adam Smith – the so-called “Father of Modern Economics” – the often-traumatic renewal of currency is very dear to my heart. Luckily for all you progeny of incumbent Canadian money-faces – four Prime Ministers and a Queen – their pensive expressions are one of the few unchanging factors of the Bank of Canada’s brand spanking new “Frontier Series.”

So, in this new frontier, the face is the same, it’s the feel that’s different – these babies are made of plastic. Polymer, to be precise. Biaxially-oriented polypropylene, to be pedantic. Or even “Guardian,” to bloat it with the marketing grandeur intended by its Australian developers. The bills’ official slogan, “Secure. Durable. Innovative.” has already taken a small hit.  Yes, unfortunately the Frontier Series is essentially the same stuff your commonwealth cousins issued as far back as 1988. However, on those first two charges of security and durability the Bank of Canada, seems to have done rather well.

The soulless male voice of the official online trailer for the new $100 bill, out now as the series’ first release, enticed me a little sinisterly to ‘feel, look at and flick it’, to which I reluctantly complied out of pure journalistic conscience.  For features covering the “Secure” qualification, we have the ‘Frosted Maple Leaf Window’ (ooh!), the ‘Metallic Portrait’ (aah!), and the ‘Large Window’ (err…), all of which are designed specifically to reduce counterfeiting. As far as ‘Durable’ goes, advantages of living 2.5 times longer and being 30 per cent greener than current bills are impressive. Thus, the cost, to both the government – ultimately you – and the planet – ultimately your own great-great-grand nephews – is at least somewhat reduced.

These benefits are lovely and all, but admittedly a bit distant, a bit intangible. So if you’re like me and don’t plan on living six centuries to see polymer banknotes save mother earth, or have had very little exposure to the currency fraud scene, you’re probably more interested in the difference in going about your day with sheets of plastic rather than paper in your wallet, pocket, or purse.

First up is increased structural integrity. Polymer won’t rip, so bid farewell to that hilarious pretending-to-tear-your-friend’s-money-whilst-making-the-sound-with-your-mouth prank and welcome to the less hilarious, more psychotic cutting-your-pal’s-money-in-half-with-scissors prank.

In the current economic climate, it is very thoughtful for the Bank of Canada to have pushed ahead with their first “anti-banker note.” Any fatcat looking to blaze up an even fatter cigar with a new $100 dollar bill will simply see it melt in his hand before being knocked out by blackened fumes. Though it must be said I have this on the authority of a McGill science student, and not via expensive empirical evidence.

And yet the biggest plus is probably waterproofing. No longer must you be fear butterfingers whilst traversing Milton’s puddle gauntlet or fret over the unchecked pockets of pants hastily bundled into a communal wash – crippling concerns both!

On the other hand, it will pave a way for underwater transactions, which may be entirely wholesome affairs, but watch out for opportunistic drug dealers, stripped to their trunks at the local pool, seeking the added discretion of the deep end.

Now, let’s go back to the who and what of the new notes’ design. Essentially the “Frontier Series” does what it says on the tin, with images in homage to crucial Canadian contributions in the fields of space exploration, the Great War, travel, and science – one side of the $100 bill alone covers the discovery of insulin, the invention of the pacemaker, and the mapping of the human genetic code. That’s all great. Canadians are often subjected to jibes about their supposed lack of history, and adorning your money with the argument against is a direct route to enlightening the eyes of an ignorant tourist.

A tad more contentious is this issue of who gets their face on them. Functioning in one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, the dollar is handled by Canadians with ancestry from all corners of the globe. Despite the diversity of its carriers, it doesn’t take one long to notice a pattern in our currency’s design. Messieurs Robert Borden, William King, John Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II are all very white and invariably WASPs, though I suppose Laurier would be a Norman, for all the difference that makes. Queenie is, to her credit, probably the most exotic on the list, being a woman and all, and those royals have all sorts of blood in them but she’s hardly a “Great Canadian.”

Look, as far as the Prime Ministers go, I’m sure they were all cracking legislators, statesmen and the like, but the blanket impression left on that aforementioned tourist by their collective currency domination is roughly, ‘Wow, Canada’s elected the same man over and over again’ – Macdonald genuinely looks like Laurier’s dad. Therefore, I propose an overhaul. If you want to know about Canadian PMs, go on Wikipedia. Let’s save the money for the biggest national names, ones which, as a foreigner, I have chosen to glean from the totally reputable In terms of inventors, why not Haney & Abbott, the genii behind…trivial pursuit, or Gideon Sundback who masterminded…the zipper? Wait, hang on, Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone – that’s pretty nifty – but he only emigrated from Scotland when he was…twenty three? Oh god. Let’s try something else: most popular Canadians. Who’s number one? Pamela Anderson. For fuck’s sake.

So, maybe these Prime Ministers aren’t so bad after all. This Robert Borden character, who graces the $100 bill, has a really fantastic moustache.  No, no, we shall not settle. Here is my proposal, a new nationwide poll directed solely at finding the best faces, on the grounds of both aesthetic and achievement, for Canada’s money. Though the whole thing will probably have to be rigged to stop some ironic Facebook campaign electing Justin Bieber or Don Cherry. See what I said, traumatic.