Hands-On Canadian History: Canadian Money

Canada’s money has made many changes over our history – from when we used Beaver Pelts as payment to today’s collection of bills and coins. At some points, we used the “gold standard” which meant that our money was actually based on the value of gold, and at other times (like today) the value of our money is based on an exchange rate. Although Canada’s first official coins were made in 1858, it wasn’t until 1908 that we had our own mint to produce our own coins.

Hands-On Canadian History: Canadian Money

Exploring Canadian Money

Money is a great thing to explore and look at with our kids – because there is so much history, social studies, and cultural identity all wrapped up together in such a seemly unrelated thing. Today’s activity is to explore the money you have around (or online if needed).

1) If you have any bills from the past, pull them out carefully and let your kid see what they were like. My husband has saved some of the bills we used as kids and youth so they were a great starting point. We looked at the pictures on the bills – who they featured, what other artwork was on there, the colours they used and the designs to help prevent counterfeit, etc. We compared the old bills to the new ones and talked about which they thought looked better. We talked about the people on the bills – why they would have been chosen. We looked at the changes in the Queen – how long she’s been ruling for and how the artwork makes her look as she gets older.

  • In 2018, a new $10 bill was revealed, featuring Viola Desmond. She is the first woman on any Canadian money. As a Black-Canadian, she stood up to segregation and racial discrimination. You can find out about her and other great Canadian women at Heroines.ca

2) Next, pull out all the coins you can find and do the same. Take a look at what images are featured on each coin. Why? See if you can find any special event coins. (Quarters are a great coin to use because they often feature unique and special designs for things like the Olympics or Remembrance Day.) We actually still have a whole bunch of pennies so we dumped them out and went exploring to see what was the oldest ones we could find, which were the best preserved, and what ones would be worth the most. We did some crayon rubbings of the coins and then considered why pennies aren’t circulated anymore.

Then, we looked at the loonies and toonies. Our conversations were around the value of a coin vs. a paper bill and which is more practical. We talked about the images on the coins and why they would have been chosen. Then we considered the idea of “What if the Canadian Mint decided to make a $5 coin?”

  • Give each child a paper and ask them to design their own $5 coins. What would they put on it and why?

If you want to look more at the various money that has been used over the history of our country, check out this great digital resource: A History of the Canadian Dollar by James Powell. It’s got fantastic full-colour images of Canadian money over the ages.

See all 31 Days of  Hands-on Canadian History.

My Canadian Time Capsule

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