National pride—it’s all about the buck. The faces that grace a country’s banknotes are a global advertisement for a nation’s achievements and values. So it’s little wonder that more than 55,000 Canadians support a petition on change.org to get some Canadian women represented on our currency. (The Queen doesn’t count.)
The polymer of our banknotes is so colourful it’s the envy of other countries. But we agree the images printed on them are pretty monochromatic.
In a stupefying move four years ago, a picture of the Famous Five (who led the charge in the 1800s to get women legally recognized as “persons” with rights), was removed from the $50 bill and replaced with… a ship named after a white male explorer, the arctic icebreaker CCGS Amundsen.
Meanwhile the U.S. Treasury just announced its redesigned $10 bill will feature a famous American woman, to be chosen by popular opinion. And Australians boast about how they’ve already achieved gender equality on their currency.
With Canada Day approaching, we are musing on the diverse, and often lesser-known, people and achievements we’d love to see immortalized on our currency.
It’s not easy to choose. If we made a coin or bill for every conceivable denomination there would still not be enough to honour all the great Canadian woman, aboriginals, visible minorities and young people who’ve made a contribution to our country and the world.
Our banknotes can be wallet-sized history lessons. We could educate Canadians about Elsie MacGill—Canada’s “Queen of Hurricanes.” The world’s first female aeronautical engineer, MacGill oversaw Canada’s production of Hurricane fighter planes during the Second World War.
She also helped devise the first international safety regulations for commercial aircraft.
And how many Canadians know the name of our first female member of parliament, Agnes MacPhail?
MacPhail was also the founder of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada, fighting for better prison conditions for women.
Hugh Burnett and Viola Desmond are Canada’s answer to Rosa Parks. In the 1950s, they fought racial segregation in Canadian society.
To honour our aboriginal peoples, we could also commemorate Chief Tecumseh and the First Nations, who defended Canada in the War of 1812. Or depict pre-colonial heroes like Deganawida—the Great Peacemaker—and his follower, Hiawatha, who united five warring nations into the Iroquois Confederacy hundreds of years before Samuel de Champlain or Jacques Cartier arrived.
We can’t overlook the contributions of Canadian immigrants and minorities, like the incredible entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist Jean Lumb, aka Wong Toy Jin. At age 18, she started her own grocery business inToronto, and went on to support diverse causes, from education to health care to the arts.
In the 1950s, Lumb advocated for change to discriminatory laws that kept immigrants from bringing their families to Canada. She went on to become the first female Chinese-Canadian member of the Order of Canada.
We need a long-overdue nod to African-Canadians, too. Hugh Burnett and Viola Desmond areCanada’s answer to Rosa Parks. In the 1950s, they fought racial segregation in Canadian society.
And when we open our wallets, we’d love to see faces like Hannah Taylor, Shannen Koostachin and Chelsea Jane Edwards.
Since Taylor established The Ladybug Foundation in Winnipegin 2004, at age eight, she has raised more than $3 million to fight homelessness in Canada.
Koostachin, from Ontario’s Attawapiskat First Nation, was a tireless activist for aboriginal education. When the 15-year-old was tragically killed in a car accident in 2010, her cousin Chelsea Jane Edwards picked up the torch, helping found the Shannen’s Dream campaign, which raises awareness about aboriginal education and advocates for equal funding for aboriginal schools.
Our banknotes can feature words as well as images. We’d be thrilled to see every bill sport an inspirational quote from the vast repertoire penned by great Canadian authors, like Rohinton Mistry, Miriam Toews, Joseph Boyden and 2015 Canada Reads winner Kim Thuy.
Have some fun and brainstorm who you’d love to see honoured on Canadian cash and coins.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity Free The Children, the social enterprise Me to We and the youth empowerment movement We Day. This article is reprinted with permission of Free The Children and first ran in Post Media on July 21, 2015.