An article published Saturday in the Ottawa Citizen retells the story of how the Canadian "loonie" dollar came to be - the unlikely result of a poor choice of shipment for dies from the Royal Canadian Mint. -EditorThe unsolved and forgotten crime story that gave birth to the loonie coin two decades ago has been revived by a retired Mountie who suggests the key to the great Canadian coin caper could lie hidden somewhere in Ottawa.
On the morning of Nov. 3, 1986, two freshly engraved master dies for Canada's new $1 coin were picked up by a courier service from the Royal Canadian Mint on Sussex Drive for delivery to the mint's Winnipeg production plant. The mint planned to save $43.50 by sending the dies through a local letter-courier firm instead of a high-security armoured service.
One die carried the image of the Queen and the other noted sculptor and artist Emanuel Hahn's iconic "voyageur canoe" scene that had graced Canada's first silver dollar and other coins since 1935.
The plan was to introduce a new bronze-coloured voyageur canoe dollar coin in early 1987 and begin a two-year phase-out of the old green-and-white $1 bill.
But 11 days later, on Nov. 14, distressed mint officials in Winnipeg called in the Mounties -- the two steel dies had never arrived from Ottawa.
The Winnipeg investigators eventually concluded the dies never arrived there and may have been swiped before they ever left Ottawa, said Mr. Stewart, who retired in 1995 after 35 years of service.
If correct, that means the lost voyageur and its mate may still be floating around the capital. Their resurfacing would be no small change to coin collectors and the Royal Canadian Mint, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
"Everybody has a dollar in their pocket, so they can kind of understand this story," said Christine Aqunio, an Ottawa spokeswoman for the mint. "It's one of those urban legends or folklore stories of the mint that everybody likes to talk about. What really happened to those dies?"
As Mounties in Winnipeg and Ottawa tried to answer that question in late 1986, mint officials combed their design bank and selected an image of a loon by artist Robert-Ralph Carmichael. It had been submitted and rejected in 1978 as the image for a $100 gold coin. The substitute design was quickly approved by the federal government.
But for two months, officials said nothing publicly, hoping the lost voyageur and the other die would surface. Before they left the mint in Ottawa, the two dies -- each about eight centimetres square by a few centimetres thick -- were to be packaged separately for shipping, a standard security practice to prevent counterfeiters from getting their hands on a complete set of dies. But they somehow ended up being packaged together in a box clearly marked as mint property.
A week after the dies went missing, mint officials finally informed Monique Vzina, the minister responsible for the mint. For several weeks, Ms. Vzina and mint officials even considered making a minor change to the voyageur design that would enable a police investigation to track down where any counterfeits might be coming from.
That was scrapped when someone decided the public could get burned with the counterfeits in the meantime. People who unknowingly wind up with counterfeit money are required to turn it over to police without any compensation.
On June 30, 1987, six months behind schedule, the first of the bronze-plated nickel dollars went into circulation and 850 million loonies later, the image stands as a ubiquitous Canadian symbol in its own right.
"When you think about it, the loonie is by accident, it was never supposed to be," said Ms. Aquino.
To read the complete article, see: The lost voyageur (http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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