Here's a look back at the evolution of Canada's circulation coins including some of the Royal Canadian Mint's "world-firsts":
Canada starts manufacturing its own coins
At the opening ceremonies for the Ottawa Mint on January 2, 1908, Governor General Earl Grey activated the presses that struck Canada's first domestically produced coin—a silver 50-cent piece featuring His Majesty King Edward VII. The Ottawa Mint thus opened for business as a branch of Britain's Royal Mint, responsible for making coins for use in Canada.
Transformation of the Mint
1931: The Mint's status as a branch of the Royal Mint ends, as it becomes a wholly Canadian institution — the Royal Canadian Mint.
1969: The Mint becomes a Crown Corporation with a mandate to operate as a profitable business, rather than simply a supplier of Canada's coins.
1976: The Mint's high-tech, high-volume manufacturing facility officially opens in Winnipeg. Since then, all of Canada's circulation coins as well as those for countries around the world have been produced at this facility — up to 20 million circulation coins each day, totalling more than 4 billion annually.
New circulation coins for Canada
1937: Following the ascension of King George VI as Canada's new monarch, Canada's 1-, 5-, 10-, 25- and 50-cent circulation coin reverse designs adopt new, iconic themes which better symbolize Canada's identity. The classic Maple Leaf, Beaver, Bluenose, Caribou and Coat-of-Arms designs which still grace the reverse of these denominations are born.
1987: Twenty times more durable than paper currency, the one-dollar circulation coin is introduced as a cost-saving replacement for the one-dollar banknote. Featuring the design of a Common Loon on its reverse side, the coin is quickly nicknamed "The Loonie". This eleven-sided coin is composed of aureate bronze plated over a nickel core. Over one billion of these coins were manufactured between 1987 and 2012.
1996: Further cost savings prompt the elimination of the two-dollar bank note and its replacement by a new bi-metallic two-dollar circulation coin. The "Toonie", as it becomes quickly known to Canadians, has a pure nickel outer ring surrounding an aluminum-bronze core. Thanks to a patented locking mechanism developed by the Mint, the inner core can withstand pressures of up to 181 kilograms, or ten times the force of a human hand. More than 700 million coins were produced between 1996 and 2012.
Advancing the science of coin manufacturing — Mint introduces Multi-Ply Plated Steel technology
After depending on single-metal compositions such as gold, silver, nickel and copper for much of its history, the Mint adopted alloy compositions in the late 20th century as a way to reduce the cost of manufacturing low-denomination coinage. While these changes achieved temporary savings, a long term solution to managing the cost of coin production in the face of volatile metal prices and improving coin durability was needed.
In 2000, the Mint patented Multi-Ply Plated Steel (MPPS) Technology made its debut on Canada's one-, five-, ten-, 25- and 50-cent circulation coins and quickly revolutionized the industry. MPPS technology delivered instant cost-efficiencies and increased durability. It also allowed the Mint to control the plating thickness of the alternating layers of nickel or brass and copper providing greater flexibility in the development of the electromagnetic signatures, compared to those generated by non-plated alloy coins of the same dimensions.
The Mint is the only coin manufacturer in the world to employ this process and it has since been producing MPPS circulation coins for a growing list of international customers.
As of 2012, Canada's one-dollar and two-dollar coins are benefitting from the same advantages of MPPS technology. The integrity of Canada's high-denomination circulation coins is now even more robust thanks to the addition of visible security features such as laser mark micro-engraving on both coins, as well as a virtual image and edge-lettering on the two-dollar coin.
Additional Royal Canadian Mint Coin innovations
World's first coloured circulation coin — The Mint becomes the first (and remains the only) mint in the world to issue a coloured circulation coin, with the 2004 introduction of the "red poppy" 25-cent commemorative circulation coin. Several coloured circulation coins have since been produced by the Mint, including the award-winning 2006 coloured 25-cent Pink Ribbon coin, which raised awareness for the fight against breast cancer.
World's first "oriented" coloured circulation coin — In 2008, the Mint produced a 50-Toea circulation coin for Papua New Guinea. It was the first coloured coin to circulate outside Canada and also the first to feature an oriented painted design, using sophisticated technology that the Mint developed with a Canadian robotics firm. This unique coloured process uses the latest robotics and vision systems to orient coins with precision. Recent examples of this made-in-Canada technology include 25-cent circulation coins issued in 2009 to celebrate Canada's Top Three Winter Games Moments, as well as three 2011 commemorative 25-cent circulation coins celebrating Canada's legendary nature.
World's first "DNA" authenticated coins — Working with a private partner, the Mint has developed and patented a process called Digital Non-Reactive Activation (DNA) which reads the unique surface structure of every coin to create a unique digital "fingerprint". This data is stored in a database and confirms the authenticity of every coin manufactured by the Mint even as the coin experiences normal wear during its life cycle. This technology can be used to authenticate all manner of circulation, collector and bullion coins.