10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Medal-Making in Canada
Do you remember how it felt when you first won a medal?
If you grew up in Canada, you’ve probably received at least one medal in your life — whether it was for Little League, soccer, or a dance competition.
And no matter how small the accomplishment, there was always something very satisfying about wearing that heavy-hanging ribbon around your neck.
It offers us a faint glimmer of the enormous pride one must feel upon receiving a skillfully crafted, state-of-the-art medal from a national or international institution.
Whether for unmatched bravery, merit, excellence in sports, or otherwise, every medal has an individual story — making each one even more meaningful and significant.
With that in mind, here are 10 interesting things you may not know about medal-making (and collecting) in Canada.
#1: Medal collectors are called exonumists.
There truly is a word for everything!
Here are two new ones to add to your vocabulary:
- Exonumia: The popular collection of medals
- Exonumists: People who collect medals
#2: Many exonumists are also coin collectors.
When you compare medals to coins, it makes sense that some people would collect both.
After all, medals and collectible (numismatic) coins are similar in that they are both finely crafted works of art, often symbolic of an important part of history or culture, made of precious or non-precious metals, and can be purchased as an investment (if not for sentimental reasons).
But there are other reasons why people collect medals, including their:
- Condition: Because they don’t circulate in the general public, medals are almost always in near-mint condition
- Uniqueness: If they bear an individual recipient’s name, the medal is truly a one-of-a-kind specimen
#3: The Royal Canadian Mint has been making medals for almost a century.
When people think of the Royal Canadian Mint, they generally think of coins.
But in addition to coins, the Mint manufactures medals.
In fact, the Mint has a separate medals branch, and has been striking medals of all kinds for more than 80 years (since 1935).
Since then, the Mint has created thousands of high-quality medals for:
- Decoration (bravery, military),
- Awards and recognition (such as for exemplary service), and
- Outstanding achievements (including sports, academia etc.).
#4: Medal-making is similar to coin-making.
While the entire process is not the exact same, medals are minted (manufactured, or “struck”) the same way as coins.
In fact, some presses that are used to mint coins are also used for making medals.
One main difference between medals and coins is that there are often several steps required for medals after the striking process.
For example, enamel may be filled, or gemstones may be manually added to the medal.
#5: It can take 100+ people to make a medal.
You may be surprised, but it takes a lot of staff to produce one medal.
That’s because medal-making requires the expertise of many different departments outside of manufacturing, including:
- Product managers
- Development teams
- Drafting technologists
- Quality assurance
- Procurement (for packaging)
#6: Anyone can hire the Royal Canadian Mint to make a medal for them.
Generally speaking, it’s institutions (e.g., governmental organizations, sports organizations, societies, universities, or charitable organizations) that request the medal-making services of the Royal Canadian Mint.
#7: When it comes to what your medal looks like, there are many options!
Most people envision medals as gold-coloured and round, attached to a basic ribbon.
But like coins, medals can vary greatly in size, shape, design and constitution. For example, medals produced by the Royal Canadian Mint:
- Are generally struck in precious metal (gold, gold-plated, silver, or bronze)
- Range in size from 36–180 mm
- Come in regular and irregular shapes (like the Order of Canada, which is a snowflake)
- Have a variety of finishes including proof, brilliant uncirculated, wire-brushed, bullion, specimen, and antique (toned)
Designed in 1966 by Bruce W. Beatty, C.M., S.O.M., C.D., the insignia of the Order of Canada is shaped in a stylized, hexagonal snowflake
Additionally, many designs for medals come from the customer. For example, medals made for the Governor General’s Awards (such as the Order of Canadaor Sacrifice Medal) are done using designs that were created decades ago. The Mint will then work with artists, the customer, and Mint engravers to ensure that the design is replicated to their requirements.
However, the Mint is still able to develop custom designs if requested by the customer. It will also advise customers on their pre-existing designs — for example, if there is too much text given the size of the medal, or if the design should be revised because it would create challenges for the minting process.
#8: All medals for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics were created in Ottawa, Canada.
The Royal Canadian Mint produced more than 1,000 athlete medals for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games — all made at its Ottawa facility.
Here are a few fun facts about the medals:
- At the time, they were the heaviest medals in Games history (weighing between 500 and 576 grams each)
- Every medal is unique — no two designs are the same
- When placed all together, the Olympic medals formed a puzzle in the design of an orca, (a raven for the Paralympic medals)
- Unlike all medals before, these ones were “undulated” rather than flat
- The reverse of the medals for the Paralympic Winter Games included Braille
- Each medal was struck nine times with 1,900 tons of pressure (the weight equivalent of 760 cars piled on top of each other!)
You can learn more about how the Mint created the Vancouver 2010 medals here.
#9: The Mint manufactures some of the country’s highest civilian and military awards.
The Royal Canadian Mint produces a great number of military, long-service and artistic achievement medals and decorations for institutions including the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada, and the Governor General of Canada.
Some of its better-known medals include the Sacrifice Medal, Canadian Forces Decoration, General Campaign Star, General Service Medal, Special Service Medal, Operational Service Medal, Memorial Cross, and Canadian Victoria Cross.
#10: You can now collect coins and medals…all rolled into one!
In 2017–18, the Mint created a pure silver four-coin commemorative collection to honour the milestone anniversaries of four of Canada’s highest civilian and military distinctions: Sacrifice Medal, Order of Military Merit, Order of Canada, and the Cross of Valour.
Each collectible coin is a heartfelt tribute to medal recipients — as well as a celebration of the fine craftsmanship of the Royal Canadian Mint’s medals division.
Left: Pure Silver Coloured Coin — Canadian Honours: Sacrifice Medal; centre: Pure Silver Coloured Coin — Canadian Honours Collection: 45th Anniversary of The Cross of Valour; right: Pure Silver Coloured Coin — Canadian Honours Collection: 50th Anniversary of the Order of Canada