Today is Canada Day, Canada's 148th birthday! Happy birthday, Canada!! I thought we should have a blog with "Canadian content" on this day and having recently revisited the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg found it to be an interesting destination. A place with a combination of artistry and craftsmanship, economics, money, and Canadian pragmatism.
There are two mints in Canada, one in the nation's capital of Ottawa, and the newer one in Winnipeg. The Ottawa mint is a "low-volume, high quality" facility which makes special issue and bullion coins (eg. Maple Leaf gold coins). The Winnipeg Mint is a high-volume state-of-the-art factory that makes the money Canadians use on a daily basis. Every Canadian circulation coin is produced here –- that's about a billion coins each year. The Winnipeg mint was established in 1976 and is situated in the eastern edge of the city.
(Canada's two main coins, the loonie (right) and toonie (left) are now updated and more counterfeit resistent)
It may be of interest that several years ago Canada stopped making the penny. It cost 1.7 cents to produce the 1 cent coin, so the pragmatic Canadians discontinued making them; purchases across the country are now rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents. Personally, I'm happy not to have all that change in my pocket.
In addition to coins for Canada's consumption, the mint produces coins for over 75 other countries around the world, whose flags line a lane on the mint's property. Over 55 billion coins have been produced in Winnipeg for global clients.
(main lobby of the mint, viewed from the second floor)
(Sales displays at the Winnipeg Mint)
The mint has a beautiful gift shop where you can buy special issue and collectible coins (most of which come from Ottawa), examples of which are illustrated below. As you enter the mint, the gift shop area is where you will begin your visit. Here you can purchase tickets for tours of the mint and look at the beautiful coins you can buy.
You can study a few displays but most interesting of all, see a solid gold bar that is "four nine" pure. I had no idea what "four nine" meant but it means it's 99.99% pure gold. The finest gold available is "five nine" (99.999%) pure and that is only rarely used in making coins. There's an armed guard standing beside the bar but you're welcome to touch it, photograph it and lift it (it's very dense and very heavy, and mounted so you can't run away with it). And it is beautiful. One can see the appeal of gold to so many billions of people over thousands of years.
I collected coins as a boy and teenager and stopped when the expenses of college and medical school began mounting (as I no longer could afford them). Coins were beautiful things then -- gleaming discs of silver or buttery gold, with lovely images impressed on their surfaces. But coins have gotten very fancy in the past quarter century, as I was to discover. Now special issue coins include ones with multicolored enamel paint, gold lamination over parts of a silver coin, and special mintings like those featuring Looney Tune characters and Superman (which are Canadian circulation because Canadians were involved in creating the art), and others like Marvel superheros which are special issues made for New Zealand....
There are also displays of Olympic and Pan-American games medals, made by the Ottawa mint....
But most coins on display are limited edition and interesting works of art, beautiful to look at, tempting to buy (if you've the cash)....
Tours are very worthwhile and last about an hour. There is a modest admission charge and you can decide which of Canada's two official languages you'd like to be listening to as you're shown around the facility (there are French or English language tours). The guides are young, smart and funny. Unfortunately no photos are allowed on this part of the tour but some highlights included:
- Instruction on how the mints in Canada work
- Explanation of how circulation coins are cut from large heavy rolls of metal and the recycling of unused metal
- How the images we see in coins are impressed into the metal discs
- Special coins (eg. poppy coin, the first color coin in Canada)
- Recycling of old coins
Very instructive tour that actually piqued my sons curiosity in coin collecting. If you visit the Winnipeg mint be sure to allow 2 hours for the tour and time to browse the gift shop and ground floor exhibits.
A few more photos of the mint follow, including some items and limited views of the production area from the visitor's area...
Some old equipment no longer used in modern production