When the Bank of Canada rolled out its new series of bank notes from three years ago, it wanted to throw cold water on counterfeiters, not fan the flame of a public relations storm.
The new notes are polymer, and contain many security features aimed at reducing counterfeiting. The new $50 note features former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King on the front and an Arctic research icebreaker named the Amundsen, on the back. Mark Carney, then-Governor of the Bank of Canada, declared, “Just as the work of scientists on the Amundsen is expanding the frontiers of Arctic research, this new polymer series is expanding the frontiers of bank note technology.”
But while the bank tried to draw attention to the technology added to their money, it drew criticism for what had been removed. The image of the Amundsen replaced the previous $50 bill’s image of suffragette campaigners Therese Casgrain and The Famous Five. The only woman on the new series of the Canadian currency is an anonymous woman looking through a microscope on the $100 bill, representing Canadians’ scientific achievements. (Neither was she free from controversy; her Asian features were stripped from her when focus groups caused a fuss.)
Margaret Atwood was among those who supported a petition for images of prominent Canadian women to be put back on the notes.
The petition was sparked in 2013 after Canadians looked across the pond, where public lobbying was successful in getting Jane Austen featured on the 10-pound note in the UK. Ironically, this announcement was made during the tenure of the new Bank of England governor — none other than former Bank of Canada governor and bank note technology enthusiast Mark Carney.
The Bank of Canada insists the images on the notes reflect the collective, rather than individual, achievements of both male and female Canadians, and the current banknotes are expected to last at least eight years. Until then, the Amundsen remains on the $50 note, and Carney no doubt remains thankful he no longer has to deal with the backlash of the changes to the Canadian currency.