Trudeau Is Looking for 'Iconic' Canadian Woman to Put on Money (No Offense, Queen Elizabeth)

In 2011, the only women from Canadian history to grace a bank note were replaced with an icebreaker. Now the Bank of Canada is turning to the public to help find a woman to feature on its money.
March 9, 2016, 12:40am
Photo de Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The search is on for an "iconic" Canadian woman to grace a bank note.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on Tuesday, flanked by his wife and other members of his Liberal party, on International Women's Day.

"I am pleased to announce today, right here, that a Canadian woman will be featured on the very next series of bills expected in 2018," said Trudeau, a self-described feminist who picked the first cabinet in Canadian history to be equal parts men and women.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau first expressed support for the idea back in January, but now the Bank of Canada has officially launched its consultation process.

"As we know, women are and always have been instrumental in building our country, but it's now been almost 150 years that we have not had a Canadian woman on our bank notes," said Morneau, "with the notable exception of the Queen."

"We think it's high time to change," Morneau added.

'Women hold up the sky, why wouldn't they hold up half the bank note.'

Women have been on a bank note before in Canada, but they have never been on the front of one, which currently features four male prime ministers and Queen Elizabeth.

Several years ago, the Bank of Canada placed five suffragettes, known as as the "Famous Five", and Quebec feminist and politician Thérèse Casgrain on the back of a $50 bill, but then replaced them in 2011 with an icebreaker when they introduced polymer bills. There was also controversy in recent years over revelations the Bank of Canada had erased the Asian features of an unnamed female scientist to make her look Caucasian and maintain, as one official put it, "ethnic neutrality."

Merna Forster, an historian and author who started a petition urging the Canadian government to celebrate a notable Canadian woman on its currency, hailed Tuesday's announcement as "another step forward." Some 73,000 people have signed her petition.

She noted that countries around the world have women gracing the fronts of their bank notes. The legendary artist Frida Kahlo is on a Mexican note. New Zealand's $10 note has suffragist leader Kate Sheppard, while Japan recognizes writer and poet Ichiyo Higuchi. South Korea features famous painter, calligrapher and poet Shin Saimdang, while heroine Policarpa Salavarrieta is on a Colombian note. Four out of five Australian notes have women on one side. Venezuela, Peru, Sweden, and Turkey all have women on their currency.

The US will add a woman to one of its note by 2020, on the 100th anniversary of female suffrage. And the Bank of England also plans to put Jane Austen on its 10 pound note, a move intended to quell backlash following a decision to replace prison reformer Elizabeth Fry — the only other woman aside from the Queen on an English bank note — with Winston Churchill.

"It's not anything that's new," said Forster, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia. "Women hold up the sky, why wouldn't they hold up half the bank note. It's not rocket science to celebrate women as well as men." She herself doesn't have a favorite, noting that there are many good options to select from.

Canadians have until April 15 to nominate a fellow Canadian (by birth or naturalization) who has demonstrated "outstanding leadership, achievement or distinction in any field, benefiting the people of Canada, or in the service of Canada." The woman must have been deceased for at least 25 years.

Of course, if an iconic woman finally does move onto the front of a Canadian bill, someone will probably have to be booted off.

The Bank of Canada hasn't said if they will open up public consultations on that.

Follow Natalie Alcoba on Twitter: @nataliealcoba