BC Heritage Fairs Alumni

The Official Heritage Fairs Student Site

Money in Canada — February 26, 2018

Money in Canada

Today, Anisha is here to tell us about the history of currency in Canada – from bartering to bitcoin. Where do you think currency is going next? Let us know in the comments!


Canadian currency has gone from being fur to being a unit that exists
partially online. To understand the shift we need to understand the history.

The Indigenous Peoples’ systems
Before European contact, Indigenous peoples in Canada had systems they relied on when trading and bartering goods. The Indigenous peoples traded goods such as copper, furs, and other resources. In particular, some eastern North American Indigenous peoples used belts called Wampum Belts as a medium for exchange. However, the Belt only became a currency after European contact; before then they were an important means of transmitting information and contracts. Shell-bead Wampum Belts were highly valued partly because of the hard-to-make shell beads. On average it took ninety days to make all the beads for one Wampum. Wampum quickly became a vital part of the fur trade as European settlers used them to trade for beaver pelts with people living inland. Wampum did not reign as currency very long after contact because it transitioned from a currency back to a ceremonial object by the early-nineteenth century. Today, some Indigenous peoples still use it in this manner. [Editor’s note: Wampum have a long and significant story of their own. If you’re interested in this topic, a good place to start is the Haudenosaunee Confederacy website.]

The rise of banks
In Canada, during the 1810’s more people started to trust banks because it became troublesome to carry large amounts of gold and silver. This resulted in a rapid rise of banks. Banks started to create their own currency out of gold and silver people had deposited into their vaults. One of the largest banks of that time was the Bank of Montréal (BMO); BMO imported its tokens from England and stamped most of them with their name. This, unfortunately, did not work well, because the lack of intricacy made the tokens easy to forge. To avoid more fraud three banks in Montréal and one in Quebec made a new version on the token. The improved token had an image of an habitant (early French settler) on one side and the Montréal coat of arms and the name of the bank on the other side. These tokens quickly became known as the Papineau. The coin was named after Louis Joseph Papineau because of his leadership role in the reformation of Lower Canada.

In the mid-1850’s Canada increased trade with the USA. At this time Canada chose to replace the sterling system that they had adapted from Britain in 1760 with the US decimal system. The colonies changed the system and issued new coins in 1, 5, 10, and 50 cent denominations. They made the transition in 1853-1857. After the adaptation it is important to acknowledge that US currency was also accepted in most parts of the  colonies.

In 1867 several provinces in Canada formed the Dominion of Canada – an event known as Confederation. For the first time the government took it upon themselves to make a currency of their own. This started with Ottawa creating 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cent coins. These were all usable in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia under the Confederation Act. As Canada started to develop more it made the decision in 1868 to take US currency out of circulation, ensuring that only Canadian coins were used.

The First Coin
The first Canadian coin made its debut in 1908 at the opening ceremony of the Royal Mint in Ottawa. The first domestically produced coin in Canada was a silver 50 cent coin bearing an image of King Edward VII.

Since 1908 the look and the value of each coin has been continually changing. Now coins and bills are just one aspect of the way Canadians use money. In past years bills that have great worth have been taken out of circulation, for example the $1000 and $500 bills, because many opt to use their debit or credit cards instead. Today our money features a variety of security features that help prevent counterfeiting, and comes in different colours. Our coins are more creative now than ever and it is likely they will continue to evolve on that path.

Bitcoin was created in 2008 due to the need for a secure place to store money and execute payments. It was one of the first digital currencies but today there are over 900 forms of cryptocurrency. Now governments are banning this currency in their countries. Over the past 10 years Bitcoin has become the largest cryptocurrency and is worth well over 12,500 Canadian dollars as of January 30th, 2018. Many believe that Bitcoin is here to stay and say that governments are only rebelling against these cryptocurrencies
because not everyone deeply understands this concept. Recent advancements in this area suggest a bright future for the coin. Some think that Bitcoin will be successful because of its security. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are an extremely secure method of payment. One of the reasons it is so secure is because it is completely anonymous. It is extremely difficult to identify who is purchasing or selling the Bitcoin, and no personal information is ever released during any transaction. This idea of anonymity makes it almost impossible for hackers to trace back the money to anyone. Also, none of this
information is accessible by the government either. Bitcoin is a currency similar to our Canadian dollar except it is much more secure online. But despite all of this information, some people refuse to believe in Bitcoin.

Since Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are so secure and have the ability to be completely anonymous, Bitcoin has been used by criminals to hide money. This can be deemed unethical since its anonymity makes it harder to track down these criminals. Even if Bitcoin does not become as successful as some hope, online currencies are still our future. If it is not Bitcoin, something else similar to it will be created because new
advancements and evolution are inescapable.

If you told someone in the early 20th century that your money is kept on a plastic card it would have been thought impossible. So it only makes sense that our cards are going to evolve into something that exists in the online atmosphere.

For more on bitcoin, check out this video.

Heritage Week in BC — February 19, 2018

Heritage Week in BC

Today is the start of Heritage Week in BC, and Julia is here to tell us a bit about this year’s theme and how we can spend the week reflecting on and learning about our collective past.


Heritage Week in BC – by Julia

For history lovers around the province, February is an especially exciting month. From February 19th to 25th, it is Heritage Week in BC. The purpose of Heritage Week is to encourage everyone to commemorate historical events and celebrate communities. To add to the fun each year brings a new theme, with this year’s theme being “Heritage Stands the Test of Time.”

“Heritage Stands the Test of Time” reflects on the means of documenting history through photographs, maps, stories, and more. However, it is also important to reflect on what this theme means to us as individuals and how it affects us personally. As society constantly changes, it is fascinating to see evidence of what events sparked significant differences in our lives.

This past July, Canada celebrated 150 years since Confederation, and the theme chosen for this year’s Heritage Week may have been selected because of this; there is so much to celebrate. From tracing our roots, studying triumphant moments, and the continuation of stories and traditions, there is much to discuss about Canada and the privilege it is to be citizens of this country.

British Columbia has many defining moments throughout history, and though some hold more value than others in the eyes of some people, many are moments to be proud of.

British Columbia officially became a part of Canada on July 20, 1871, four years after Confederation. This sealed our fate; we would be Canadians. It was initially hard to convince British Columbia to join Canada, as the United States were also trying to bribe BC to join them. However, Canada offered two undeniable things: they would absorb all of BC’s debt (BC had enough debt that this was a real concern), and they would connect BC to the rest of Canada via a railroad (CPR). How would this event have been documented? Certainly through legal papers, but what other ways could you come up with?

Prior to joining Confederation, there was the arrival of Europeans, and the gold rush, which brought a lot of attention and a lot of visitors. The gold rush proof lies even in the buildings that remain in historical cities like Barkerville. After all of these events, we can talk about the CPR – the accomplishments of it, how useful it’s been to us as a country, but that’s a whole other story. Women’s Right to Vote in BC was an amazing accomplishment, and a start to equality. Though we were a bit behind other provinces to act, we managed to come around.

Though there really is much to celebrate, there are also many moments where we went wrong. Our opportunity to reflect is not only about priding ourselves on everything we did right, but acknowledging all the wrongs. There are many shadows in our province’s past and the best thing we can do is to learn from those mistakes, to do our best to fix whatever happened (if there is anything we can do, even if it is as little as a public apology), and to make sure we don’t let those same mistakes happen again. People say history repeats itself, but that may be because we don’t take the time to reflect on how we can improve our situation. We don’t take time to learn from what we have already done wrong.

Two of the most talked about mistakes that spring to mind are the mistreatment of Chinese CPR workers and the Residential Schools. There is no doubt that there are many more situations that are less talked about, less known. Throughout the building of the CPR, the government saw the Chinese as some sort of business opportunity. They paid them terribly, and treated them like slaves. Caucasian men working on the railway were paid more and didn’t have to pay to stay in a proper shelter or for their food. The Chinese were paid a bare minimum, and that salary was decreased by having to buy food. If they wanted to have some sort of roof over their heads, that erased their salary completely, and how were they supposed to help bring over their family by earning no money?

The Residential Schools involved taking indigenous children from their homes in order to force them to the Catholic beliefs. The goal of this was to render them powerless, to give the government the power over people who had lived here far longer. Children were dehumanized – names taken away, just another body in the same uniform. Not to mention the countless stories of abuse at the hands of various staff members, the small amount of food they were given, the improper medical care, the robbing of their culture and language… it was a prison where children could never see their families, and that is horrifying. 

Other events such as the internment of Japanese-Canadians further illustrate government discrimination against non-European individuals and groups. As we think of Heritage Week and how events were documented, we can’t exclude these moments. Their stories are very much alive, and as our society changes, as the world changes, we have to do our best to help everyone, because we are all human. Heritage Week’s meaning goes deeper than just the analysis of a few pictures here and there.

All in all, Heritage Week is an important time to acknowledge how far we have come and how far we have to go. This week is not only for thinking, but also about doing. Many communities have arranged special events to commemorate history of all sorts. Though some moments of Canadian history are not the proud defining moments we wish they were, we can use those experiences to better ourselves and improve the society we live in today.

Take a moment to do something history-related this week – it doesn’t matter what it is. Whether it be a walk around your city looking at heritage buildings, an organized event or seminar at a museum, or even calling your grandmother to ask her about how things worked when she was little… the most important part is that you are reflecting, that you are taking a moment to appreciate life. Heritage Week may inspire you to take action, even in the smallest sense. You can use this opportunity to make a difference in your community through volunteering and in the process, educating yourself. Happy Heritage Week!
Sources: https://heritagebc.ca/events-activities/heritage-week/