COLUMN: Choosing a face to show the world

It will not be easy to select the face to display on Canada’s new $5 bill

The Bank of Canada is asking the public to choose a new face to grace the country’s $5 bill.

The question is whose face should replace Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Would Gord Downie of the Canadian rock band, The Tragically Hip, be the best choice?

How about cancer research activist Terry Fox? His 1980 Marathon of Hope continues to inspire the nation.

Would outspoken sports commentator and former hockey coach Don Cherry be the best face to grace a $5 bill? What about pop superstar Justin Bieber?

Perhaps a hockey legend should be featured.

Other names could include Metis leader Louis Riel, social activist Nellie McClung or others who have played pivotal roles in our history and whose legacies can still be seen today.

While the images on the backs of our banknotes are quite varied, the faces on the front have been limited to members of the British monarchy and former prime ministers.

There is much more to Canada’s identity.

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Our story includes European explorers and settlers who came to this land for a variety of reasons.

It also includes the relationship with Canada’s indigenous people. While this relationship is at time uncomfortable, it must be acknowledged.

Numerous scientific and technological developments have taken place in Canada.

And today, there are plenty of entertainers and celebrities from Canada, making their presence known on the world stage.

For the past several years, I have compiled trivia quizzes for Canada Day on July 1. Each year I am amazed at the diversity I see.

There are noted explorers, outstanding athletes, medical researchers, inventors, humanitarians, entertainers and more.

Even Superman and Bart Simpson have connections to Canada.

There’s a lot more to our identity than the British royal family and the 23 people who have served as prime minister.

But until 2017, our money has not reflected Canada’s diversity.

In Canada’s early history, a member of the British monarch would appear on all Canadian banknotes and coins.

Then, in 1935, two former prime ministers were added. Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister and the first French-Canadian to serve in that role, was featured on the $500 bill and Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, was on the $1,000 bill.

Since the early 1970s, Laurier has graced the $5 bill while Macdonald has been featured on the $10 bill. At the same time, the face of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving prime mister, was shown on the $50 bill and Sir Robert Borden, Canada’s prime minister from 1911 to 1921, was featured on the $100 bill.

Featuring former prime ministers in addition to British monarchs was a noteworthy change.

It was not until 2017 when the commemorative $10 bill included faces of people other than prime ministers and the British monarchy.

The bill issued featured Macdonald, Canadian statesman Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Canada’s first female Member of Parliament Agnes Macphail and Canada’s first Aboriginal senator James Gladstone.

And in 2018, the face on the $10 bill was that of Viola Desmond, who challenged Canada’s segregation laws in 1946.

The face chosen for the new $5 bill should reflect some of the diversity of Canada’s people or Canadian accomplishments.

Selecting this face will not be easy, and, some will disagree with the choice.

But the selection process could also lead to some important discussions.

Looking into our past and our culture to find iconic figures could remind us once again of the many things we all appreciate about Canada.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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