April 29th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 17
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Loonies, Toonies and Ground Squirrels
Looking Back
courtesy wikipedia
The long gone paper two dollar bill
In 1996 tens of millions of robins disappeared, permanently, but we were not alarmed. Those robins were in fact pictorial images that used to grace the back of our two dollar bill. Remember two dollar bills? I actually had merchants refuse to take them from me years ago, insinuating that they were fake. They’d say, “There’s no such thing!”

That year those lovely orange two dollar bills were destined to be replaced by a bimetallic coin made of nickel and aluminum bronze. The coin’s name is actually a portmanteau, a combination of two words. Like smog comes from smoke and fog the two dollar coin or toonie was is a blend of two and loonie.

The rationale for the change was that a two dollar paper note wore out in less than a year while coins can last up to 20 years. The word back then was that that the composition of the penny, nickel, dime, quarter and fifty cent piece would also be changed to plated metals. In 1996 it cost 1.4 cents to make a 1 cent coin because of the cost of bronze. Apparently the federal government anticipated saving half a billion dollars over 20 years with these changes. Yeah, right! And the G.S.T. will only supposed to be around for a short while.
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Speaking of fifty cent pieces, when is the last time you saw one? Now there was a coin. Years ago a few of those in your pocket made you felt rich. Then the loonie was introduced, a bronze-colored whopper that pop machines swallow without even burping so much as a nickel back. The successor of the loonie is a real bear of a coin dubbed the Toonie? How about Dubloonie? A roll of these in your pocket these days makes you feel positively wealthy or at the very least raise a few women's eyebrows.

I remember being told of an incident back when my older brother, who was just a kid, swallowed a fifty-cent piece. That’s a pretty good piece of coinage to run through your colon. My mother, crying and frantic, hauled him off to see Doctor Aiello at the clinic downtown Coleman across from the hospital (now Seniors Center). She was crying and upset about what might happen to my brother Alex. Dr. Aiello tried to console her by saying something that really pissed her off. He said, “Don’t worry Mrs. Kinnear; you’ll get your fifty cents back. Ouch!

A quick review of my old coin collection and their sizes was revealing. The largest denomination coin I have is an American silver dollar (Eisenhower), then the Canadian silver dollar (coureur de bois), the American half dollar ( Kennedy) , the 1967 Canadian centennial dollar (wolf), and finally the old Canadian fifty-cent piece (Federal Coat of Arms). The above-list coins gradually reduce in diameter to the smallest; the old fifty cent piece which is the same size as today’s loonie. The toonie is just slightly larger than the loonie.
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My favourite loonie story has to do with the one secretly hidden at center ice during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Only the Canadian men’s and women’s teams knew it was there and both teams went on to win gold medals. It became known as the lucky loonie and the Royal Mint has struck a commemorative edition “lucky loonie” for each Olympic Games since 2004.

Canadian banks had a problem with loonies in its early days that threatened to be compounded by the introduction of toonies. It seemed people preferred to exchange their loonies for lighter bills and the result was that there were, back in 1996, 50 million of them piled up in their vaults. These same banks were definitely not going to be interested in having their vaults full of toonies as well, but who were they to go against the Royal Mint. It's not like they own the country or anything. Not yet, anyway.

It seemed, storage issues aside, there was another problem arose with the toonie before its release regarding which animal symbol should the coin carry. I recall that Saskatchewan Reform party M.P. Elwin Hermanson suggesting at the time that the prairies were been discriminated against currency symbol-wise.

So I contemplated the so-called discrimination he claimed. When I looked at it I saw we have the maple leaf on the penny and the beaver on the nickel. I guess that covers Central Canada. The "Bluenose" is on the dime for the Maritimes and the caribou on the quarter for Canada’s north. The loon on the dollar symbolizes the Canadian Shield, I guess. But the prairies they had nadda! So this bright boy Elwin suggested the white tail deer should be on the toonie. It's plentiful on the prairies and is enjoyed by sportsmen and nature lovers alike, said Elwin.

Here's the part about his suggestion that I got hung up on. He wanted to commemorate one particular deer on the new coin. It is a world record whitetail buck shot by Milo Hansen" on November 23, 1993 near Biggar Saskatchewan. Now isn't that just great. We should commemorate a "trophy hunter's prize" shot by some redneck bus driver on our next national coin. Well that didn’t sit well with me I can tell ya.
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I kicked it around and came up with what I thought was a better suggestion. I surmised that we should put the Richardson's ground squirrel on the toonie and here is why: while many Canadians think of ground squirrels as vermin, ecologists describe the Richardson's ground squirrel as a "keystone" species in what's left of the Great Plains ecosystem.

They are the staple food of many creatures that live on the prairies. Bald eagles time their spring migration with the emergence of the first ground squirrels. Badgers dig them out at night, sometimes with an opportunistic coyote hanging around their other escape hole. Both coyotes and long-tail weasels specialize in hunting ground squirrels. Bull snakes put the squeeze on ground squirrels just like boa constrictors. Gophers make up 80 per cent of the ferruginous hawk’s diet. This magnificent prairie hawk is now on Canada's threatened species list.

It's also the favourite prey of the prairie falcon, a spectacular wild hunter of the prairies. Mice, bull snakes, rattlers and weasels all make their homes in Richardson dens, as do burrowing owls. The swift fox, now on its way back from extirpation thanks to a reintroduction program, benefits from abundant ground squirrels. Swifts enlarge squirrel burrows for their own use.
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Thank God this little creature is as resilient and persistent as he is. We have spent the past century systematically trying to eradicate them. We've snared them, flooded them out, gassed them in their dens, shot them and poured poisoned grain down their holes. Between man and predators they are forced to spend most of their time standing upright on their mounds and squeaking nervously, in a constant state of siege.

The Richardson's ground squirrel is vital to a lot of prairie wildlife's survival and makes an excellent prairie symbol. So that's what I would have put on the toonie. Yep, I can just see them now, on the coin; two ground squirrels standing on a mound with hawks circling above, one squirrel looking west to the mountains and the other looking east towards Manitoba.

I guess it's a little too late now to suggest an image, what with millions of those nickel copper alloy "polar" jobbies being out there. I actually kind of like the polar image but before they made their choice back in 1996, it was my choice to put the gopher on the toonie and to tell the Mint to pass on the "buck!”
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April 29th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 17
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