Canada is home to many fascinating animal species. The Royal Canadian Mint offers opportunities to learn more about these creatures through commemorative coins. In 2023, it is releasing a gold coin featuring the marten, or pine marten, an adorable animal that has a significant role to play in its ecosystem and figures prominently in the economic history of Canada. These pure gold coins each weigh one-twentieth of an ounce, are 14 mm in diameter and have a face value of $10.
An Introduction to the Marten
The marten could be mistaken for a housecat as the two creatures are about the same size. A closer look at the marten reveals that it has shorter legs and an even more slender body. Martens belong to the family Mustelidae, meaning that they are more closely related to skunks, wolverines, and weasels than to cats.
Altogether, there are eight species of martens worldwide. There is only one North American species, known alternatively as the pine marten and the American marten. There is a subspecies of American marten that only lives in Newfoundland and Labrador, appropriately named the Newfoundland marten.
The American marten lives in boreal forests across Canada. Its range extends into Alaska and some mountainous regions of the 48 contiguous United States. An omnivorous creature, it feeds on fruit and animal flesh, including carrion. By cleaning up the carcasses of dead animals, the pine marten helps to clean up the environment and prevent the spread of disease.
The marten has a soft, silky coat and was hunted for fur until the 19th century. Vintage garments made from marten pelts were referred to as Canadian sable as a marketing strategy to make them sound more elegant and luxurious. Though some species of martens are endangered, the American marten presents little concern, and its status is considered secure.
The Reverse of the Coin
The gold coins’ reverse image was designed by Pierre Girard, a Canadian wildlife artist. It depicts a young marten perched on a tree branch, looking out at the viewer with its tail curled underneath it. Young martens stay with their mothers until they are four months old. At that time, they are ready to leave the den and venture into the forest to fend for themselves, but before that, they are entirely dependent on their mothers.
This young marten was probably born in a den on a log, a stump, or a cavity in the top of a living tree. Its mother probably relocated it to a different den at least once, around the time it was seven to 13 weeks old. When the baby marten was born, it would have weighed only about 30 grams. It was probably part of a litter consisting of two to four babies. It would have been born around March or April, meaning that it must be around August or September now that it is leaving the nest. Once it leaves the den, it will lead a solitary life until it is mature enough to mate. If it is a male, it will not participate in the care of its offspring.
The Obverse of the Coin
The obverse of the coin features the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt, the fourth and final such portrait to appear on Canadian coinage. In memory of the Queen and honour of her record-setting reign, the obverse image also includes the dates of her rule, from 1952 to 2022, an unforgettable 70 years. Separating the dates are four tiny markings. These “pearls” represent each of the four portraits, also known as effigies, of the Queen that have appeared on Canadian coins since she first took the throne in 1952.