The artistic traditions of the Indigenous people of Canada have not only shaped their heritages but enriched the lives of everyone in the country. Bill Reid was a Canadian artist who bridged cultures by reintroducing Haida art to the world in a classical form. His sculptures, including monumental totem poles, are now recognized around the world. Known as Iljuwas to the Haida nation, Reid died in 1998 at the age of 78. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this year, the Royal Canadian Mint is releasing new $2 circulation coins featuring one of his most famous designs.
Biography of the Artist
Reid grew up in Victoria, British Columbia. Named after his father, American William Ronald Reid Sr., he also has roots in the K‘aadasga Kiigawaay Raven Wolf Clan of T’aanuu through his mother, Sophie Gladstone Reid. As a young man, while working as a radio journalist in Toronto for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, he enrolled in a jewelry-making course at the Ryerson Institute of Technology. During the same period, he also delved deeper into the roots of his Haida heritage. He developed both interests, art and traditional culture, at the Royal Ontario Museum, where he studied the Strong House Pole on display there.
Reid’s body of work is 1,500 pieces strong. It includes silk-screen prints and jewellery, but he is best known for his majestic sculptures and carvings. Having devoted himself to his art in 1958 after resigning from the CBC, he returned to his mother’s village in 1978 to carve one of his best-known pieces, the Skidegate Pole. It had been nearly 100 years since a pole of its kind had been raised in the village, making it a watershed moment for the people of Skidegate.
This is not the first time that Reid’s work has been featured on Canadian currency. When the Bank of Canada released its Canadian Journey series of banknotes in 2004, two of his sculptures featured prominently on the back of the $20 note. One of those sculptures, “The Spirit of the Haida Gwaii,” also graced a commemorative coin from the Royal Canadian Mint in 2012.
Story Behind the Design
The design of Reid’s commemorative coin features a design that he adapted for reproduction on silk-screen prints from a painting he did originally on a ceremonial drum for an Ahousat, British Columbia-based family in 1988. Initially, proceeds from the sale of the prints benefitted arts education for children. The design features the legendary Haida grizzly bear. Known in the Haida language as Xhuwaji or Xuu.ajii, the grizzly bear plays an important role in many ancient traditional narratives. It is an important crest in Haida culture and figures prominently in Reid’s sculptures and jewellery designs.
Red and black are prominent colours in the Haida artistic tradition. The $2 coins featuring Reid’s design come in a coloured version in these bold, traditional hues, as well as an uncoloured version featuring the design in the natural metal of the core.
Means of Obtaining the Coins
Because the coins are intended for circulation, the Royal Canadian Mint will first ship them to businesses and bank branches across the country to replenish their current $2 coin inventories. From there, they will go into general circulation, where Canadians can expect to see both varieties among their change. The mintage is limited to three million coins altogether, of which two million will feature the coloured version of Reid’s artwork. The release of the coins into general circulation began in late July 2020.
In addition to the coins in circulation, the Royal Canadian Mint is also releasing special wrap rolls of 25 coins featuring the design in both coloured and uncoloured versions. At Colonial Acres Coins, we carry both versions of the special wrap rolls as well as brilliant uncirculated individual coins. See our entire collection of 2020 commemorative coins from the Royal Canadian Mint.