Every image on the back of the circulation coins from the Royal Canadian Mint tells a story. However, it does not necessarily tell the entire story. The “Bigger Picture” Canada mint coins take the familiar images from the reverse of Canadian circulation coins and place them in a broader context so the viewer can understand more about the image and why it is significant. The newest addition to the Bigger Picture series is a five-ounce coin in 99.99% pure silver with selective gold plating, and it celebrates the polar bear on the back of the Canadian two-dollar coin, or Toonie.
There is justice in the idea that the polar bear would be an iconic national symbol featured on the back of Royal Canadian Mint coins. After all, over half of the worldwide polar bear population lives in Canada.
The polar bear is uniquely adapted to survival in arctic regions. It has translucent fur that reflects visible light and makes it appear white, not only to human beings but to other animals. This helps it blend in with the ice and snow of its surroundings and avoid detection. The skin underneath the fur is black, a colour that absorbs heat from the sun.
The polar bear’s dependence on sea ice to travel and find food sets it apart from other bear species. This is reflected in its scientific name, which literally translates to “maritime bear.” Though most bear species hunt for food in smaller bodies of water, the polar bear is the only one considered a marine mammal by the scientific community.
By order of the Royal Canadian Mint Ottawa, the two-dollar coin debuted officially in February 1996. A few months prior to that, in September 1995, an unveiling of the polar bear design took place at the Toronto Zoo. Brent Townsend designed the reverse image featuring a male polar bear known as Churchill.
The toonie is a bimetallic coin consisting of an inner core surrounded by an outer ring. Originally, the outer ring was nickel and the core was aluminum bronze. To save money and complicate counterfeiting, they were later converted to plated alloys.
“Bigger Picture” Design
Karis Gruben is an artist from the Northwest Territories who is behind the design of the Bigger Picture $2 coin. In a small section of the coin is the familiar image of Churchill the Polar Bear on an ice floe. He is not alone, however; a female polar bear is nearby stalking a seal in the water. Seals are a staple of polar bears’ diet. The female may be Churchill’s mate or potential mate; polar bears practice polygyny, meaning that the males can mate with multiple females per mating season.
Plated in gold rather than brass, the image of Churchill the bear blends almost seamlessly with the scene that Gruben has created, attesting to the artist’s skill. In the sky over the two bears on their ice floe, the sun hovers over the horizon, flanked by sun dogs. Also called parhelia, sun dogs result from sunlight reflecting off ice crystals in the atmosphere, forming a partial or complete ring of light around the sun.
The obverse of the coin features a maple leaf design in the field behind the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt.
Innovation and Inspiration From the Royal Canadian Mint
The Toonie is the fifth coin in the Bigger Picture Series. Also included in this series are the beaver on the five-cent coin, the Bluenose on the 10-cent coin, the caribou on the 25-cent coin, and the loon on the one-dollar coin. Find the Bigger Picture toonie at Colonial Acres, and look for the other coins in the series as well.